Written by Lisa and Laura
Tuesday, January 11th, 2022
Today marked the beginning of eye witness testimony for the prosecution in the case. The first witness was a protected witness, with his face, hands and body covered to hide his identity. Certain witnesses are receiving court protection while giving their testimony because they are from Rabinal and could be at risk for speaking out.
The first witness was a survivor of the Plan de Sánchez massacre that occurred in Baja Verapaz, on July 18th, 1982. During the massacre, over 250 people were killed. At the time, the witness was just fifteen years old.
During the Internal Armed Conflict (IAC), he was forced to work as a civil patroller. He spoke about the sexual violence he witnessed during this massacre and his experience fleeing into the mountains after which he presented himself to the military base in Cobán when a ‘amnesty’ was declared in Guatemala. “These things happened a long time ago but we will never forget them,” the witness explained. He also spoke about the torture others were subjected to in this military base where he was held for a month and a half. Later, he visited the military base in Rabinal, where he saw the mass grave used for the extra-judicial killings. He also witnessed women being tortured and was told they were for the ‘officials’.
The second witness of the day was Francisco Chen Osorio, a survivor of the Rio Negro massacres. Francisco explained that the violence began in Rio Negro when with the building of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. This project destroyed their way of life and led to five massacres of the community, including the massacre in Xococ on February 13, 1982, when 71 people were killed. This massacre occurred when residents of Rio Negro were coerced to go to the nearby village of Xococ to retrieve identity cards that had been stolen by civil patrollers the previous week. Those who went to retrieve their cards were killed. Francisco was meant to go, however, a community leader volunteered to retrieve his ID card for him.
Francisco was also forced to perform civil patrols in his community. He identified Damian Cuxum Alvarado, Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado, and Francisco Cuxum Alvarado from the week before the February 13th massacre in Xococ when he was beaten and degraded. The following month, he witnessed the massacre in Pacoxom from afar on March 13th, 1982 during which his wife, Margarita Chen Uscap, his three-month-old son, sisters, nieces, and nephews were massacred. However, he could not approach because of the threat to his life. The following day on the 14th of March, 1982, he searched for his wife’s body but was unsuccessful.
Francisco explained: “In name of the 444 members of the community of Rio Negro I am here giving my testimony… my heart hurts, I feel pain. There are so many children who are left orphans, without the warmth of their fathers or the warmth of their mothers…. I am here in their name, in the name of my family members. Punish those responsible for these human rights violations.”
The third witness to testify today was another protected witness. During the IAC, they were 13 years old and living in a village nearby to Xococ. During their testimony, they recalled returning home to their village which had been destroyed after they had been away working on cotton plantations in the South of Guatemala. This caused him to flee and hide in the mountains where he were caught and held in the military base in Cobán during which time he was tortured and treated like an animal. He was then transferred to Salamá and onwards to Rabinal. Where he was held for 15 or 16 months as a slave and forced to clean the military base. He says he was treated like a dog- being beated and starved. The witness testified to hearing the cries of men, women, and children who he would see dead in the mass grave the next day.
This witness was able to name many of the civil patrollers because he would hear their names often around the military base and see them on lists. He explained: “These names have stayed in my mind despite the passage of many years. Other names I don’t remember because they were from other places.” These names included Damian Cuxum Alvarado, Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado, and Francisco Cuxum Alvarado.
Juana Garcia De Paz, now 77 years old, was the first survivor to share her life story and testify. During her testimony, she explained that she had 14 children, 4 of which were killed during the IAC, in addition to the murder of her husband in 1981. The following year, in 1982, was when she experienced sexual violence by a civil patroller, from which she became pregnant and bore a child. Her home was also burned and destroyed. In 1983, Juana was taken to the military base for 3 months and a half. She explained the toll the detainment had on her by saying: “for 3 months and 15 days, I cried day and night.”
In the afternoon, Jesus Tecu Osorio, founder of the Rabinal Legal Clinic who is also representing plaintiffs in the case, gave his testimony on the actions of the civil patrollers from Xococ during the Internal Armed Conflict. Jesus shared the impact and violence which came to his community of Rio Negro after the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam by the National Electric Institute, where opposition to the project was quelled with violence. Jesus was an eye witness to the massacre at Paxocom, Rio Negro on March 13, 1982, and recounted the heart-wrenching story of trying to save his 9-month-old brother who was ripped from his arms by the civil patroller who subsequently captured Jesus as a slave. After two years, his sister was able to rescue him and bring him to the settlement of Pacux.
As he spent two years working in the home of the civil patroller in Pacux, he came to know and recognize Damian Cuxum Alvarado, Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado, and Francisco Cuxum Alvarado and heard them speak about the atrocities they had committed as civil patrollers in massacres in Rio Negro, Chichupac, Plan de Sánchez and others. Jesus heard the patrollers when they came back from the massacre of Agua Fria, where the women and children who had survived the massacres of Rio Negro had gone to seek refuge. Jesus described in detail three of the accused during the time of the massacres.
Tomorrow the trial will continue with eyewitness testimony from the survivors and family members.
Read the report back for day 5 here.
Read the report back for day 7 here.