Editor's Note: The international human rights case charging eight Guatemalan former military and police officials with genocide, state terrorism, torture and other crimes began February 4 in Madrid. Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and director of their Guatemala Project, attended the closed hearings as part of the investigative and legal team working on the Guatemalan Genocide Case. This is the third installment of her five-part series on the opening days of the case, in which witnesses gave harrowing testimony on a period known in Guatemala as the “Silent Holocaust.”
Day three of the Guatemalan genocide case took place in the chambers of Judge Santiago Pedraz with three more witnesses from the Quiché and the first woman witness, who testified about the Army’s attacks on Rabinal, Alta Verapaz. Almudena Bernabeu, attorney for the complainants with the Center for Justice and Accountability, questioned the witnesses.
In February 2007, a forensics team helped villagers in Chajul bury their dead after exhumation from mass graves. (Photo: James Rodriguez/ www.mimundo.org)
The first man to speak was from Chajul, where the Army began harassing and killing the people. In 1981 there were massacres near where he lived, and the communities began to establish lookouts to watch for the soldiers. At the beginning of 1982, the witness was watching and saw soldiers hurrying up the path toward his village. He ran to the aldea (village) and began banging on people’s doors, telling them to run. People tried to flee. The soldiers arrived and chased some people and killed them, they burned others in their houses.
The witness recalled: “The soldiers surrounded the village. They were all over the village. They grabbed one man who was a catechist, also the mayor and another eight people. Altogether 18 people died that day. The pain! All the people felt so frightened. The soldiers completely destroyed this village. The pigs, the chickens, the dogs, the animals, the trees with fruit – they killed all of them and cut down the plants and trees. There was nothing left. We were left with nothing, nothing, nothing.”
The witness fled with other families and went to the mountain, where they lived for more than a year. But more and more troops were moving into the Ixíl. In 1983, the Army built five new bases encircling the area. One day, when he and other refugees were trying to find food in the abandoned aldeas, the Army captured him. They took him to Nebaj in a helicopter to be interrogated. The commander of Nebaj questioned the witness and told him, “You people all deserve to die.” The witness was tortured in Nebaj, then he was taken to Santa Cruz del Quiché and tortured by men in civilian clothes carrying revolvers; he believes they were members of the G-2 (intelligence).
He was a prisoner of the military for many months, and then he was forced to work on a farm for years. He was freed in 1984 with the amnesty. As the witness finished his story, he said to Judge Pedraz, “Sir I want to say one thing about our arrival in Spain. We’re not here for the buildings and the beautiful streets. We came to appear in your good offices and to bring our testimony. We want the capture of these perpetrators; and not only in the department of Quiché, but in the other parts of the country.”
The second witness also spoke about the arrival of the military in his village in the Ixíl and the massacre of his family and neighbors. The Army came into his area in waves during 1982 and 1983 from Huehuetenango to Nebaj. His family died in August 1982 and he fled to the mountains, where he joined the Communities in Popular Resistance (CPR) and lived for a year and a half. He was captured by the military in 1984, but survived.
The third witness was 11 when the Army massacred his village. In the preceding months, soldiers had come to nearby aldeas and questioned people, capturing some, killing others. In 1982 they came to his village several times to rape and rob the people. One day the witness, who was learning how to farm his family’s milpa (farm plot), was walking home with his father when they passed a small community that seemed abandoned. It was silent. “My father said, 'Look, something happened here.' We kept going, when we got to edge of our community, we saw a sombrero thrown in the path. My dad told me not to touch it, but we were children so we picked it up to put it on – but then we saw it was bloody inside and dropped it.” They learned that the army had come over the hill while they were at the milpa. They killed seven people and burned two houses down.
In March the Army came to finish off the community. They gathered the people in the plaza and said, “Today we are going to kill all the guerrillas here.” The lieutenant who commanded the troops spoke on his radio to his chief. He forced all of the men and children into the church; the women were put in the judicial building. The men were called out and some were shot and killed, including his father; others were saved. Eighty men died. The witness and his brothers were among the children forced to help bury the bodies. The soldiers gave the people 15 minutes to gather their belongings and then they burnt his house and all the houses. All the houses built with reeds and leaves, as the Maya there built them, were burnt. If the house was not built of leaves, they left them alone.
The witness was taken with other children to the property belonging to the farm known as “La Perla.” He was forced to work without salary for many months. There were hundreds of other children there and many of them died of hunger and cold and untreated illness. “We were slaves of the army.” He went from there to an Army base and worked there also – cutting wood for the military and patrolling with the civil patrols (PAC).
The lawyer Bernabeu questioned the witness: What is La Perla? It was the name of the farm; the colonos (laborers) lived there and worked the property – the boss lived in the capital, not there. The “annex” of La Perla was called Santa Delfina, where the witness was sent and worked for one year. The owner’s name was Enrique Arena. He would often come with the soldiers, so he knew very well what was happening on his property. The witness said that all the big farm owners were paying money to the army to protect their property. And they wanted the campesinos off the land.
The final witness was from Rabinal. She began her testimony by recounting the crimes by committed by the Army against her and her people: She was raped by soldiers in Rabinal, her husband was forcibly disappeared, her mother was burned alive inside her house, her aunt and sister-in-law were raped, and the survivors fled the massacre in her village, where 32 people died.
The witness gave the judge the details of these crimes. She was taken to an Army base and kept there bound with rope and naked for 15 days, repeatedly raped by soldiers. Her uncle finally came to the base and rescued her, took her out of there. “I wanted to die,” she told the judge. She went to work in a woman’s house.
“Now we will never recover our land, we live in poverty. I was with my husband for 12 years, and I loved him very much. I feel this sadness.”
Kate Doyle is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and a member of NACLA’s Editorial Committee.
James Rodríguez is an independent photo-documentarian based in Guatemala. His work is available online here. Any comments or interest in publishing, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org