The Maya Survivors vs. Los Genocidios: Part Two
WireTap: Who is the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), and what are its objectives in fighting?
Well, we who became the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, after all that, had no idea how to struggle or continue on. But we knew what we would become. There was no one on our side, but after a little while we came to know how to organize, how to fight.
Then came the exhumation in Ilom (Antonio's village), then came CALDH (Center for Legal Action in Human Rights). I think it was 1998 or 1999. We met there and they asked me questions such as what the massacre was like, how the army arrived. I told them all about the situation that happened here in the community.
Later, we arrived at an agreement among various communities: Baja Verapaz, Alta Verapaz, Chimaltenango, Quiche, Huehuetenango, the Ixcan region. So it was from there that we came to know one another: other people from places where the same situation occurred. There we decided to found what became the AJR, that it was necessary to form a coalition that would be called the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, that we as survivors must demand justice for all the deaths we had seen. "We have to demand justice so that there may be justice," we said.
Well, that was an interest of ours, that the high military commands be tried for their crimes of genocide against the Maya peoples. As far as those of us in the Ixil region, we are the Ixil Maya--people that were affected, were massacred, had our rights violated. For all those reasons the AJR was sprouted.
WT: What is Efrain Ríos Montt's significance in this struggle?
Ríos Montt, as we have always mentioned, is a sickness for us. He is a disease that is very infectious for Guatemala because he has committed those grave errors, those tremendous crimes against the Maya peoples. And not only Ríos Montt but also his high military command as well as Lucas Garcia (Guatemalan dictator from 1978-1982) and his high military command--they are the ones who committed these offenses of genocide, so Ríos Montt is an illness here in Guatemala on account of being a genocidio, a murderer, a criminal.
And we have discussed with many companions that if it were us, the Maya, who were guilty of genocide what would they, the authorities, do? Rapidly they would place us in prison, if we were the guilty ones. But since Ríos Montt has money--he has funds and he also has his power and they help him--he intimidates the authorities, or it could be that he convinces them with money. For that reason we have seen that there exists much backwardness in the pursuit of justice here in Guatemala.
Because Ríos Montt, living as a criminal, he walks around freely! And he should be already imprisoned. He should not still be on the loose. He should not still be appearing on television, appearing in the media and saying this or that. Ríos Montt should already be in prison for the crimes he has committed, like those against the children in the Santa Delfina plantation, no? He was the government at that time, so he should have dispatched doctors for the children that died. So, what happened? It didn't bother him that children died. It did not matter to him.
Ríos Montt delights in the impunity, and it is not only Ríos Montt who is the wound for Guatemala, but also the authorities that presently do not act to judge this genocidio. Therefore, Ríos Montt is the wound and also the authorities are the wound because they do not enforce the law.
WT: Can you discuss Ríos Montt's plan, and accordingly the strategy of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), regarding compensation payments to former Self Defense Civil Patrollers (ex-PAC)?
Ríos Montt is always very crafty in his form, and he has always tried to conquer the people. Because if you remember the past, of what has been called Black Thursday, Ríos Montt displayed his style of being on Black Thursday when he forcibly inscribed [as presidential candidate]. He revealed his nature on this day because all of his supporters wore masks, wielded sticks and carried guns violently. But who planned it? Ríos Montt planned it! It was in this form that he also planned the massacres in the communities.
The Guatemalan authorities should act and not allow him to participate in elections. Not as a candidate for president, nor Congress, nor anything. Ríos Montt has demonstrated his style before Guatemala and before the entire world. Ríos Montt is a genocidio.
Ríos Montt has always found support in the Quiche department. Do you know why people vote for him? They know he is a genocidio and that if he does not win perhaps 1982 might return again. So, for fear, the people vote to not re-experience the past.
The ex-PAC payments were planned by Ríos Montt in order to not lose his power. First, a general began to convince people to attend protests under Portillo, but it was all already planned out. Portillo approved. We saw that it was not to lose his power, his party. Why do I say that? Because only his supporters received the payment. And those former patrollers affiliated with another party? They gave them nothing.
It is better to send more money to reparations for victims because there are people who lost their houses, lost their family members. Clearly former patrollers have a right because they were obligated to patrol. Well, since we know the military has grand quantities of money allocated from the government, this is what we should reduce and use to pay former patrollers. Because it was the military that forced them into patrols. And money received from other countries should not be given to ex-PACs but as reparations for victims.
Because what function, what benefit does the military bring? What the military brings us is poverty. The world knows that Guatemala is poor, but why? The military has brought the poverty. The weapons have brought the poverty. And who are the richest? The military, the generals. And the guerrilla? I have never heard of a guerrilla fighter who is also a millionaire.
WT: What should the international community do to support the struggle of the AJR and survivors in general?
What they should do, or what we have always requested, and what I have asked for as AJR's president is that they pressure Guatemalan authorities to take these genocidios to a tribunal. And if they, these authorities, do not want to do it, do not attempt to do it, nor even wish to try these criminals, then what I would ask is that it would be good to extradite Ríos Montt so that he may be judged in another country.
That is one thing, but also if there is no justice in Guatemala, then it would be good that Guatemalan authorities be tried as well. Because to me it would be proper that they be judged first--before the genocidios--because they are guilty, the Guatemalan authorities, of why these genocidios have not been tried, why they are not imprisoned.
And why do I tell you that? Because the authorities, we entrust them. For that reason they are there, to try these genocidios, to judge those who commit crimes. And another thing, we pay taxes, and these authorities are who we fund, so they must comply with their obligations, no?
CALL TO ACTION:
The genocide case filed by the Association for Justice and Reconciliation has stalled in national courts since its original filing in 2000. There appears to be no motivation by authorities to move the case forward. Impunity is the devastating norm in Guatemala. Stats indicate that only an estimated three percent of murders are ever investigated and prosecuted there. Below are ways to support the AJR's struggle:
1. Send an email to Guatemalan authorities demanding that they move the case forward.
2. Apply to become a human rights accompanier with the AJR.
3. Join an email update list about the AJR and other social justice struggles within Guatemala.
4. Donate to support U.S. and Guatemala-based solidarity work with the AJR.
For general background on Guatemala, check out BBC News chronology of historic events in Guatemala.
Translation, photos and introduction by Elias Lawless, 22, an independent journalist from Texas working in and around Guatemala. Contact him with comments or ideas for collaboration or to support the AJR at elias (at) riseup(dot)net.