Satanic rites rumors linked to Guatemala attack

Reuters, May 4, 2000
By Ibon Villelabeitia

Guatemala City - A rumour that kidnappers were stealing children to use their hearts in satanic rituals apparently motivated a mob that killed a Japanese tourist and a Guatemalan bus driver in a popular Mayan market over the weekend, tourism officials said on Thursday.

The Guatemalan Institute of Tourism (INGUAT) said in a news release that the attack on a group of 23 Japanese tourists on Saturday in the northwestern village of Todos Santos Cuchumatan was caused by ``rumors about satanic rituals.''

The Japanese tourists were shopping and taking pictures in the town's colourful market when they were attacked by angry villagers.

Tetsuo Yamahiro, 40, was smashed over the head with a rock and killed. Edgar Castellanos, a Guatemalan tour bus driver, was also killed and his body doused in gasoline and partially burned.

``Let it be clear that (the attack) was a confusion caused by a rumour that satanic rituals were going to be performed and that children were being kidnapped to have their hearts stolen,'' Todos Santos Mayor Julian Mendoza said in the news release.

Mendoza said many neighbours were feeling ``nervous'' that day after a local radio reported that a satanic cult had rented the town's municipal gymnasium over the weekend to carry out their bloody rites.

``This is an illiterate community and people believe in rumours. Many schools remained closed for days and women stopped venturing out of their homes,'' Mendoza told reporters on Thursday.

The attack has raised concern among tourism officials that the killings will deter visitors from coming to Guatemala.

Some 636,000 tourists visited Guatemala in 1998, lured by the Central American country's pre-Columbian ruins and vibrant Mayan villages.

Since the end of a 36-year civil war in 1996, Guatemalan officials have promoted tourism as an economic alternative to the country's traditional agro-industry.

In 1998, tourism brought in $394 million, making it the second source of hard currency after coffee.

Tourism officials characterised the attack on the Japanese tourists as an ``exceptional'' and ``unfortunate'' incident.

It was not the first such attack on a tourist.

In 1994, U.S. journalist June Weinstock was beaten almost to death by hundreds of angry peasants in the remote village of San Cristobal Verapaz who thought she was trying to steal a baby.

Although no cases have been documented, the rumour persists in some Mayan communities that foreigners come to steal children to sell them or their body parts abroad.

Guatemalan police have arrested nine people, including a 68-year-old man and a 60-year-old woman, in connection with the attack in Todos Santos Cuchumatan.

On Thursday, a Guatemalan court investigating the case heard testimony from the Japanese tourists who witnessed the attack. No details of the hearing were available.

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