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July 28, 2017

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Indigenous Guatemalans go from victims to perpetrators?

GUATEMALA CITY -- Fearful of losing their culture and land, ethnic Maya people in Guatemala — who have faced centuries of discrimination themselves — drove out a group of 230 ultra-Orthodox Jews, experts say.

The Jewish group's departure from San Juan La Laguna, on the banks of Lake Atitlan some 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital Guatemala City, followed failed efforts to reach a deal Wednesday.

"We are very pleased with the decision made by that group to avoid conflicts with (local) people," Miguel Vasquez, spokesman for the San Juan Council of Elders, told AFP by phone.

Most members of the small Jewish community are from the United States, Israel, Britain and Russia, and around 40 are Guatemalan. Approximately half are children.

Since October, the local indigenous population has accused the Orthodox Jews of discriminating against them and of violating Mayan customs. Maya elders also said the Jewish community sought to impose their religion and was undermining the Catholic faith predominant in the village.

Rabbi Uriel Goldman, a representative of the Jewish group, told Prensa Libre newspaper his community had taken up residence temporarily in a Guatemala City hotel until it can find a place to relocate to in an outlying part of the capital area.

History Repeats Itself

Guatemala, a mountainous and scenic nation in Central America, cannot quite agree on how indigenous it is.

The government insists 42 percent of citizens belong to ethnic Maya tribes, traditional farmers who mainly speak Maya languages; indigenous leaders insist they represent 60 percent of the 15 million Guatemalans.

If the indigenous are right, they are starkly underrepresented in what is supposed to be a federal democracy.

During three centuries of Spanish colonialism, Mayans were marginalized. After independence in the early 1800s, they spent almost another two centuries living in relative isolation, with a Spanish-speaking ruling class in Guatemala City who long referred to Mayans as dolts for not speaking Spanish.

Yet many rural Guatemalans — most indigenous live in rural areas on their traditional land — have never been to school in any language.

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