Our day began with a small earthquake at 4:30 am. A reminder of the sheer power of the earth. We spent the night on mattresses on the floor at the Rio Negro Historical and Educational Centre. Many of us were ready to get up to begin the 6 am hike to Pacoxom, the site of the March 13th massacre at Rio Negro. Eleven people from our group made the 3km hike up the mountain with our guide Rogelio and his young son, Santos. We took water bottles and snacks to sustain us through this 5 1/2 hour hike. Rogelio carried a bag of historical narrative banners- one for each of the 5 sites that we stopped at. There was a drawing and explanation on each banner that spoke to the events of this massacre on March 13, 1982.
Our hike began as the sun rose over the breathtaking mountains and the Rio Negro river. The river that was dammed to feed the hydroelectric Chixoy dam. In Spanish, this dam is aptly called “La Represa Chixoy.” As we began the hike that followed the day of the massacre we were reminded of the cost of progress and the repression of the indigenous people who inhabit the land. This river is now a lake with the remants of a past civilization buried beneath it…there is a sacred beauty in this place.
The hike was mostly uphill and many of us needed breaks to stop and breathe…a good time to view the panorama. There were hawks flying over, crows grazing on the mountain sides, light clouds passing over and delicate flowers growing along the shale path.
Our first stop was the school. This was the site where the soldiers and patrollers brought all the women and children on the day of the massacre. The site where some of the children were separated from their mothers. The mothers, young women, small babies and elderly were marched up the mountain with their hands tied behind their backs. There were approximately 177 people in total.
The second site was the place where the soldiers and patrollers camped over the few weeks after massacre. There was also a place for a helicopter to land.
The third site marked the spot where the soldiers made the women dance for their pleasure…these men had brought a tape recorder with music on it. The humiliation of these Rio Negro women was brought to light. The soldiers kept asking the women where the men were and the women kept repeating that they knew because they had killed them all in the town of Xococ a month before.
The fourth site was where they killed the elderly spiritual guide and medicine man Don Andres. They tied him into a ball and threw him over the mountain.
The hike was intense as we continued to walk the path of these women and small children up the mountain. The fifth stop was where two women escaped by jumping out of the line into the bush on a curve. They managed to escape unseen by the soldiers. One of the women was our guide Rogelio’s mother and his baby brother who was tied to her back.
The last stop was the site of the massacre where the young women were raped and all the women and children were shot or strangled and thrown into a pit. In total, 70 women and 107 children died that day.
There is a memorial place that we paid our respects at. Rogelio and his son lit many candles as we stood in silence. It was a time of quiet reverence for the dead. There was a time of prayer…a sense of the sacred and the sacred earth…all this because of a dam!
We made our way down the mountain to a lunch served by the Rio Negro women. We enjoyed beans, rice, plantain and tortillas. The women and children offered us their handiwork to purchase…beautiful bags, purses, bracelets, headbands, place mats and more. Then there was a tour of the small museum…a place that further chronicled the history of these people and the massacres that they experienced. There were 150 families living here before these massacres. Today, there are 19 families rebuilding their lives in Rio Negro. We witnessed great hope, courage and resilience in this place.
Many of us had a refreshing cold shower before our 5 hour journey home to Casa San Jose in Guatemala City. The weary travelers were grateful for Alma’s cooking and a comfortable bed. We went to bed with our minds and hearts full with much to ponder and reflect upon.
(ed. note: The Chixchoy Hydroelectric Dam was built in the 1980s with funds from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).