After years of trials, delays, and obstruction, five civil patrollers (Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil) have been found guilty by a Guatemalan court of the horrific mass murders on March 13, 1982 at Rio Negro. The Rio Negro massacre was just one among many massacres which characterized the height of the genocidal campaign against the indigenous Maya during the 36-year Guatemalan civil war.
While the verdicts and sentences are a welcome outcome after so many years, it’s important to recognize that none of the intellectual authors of the genocide – including Efrain Rios Montt and Benedicto Lucas Garcia - have yet to be brought to justice - nor have any military officials. Also complicit are the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which funded the Chixoy Dam Hydroelectric Project, the building of which required the displacement of Rio Negro. The villagers’ democratic resistance to that displacement was a principal precipitator of the violence and terror that followed. To date, no reparations have been paid to the survivors.
Jesus Tecú Osorio is a survivor of Rio Negro; after witnessing the massacre of more than one hundred children and nearly eighty women, including most of his family, eleven-year-old Jesus and seventeen other children were captured and forced to work as slaves in the houses of the patrollers who had killed their families. Jesus lived in captivity for three years until he was freed by his only surviving sister, Laura. He went on to become a tireless activist against impunity for these and other war crimes, and for the survival and protection of the Maya Achi (see ADIVIMA for more about this work). The two short videos in this post were made by Jesus in 2000 (A Massacre Remembered) and 2001 (A Right to Justice / Derecho a la Justicia), and tell the story of the massacre and the subsequent struggle for justice.
It’s hard to know how to respond to the verdicts; one wants to hope that they signify the beginning of a shift from the culture of silence and impunity. But for the activists, prosecutors, and other individuals who dare to speak out the violence and death threats continue.
For an in-depth (and heart-wrenching) report on the case see NISGUA.