Friday, January 14, 2021

Written by Este

[Testimonies given on this day were graphic: describing the context, reality, and mentality of not only survivors but perpetrators of genocide.]

Photo taken in Rio Negro, on March 13th, 2020 (Photo Credits: Laura Robinson)

Day 9 of the trial lasted half a day and consisted of the presentation of three audio and audiovisual testimonies.  The first was a court-protected witness, (witness A) who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against the information presented.  The second was a recorded declaration by a nun who had testified before judge Claudette Dominguez [who previously presided over the case before being recused]. The last was a video report conducted by Plaza Publica which consisted of interview footage of General Manuel Benedicto Lucas García.

Witness A narrated a personal account of the violence that was experienced in the community of Río Negro, a municipality of Rabinal, during the early 1980’s, including personal account of the harassment, intimidation, kidnappings and murders that were carried out by the military.  The witness began by recounting that early one morning as they worked in the cornfields they heard gunshots in the village and later learned that the military had descended on the village and taken 8 men to the military compound.  The men spent 6 months under captivity and upon returning to the village, recounted their ordeals as a warning to the community.  The witness recalled the preoccupation that filled many of the villagers, forcing many to abandon their homes and land, while one family member stayed behind to take care of the animals that they could not take with them or leave behind.  His family was among those who left, but given the difficulties of being away from home, in the cold, they eventually came back.  

This was not the last time they were forced to leave seeking refuge, only to come back again due to the difficult conditions of being away from home.  The witness recalled that during the presidency of General Lucas, the military began to organize civil patrols across neighbouring villages who would act like military men and keep surveillance of the villagers, following them and harassing them.  Intimidation and fear became customary and forced people to change many things in their everyday life. For instance, men were forced to avoid going to the markets or towns for fear of being followed and taken. This led to women having to take on these roles.  

As this went on, he also shared how villagers lost interest in growing their corn because the military would often burn their whole fields. They no longer saw a point in growing food.  

Photo taken in Rio Negro, on March 13th, 2020 (Photo Credits: Laura Robinson)

Witness A recounted how in one attempt to escape the violence they relocated to the department of Quiché, but only lasted three days away because they were in a place where they could not make a fire [often this was for fear of being found by the military] and it was too cold for them to stay there.  Sometime after that he recounted how one evening back in Río Negro he went fishing with some friends and they all fell asleep and spent the night by the river.  They woke up early the next morning to see a woman running frantically. She told them that the military had descended upon the village and had taken the women and children up to the school.  

This was the massacre of March 13, 1982 where 70 women and 107 children were accused of being guerilla members and were massacred.  When he and his friends arrived in the village after hiding in the mountains for a few days, they found the bodies of their community members, some who were being eaten by dogs.  This massacre was carried out a month after the military’s execution of 55 men and 19 women also from their community.  Life was extremely hard for them during those times as many people were forced to hide in the mountains.  He recalled how the military would drop flyers out from helicopters which included messages to the population asking them to present themselves to the nearest military post because the war was over and nothing would happen to them.  Some people felt this was the only thing they could do to guarantee their safety, while others were too scared to go through with it.  Witness A recounted how people would be given to the army by their fellow community members accusing them of being part of the guerilla and that this was because the army would force people to hand people in (accuse them) in order to save themselves.  He himself was accused of being a guerilla and was held at an army base for 3 days at the time when Lieutenant Diaz was in charge.  It was during this time that he also witnessed and learned about the women being raped and the men being forced to accuse their fellow community members of being guerrilla members.

The second presentation was the pre-recorded testimony of sister Gregoria Varcalcel Véliz who worked for the San Vicente Parish for 53 years and served a mission in Rabinal from 1976 to 1983.  She described arriving in the region soon after the earthquake of 1976. As head of the Parish’s Commission for Women, she witnessed the many accounts of violence in the region.  She shared about how they began to see the violence increase after a massacre that occurred in Rabinal on September 15th, where not many people were killed but it alerted them to what was happening.  Subsequent massacres they learned about included those in Rio Negro where first the men were killed and then the women who were forced to dance for the military prior to being raped and then killed.  

Sister Gregoria Varcalcel Véliz also mentioned learning about the massacre in the community of Agua Fría.  This knowledge came from accounts of women who came to the Parish seeking help.  On one occasion, she received a woman who had come to seek help to get an abortion because she was carrying a child resulting from a rape she had experienced.  They provided support for the woman, later helping her put the child up for adoption.  Another time, she received a woman who asked for help to get out of Rabinal, citing that her husband had been killed and she had many children to take care of and she wanted to go work on the coast [Pacific] but that the military commissioners would not allow the widows to leave.  Instead, the widows had their identity papers taken from them and were forced to become the women of the commissioners.

Sister Gregoria recalled also hearing of the massacres of Chichupac and Plan de Sanchez.  She recalled meeting a man who had rescued his daughter after she was viciously raped and was assumed to be dead.  The men told her how he had to carry his daughter to the health clinic and how she told him of his ordeal at the hands of her abusers on the way to the clinic.  Soon after they arrived to seek medical help, the clinic was surrounded by the military and he was forced to leave while his daughter remained inside.  Sometime later, a doctor came out to tell him his daughter had died, something the man could not believe because his daughter’s injuries were not life-threatening.  He believed the military had killed her.  

Rape and violence against women was very common, for example, she met a 23-year-old woman who was raped many times to the point where her bladder was completely destroyed.  This led to the Parish to address the issue of widows and all the children who were left without parents in need of health services.  However, it was very dangerous at the time to be a health promoter and she recounted cases where men who were community health promoters had to hide for fear of being killed.  As part of the Parish, she was sometimes able to travel in and out of communities to help rescue people in danger, however, at times they were told by women not to visit communities anymore because the women had been prohibited by the military from receiving visits.  During these times, many children were found and given in adoption, including one child she recalled being found feeding on the body of the deceased mother.     

The last report to be presented included interview footage of General Manuel Benedicto Lucas García who served as the Chief of Staff of the Guatemalan Army during the time of his brother’s Presidency.  In the interviews, Lucas Garcia shares his view on war as a necessary thing to help reduce populations, arguing that without war the peasant farmers would grow uncontrolled.  He states that if it is God’s will to be at war then there will be war.  

The General was trained in the French Official Army and cites that his brother and his uncle Miguel Garcia Granados are the sources of inspiration for his career– for which he believes he is a well-celebrated icon.  

Photo taken of the court room on January 4th, Photo Credits to Impunity Watch

In the interview, Benedicto Lucas García asserts the creation of patrols of 12 men who were often given three-day rations and sent out on missions in the mountains but discredits the arguments that the military could have carried out any crimes.  In his words, patrol members, being Indigenous, were too noble to commit crimes.  He argues that Plan Sofía did not exist, and that genocide did not take place because everyone was a peasant.  Plaza Publica’s report states that 65% of the massacres and 45% of the disappearances committed during internal armed conflict happened in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, and Quiché.  Similarly, 2 of the 5 Rio Negro massacres happened during Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia’s time as Chief of Staff of the Guatemalan army.  The General, however, contends that the mass graves found in military compounds are in fact cemeteries that were made to bury the dead of the 1976 earthquake.  

The footage concludes with a caption stating that the general was captured on the 6th of January 2016 for his involvement in the crimes that occurred in military zone 21, (now known as CREOMPAZ, the site of the largest known case of forced disappearance in all of Latin America).

Copies of all reports were made official and submitted to the court.  The trial will resume Monday, January 17th  at 8:30 AM Guatemala time.

Read the report-back for day 8 here.

Read the report-back from day 10 here.