BAJA VERAPAZ PROVINCE, Guatemala – They managed to survive Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war and now are continuing their struggle in the post-conflict years against impunity, poverty and neglect.
Looking down on the hamlet of Pacux, a small settlement in the central province of Baja Verapaz whose former aroma of corn and bean crops has been eradicated by drought, Juan Chen Chen watches a group of Mayan-Achi Indian women take part in a ceremony at a monument.
They are paying tribute to victims of the most notorious of a series of massacres perpetrated against the Rio Negro community, a crime in which army soldiers killed 177 indigenous women and children in 1982.
The names of the victims, separated by gender, are written on the four sides of the monument, which is surrounded by candles and colorful flowers. Juan looks behind him and reminds EFE that he, like everyone else in the village, also lost someone during the Rio Negro massacres between 1980 and 1982.
His nine-year-old nephew Emilio Osorio remains officially listed as missing. Nineteen other family members – brothers, uncles and other relatives – lost their lives in the various massacres.
For Juan, justice is just an illusion.
“The government has not repaid the blood of our dead,” said Juan, who accuses former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, in power from 1982 to 1983 and now 90 and recently declared mentally unfit to stand trial on genocide charges; and retired army commander Gen. Manuel Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who allegedly founded Guatemala’s paramilitary groups and will stand trial in an enforced disappearance and rape case, of countless atrocities.
“Our life here now is pitiful,” said 58-year-old Bernardo Chen, who was among a group of eight people taken by soldiers to Military Zone 21 in Coban, where he said they were locked up for five days without food or drink.
He demanded justice for victims and urged the government to uphold sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which calls on the government to recognize its responsibility for the Rio Negro atrocities and build infrastructure and provide basic services for members of the community of Rio Negro who reside in the Pacux settlement.
That sentence was handed down in September 2012, but it has not yet been carried out and the community continues to suffer from a lack of health care, potable water, housing and education.
Some 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away lies the Plan de Sanchez hamlet, where on July 18, 1982, army soldiers massacred 268 people after raping some women and torturing others. Some survived by hiding in the nearby mountains.
A Catholic church now stands where mass graves had been dug, its walls bearing the slogan “Never again” in remembrance of those who were tortured and massacred.
Juan, a man in the community who continues to struggle for justice for the victims of Guatemala’s civil war, lost 28 family members during the conflict, many of whose bodies were so badly burned they could not be identified.
Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission (CEH), which operated in the late 1990s, found that more than 200,000 people died or disappeared during the internal armed conflict that pitted the security forces against leftist guerrillas
The armed forces and paramilitary groups were responsible for 93 percent of the human rights violations committed during the civil war, including 92 percent of the forced disappearances, the CEH said.