The activist of the peasant and indigenous cause Benoît Maria was killed Monday in an ambush in Guatemala, a country where he had lived for 20 years.
The death in Guatemala of a French aid worker, killed on Monday “in an ambush”, sparked a wave of emotion and indignation on Tuesday, both in France and in the small Central American country.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned on Twitter “the cowardly assassination” of Benoît Maria, head in Guatemala of Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF), an NGO that supports peasant agriculture in some twenty countries.
Emmanuel Macron praised “the humanitarian, fraternal, united commitment which does honor to France” of the French national who had lived for 20 years in Guatemala where he worked “in favor of the indigenous Mayan communities” that he “helped to preserve their lands. “.
In a press release dated Lyon, the ASVF expressed its “immense sadness” at the loss of “a professional in solidarity, (of) an activist of the peasant and indigenous cause and (of) a friend”.
“Benoît has been cowardly murdered by armed individuals,” the NGO said indignantly, saying that it would do “everything in its power to ensure that this heinous crime was clarified and that justice was done quickly.”
According to several local media, Benoît Maria, 52, according to ASVF, was driving a van on a road near the indigenous village of San Antonio Ilotenango, in a mountainous area some 85 km northwest of the capital. Guatemala, when he was shot dead. The vehicle was riddled with eleven bullet holes, according to the same sources.
In the aftermath of this attack, the motive for this murder was not known.
In Guatemala, Vice-President Guillermo Castillo called on the courts to shed light on this murder. “It is essential that the competent institutions shed light on this fact of violence, as well as other committed against human rights defenders,” he insisted in a statement.
A life “dedicated to vulnerable populations”
Benoît Maria “has dedicated a large part of his life to promoting the community development of vulnerable populations”, greeted the Guatemalan vice-president.
The indigenous leader and Nobel Peace Prize 1992 Rigoberta Menchu greeted in “Benoît Maria, (a) great defender of the rights of the Mayas” and assured of his “solidarity his family and the communities Ixil and Q’eqchi” with which he was working. “We need France so that this crime does not go unpunished,” added Rigoberta Menchu.
The European Union representation in Guatemala also praised the humanitarian work of Benoît Maria.
The aid worker “was ambushed and shot dead in his car. The Guatemalan police are carrying out investigations and will do what is necessary, ”Frédéric Apollin, director general of the NGO, told AFP. “The work on land in Guatemala is indeed sensitive, but we can not speak of a threat, there was, to our knowledge, none that weighed on our association or on Benoît who found himself visibly in the wrong. place at the wrong time, ”said Frédéric Apollin. AVSF had been working “for 20 years in peace” in the country, he assured.
Benoît Maria was helping to implement agricultural projects for the indigenous Mayan-ixile populations, recalled Jorge Santos, coordinator of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (Udefegua). He also participated in the creation in 2011 of Ixil University, dedicated to the study of ancestral knowledge of indigenous peoples, he added.
The Forum of International NGOs in Guatemala (Fongi), which brings together 31 NGOs from the United States, Canada and eight European countries, demanded from the Guatemalan president to strengthen the protection of activists and humanitarian workers.
Udefegua recorded between January and April at least 157 attacks against militants in Guatemala, and 462 for the whole of 2019, including 15 murders.
The murder of Benoît Maria came the day after an attack in Niger which left eight dead on Sunday, including six French humanitarian workers from the NGO Acted.