Open Letter to the Guatemalan Public and the International Community

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights once again hears of acts of genocide committed against the community of Chichupac by the Guatemalan State during the Internal Armed Conflict in the municipality of Rabinal, department of Baja Verapaz

Lawyers and witnesses at the InterAmerican Human Rights Court in Costa Rica. Photo: Lucía Xiloj

Lawyers and witnesses at the InterAmerican Human Rights Court in Costa Rica. Photo: Lucía Xiloj

Who could have imagined that the traumatic events that occurred in the 1970s could take place in our Maya Achí community. Nested in the deep, green forest of our tall mountain which lies southeast of Rabinal, in the department of Baja Verapaz, and forms part of the Chuacús mountain range, we enjoyed peaceful coexistence. What incredible times these were. Our communities were progressive and our lives were intimately tied to the forest, and we were, for all intents and purposes, half-abandoned by the state; we only knew of rural life, of our ancestral dances which came alive on feast days, and of the colorful weavings of the women who worked in the mountain’s tranquility among the sound of the springs which resounded in harmony with the songs of birds that made our ears rejoice at the break of dawn.

Who could have imagined that on the morning of January 8, 1982, the owls’ cries foreshadowed the darkness that was falling upon us. Indeed, it was on that morning that the army came to our community under the pretense of celebrating the new year with us, telling us that there would be marimba music and toys for our sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. On this day, our feast ended, and our bitter trauma began. When the marimba stopped, the military leader told us: “All those whose names are on the list must form a line.”
Innocently, the people who had been named obeyed with a calm conscience, knowing they had committed no crime. Amongst them were catechists, health workers and community leaders. Immediately, they were brought to the community clinic to be tortured with immense cruelty. It was 5 in the afternoon. Torn between anguish and panic, our ears could hear their cries of pain. On that day, we violently lost 32 valuable community members.

As if this were not enough, this criminal state, through its army and state officers, kept harassing our community. They took us by surprise at daybreak, torturing and murdering community members. They raped women, some who had recently given birth. Later, they burned our houses and our harvests, they destroyed our seeds and all our possessions. The communities of Chichupac, Xeabaj El Tablón, Toloxcoc, Coyojá and Chijom were completely destroyed and their social fabric was ripped apart. We had to run to the mountain tops among the bullets; and there, many elders, women and children died of hunger and lack of medical care. It was sad to realize that the army wanted to destroy us completely. After murdering our leaders and abducting and killing many others, they trapped us in the mountains so that our extinction would be complete. Not yet contented, the army, with the help of the state officials and the Civil Defense Patrols, poisoned our water sources, stole our ancestral relics and hunted us down in the mountains, where their bullets hit some of the survivors who were running away.

After the March 1983 coup d’état, we were tricked again, this time with the promise of the adoption of an amnesty law. Some of those who had been displaced, hoping to benefit from this law, turned themselves over to the army; they were never seen again. In total, of 200 remaining community members, some 175 women, men, elders and children disappeared, leaving only 25 survivors. As our exiled fellow countryman Luis Gardoza y Aragón would express it: “Such short syllables for a pain so great.”

Since then, we haven’t been the same. Our families have scattered, we started to suffer from illnesses such as anxiety disorders, strong headaches, insomnia, along with the sadness and unresolved grief of not knowing the whereabouts of loved ones who were abducted and killed by the Guatemalan state’s terrorist army.

With the hopes of achieving justice and obtaining reparations to restore the honor and our inherent dignity as human beings, we denounced the existence of mass graves in our community in 1993. Subsequently, an exhumation was conducted, during which the remains of 33 human skeletons bearing signs of violence and torture were found. Between 2005 and 2006, we received legal assistance from the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic and soon after, we filed complaints with the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Sadly, to this day, the same terrorist state, which attacked our community so furiously, now shows its cowardly face by displaying no will to find, prosecute and punish those who are guilty of these crimes. In view of the fact that impunity persists more than three decades later and since we were denied justice in our country, we had to resort to the Inter-American Human Rights System.

It is in this context that we announce that a public hearing will be held at the headquarters of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica, on April 28 and 29 2016. We ask for the solidarity of all those who work daily towards the goal of making the dream of our grandmothers and grandfathers, as spelled out in our sacred Popol Wuj, a reality: May the peoples have peace, much peace, and may they be happy.

Rabinal Community Legal Clinic

*Translation by Nelly Marcoux/BTS