March 10, 2007 / 1:05 AM / 11 years ago

Maya to "cleanse" sacred site after Bush visit

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Mayan leaders will spiritually “cleanse” ancient ruins in Guatemala after a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, unpopular here because of foreign policies going back to Central America’s civil wars.

<p>Mayan women take part in an International Women's Day march in Guatemala City March 8, 2007. Mayan leaders will spiritually "cleanse" ancient ruins in Guatemala after a visit by President George W. Bush, unpopular here because of foreign policies going back to Central America's civil wars. REUTERS/Daniel LeClair</p>

The leaders said they would hold a spiritual ceremony to restore “peace and harmony” at the Mayan ruins of Iximche after Bush tours the site on Monday.

“No, Mr. Bush, you cannot trample and degrade the memory of our ancestors,” said indigenous leader Rodolfo Pocop during a press conference. “This is not your ranch in Texas.”

Bush will arrive on Sunday night in Guatemala, his second-to-last stop on a five-country tour of Latin America where his approval ratings are low. His visit sparked violent protests in Brazil and Colombia. Social groups are organizing marches against his visit to Guatemala.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the United States’ principal antagonist in the region, has called Bush “the devil” and at a United Nations debate last year said the U.S. leader left a smell of sulphur lingering in the room behind him.

Youth leader Jorge Morales Toj said Bush’s presence in Guatemala was offensive to the nation’s ethnic Mayan people because of U.S. support to military governments during the country’s 1960-96 civil war.

U.S.-backed army troops destroyed entire Mayan villages in a scorched earth counter-insurgency campaign at the peak of the war, which left nearly a quarter million people dead or missing.

In a 1999 visit to Guatemala, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said the United States was wrong to have supported violent right-wing governments in the Central American nation.

Bush will visit farmer cooperatives and schools in the region of Chimaltenango to the west of the capital, an area where forensic scientist have uncovered numerous mass graves from wartime massacres.

At the Iximche ruins, which were a capital of the Kaqchikel Mayan people before the 1524 Spanish conquest, native dances will be performed for Bush and Guatemalan President Oscar Berger and they will be given an archaeological tour of the vine-cracked pyramids.

“We reject this portrayal of our people as a tourist attraction,” said Morales Toj, head of a national Mayan youth movement.

“We will burn incense, place flowers and water in the area where Mr. Bush has walked to clean out the bad energy,” he said.

The activists also criticized massive deportation sweeps in the United States, where many poor Mayans live and work without papers.

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