The day started with Maya Kaqchikel researcher Aura Cumes’ presentation of her expert report on Harassment, Persecution and Displacement in Xesiguan, Rabinal. The report examined the Achi people’s experience of Guatemalan military control during the Internal Armed Conflict. Cumes found that the army used the Achi people themselves against their own community. The community of Xesiguan was labeled guerrilla supporters. As a result, one community member stated, “death was our punishment.” While some men refused to participate in the civil patrols, risking death, others were willing to destroy their own culture and people.
Cumes found that the people of Xesiguan sought refuge in Rancho Bejuco because there were more ladinos in El Chol and therefore, less violence than in Rabinal. Many families from Xesiguan had held agricultural lands in Rancho Bejuco for many generations and would go there seasonally to tend to their crops.
The massacre of Rancho Bejuco was planned in the same method as many of the massacres in other parts of the country. Cumes found that 80% of the population of Rancho Bejuco was exterminated. Survivors continued to face persecution, suffering from poverty, hunger, forced to live in model villages, and some of the women experienced sexual violence if they were captured and brought to the military outpost or while they were living in model villages. Nonetheless, those survivors continue to demand justice over 40 years since the massacre.
The first defence witness for two of the accused (Lazaro Alvarado de Paz and Juan Lopez Sic) was a social worker from the Public Defender’s office. She presented a report which included interviews with Alvarado and López Sic themselves, as well as character reference interviews with members of their communities. They were said to be “men of the church”, humble and good men.
Alvarado and Lopez’s second witness was a childhood friend. He stated that the family of one of the defendant’s wives had had a land dispute with one of the survivors dating back to 2017. He said that was why the defendant was being accused of these crimes. The defendant’s wife is a relative of the Rancho Bejuco massacre survivors and said the case is a pretense for the real issue over the land.
Day 6 of the trial began with the defence calling an information analyst from the Public Defender’s office, whose role was to make observations, conduct interviews and examine photos in relation to the massacre. The investigator stated that the army evicted the community from Pacoc, where many of the accused are originally from, in June 1982. Therefore, they claim that it would have been impossible for them to participate in civil patrols in Rancho Bejuco the following month. The investigator also stated that the civil patrols were only expected to patrol the perimeter of El Chol and not travel into the mountains.
The investigator also stated that July 29, the date of the massacre, is Alvarado’s birthday. He claimed Alvarado was making plans for a birthday celebration when the massacre of Rancho Bejuco occurred.
The fourth witness for Lopez Sic and Alvarado was Alvarado’s family member and Lopez Sic’s neighbour, respectively. The witness had formally been a civil patroller himself and was also in the military. He was very emphatic that the accused men were not involved in the massacre, but that Juan Ovalle should be held responsible as commander of the military base. He also made it very clear that only the people who did not leave their lands when ordered to do by the military so were massacred- and that it was their own fault for not obeying the law. They considered all the Xesiguan community members guerrillas.
He repeated the information about the land conflict between Juan Lopez Sic and one of the central witnesses for the case and that Alvarado was celebrating his birthday on the day of the massacre.
The fifth witness for Alvarado and Lopez Sic was another neighbour whose family had land in Pacoc. He also stated that the people of Pacoc were forced out of their community in June 1982 to stop the community from supporting the guerrillas. The witness also stated that Alvarado was celebrating his birthday the day of the massacre. In addition, he claimed that civil patrols weren’t instituted until April 1983, almost a year later, and therefore the accused were not acting as civil patrols at the time of the massacre.
The final witness of the day was the nephew of a midwife who travelled to the community of Pacoc. He often accompanied her in her travels. The witness stated that when the Pacoc eviction occurred, the community members were forced to scatter, ending up everywhere- from the neighbouring municipality to northern Guatemala in the jungle. Therefore, they could not have been patrolling the area one month later, when the massacre occured. He also stated that Alvarado was celebrating his birthday on the day of the massacre.
The trial will continue on Tuesday, July 4 with more defence witnesses.