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 fifth and final 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.”
The fifth and last day of the Guatemala genocide hearing took place on Friday, February 8, in the chambers of Judge Santiago Pedraz of the Audiencia Nacional (Federal Court) in Madrid, Spain. Testimonies were heard in the morning from three protected witnesses.
Nicolás Chen, a Río Negro survivor (not a witness in the case), visits the museum where a number of his murdered relatives’ photographs are on display. Pictured here with his daughter. (Photo: James Rodriguez/ www.mimundo.org)
The first witness described his experiences leading up to and following the Río Negro massacre of March 13, 1982. He was a young farmer growing corn, beans, tomatoes and jocote for market, when violence first began to destroy the life of his community during the regime of Gen. Romeo Lucas García. Lucas formed the civil patrols, and the patrollers entered the aldeas (villages) with soldiers and harassed the residents, accused them of being guerrillas, captured, and killed them. The witness and other men in his family began hiding out in the mountains for days at a time to avoid the patrols. “We couldn’t work peacefully anymore. We would go to plant the seeds, but we couldn’t sow peacefully. We would take in the harvest but we couldn’t eat it peacefully.”
On March 13, 1982, the army and the Xococ PAC came to take away the women and children of Río Negro. The witness was not in the village that day but was in the mountains nearby. He learned afterwards that when the army and patrollers arrived, they went into the houses and asked the women, where are your men? They asked the children too, and when the children answered in Achí they would get mad. They pretended not to understand Achí so that they could hide the fact that they came from the same places as these people and were indigenous too. The soldiers and patrollers grabbed the women and children and killed many of them; 107 children died that day.
The witness stayed in the mountains for many months, trying to survive on the food gathered in the forest and reaped from hidden milpas (farming plots). In 1983 an airplane flew overhead and dropped pamphlets over them saying the violence was over and there was an amnesty. The witness and his companions decided to present themselves at the nearby destacamento (base). He was arrested and tied up and held on the base for three days. He was taken to the Cobán military base and imprisoned in a cell where they kept prisoners they planned to kill.
Every three days they took him out to be tortured and interrogated. After 15 days, the witness was removed and sent into the mountains with soldiers. He was forced to carry food and radio equipment, and later medicine. The soldiers would enter villages and pretend to give the residents medical aid. They said the witness was a nurse, though he was not. “It was only a trick to get the people to talk.” While they were attending to the people they would ask them the whereabouts of certain suspects. He passed four months that way. Eventually, he was freed and given papers saying he had collaborated with Army.
The second witness was also from Río Negro, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. He talked about the massacres carried out in and around the aldea of Río Negro – five massacres in all. He talked about the government’s construction project to build a hydro-electric dam in the area [the Chixoy Dam]. The first massacre took place on March 4, 1980, when soldiers and members of the Policia Militar Ambulante (a military police force) serving as security guards for the dam killed seven campesinos, who refused to leave their land; the land was fertile but it had been expropriated for the project.
The violence mounted during 1981 and 1982. On February 13, 1982, a massacre near Xococ left 73 dead. On the morning of March 13, the witness was returning home from sleeping in the mountains for safety, when his wife screamed to him from inside their house, “Go back! The soldiers are coming!” He dropped the wood he was carrying and ran, but stayed close enough to see the women and children being corralled by the troops. He heard the women and child crying as they were being marched up the hill. The next morning he and other men came to Pacoxom, the hill where the massacre had taken place. They saw clubs, machetes, bullet shells scattered on the ground. The bodies were piled there. Everyone in the witness’s family was killed: his pregnant wife and two small children, his sister, his mother-in-law, and her daughter.
The witness fled to the mountains with other survivors from the zone. They organized themselves into little groups so they couldn’t all be killed at once. People who did not remain in the mountains were captured and pressed into service on the Cobán military base or imprisoned there. The witness remained in hiding until 1986.
Under questioning, the witness said that Captain José Antonio Solares was the officer who oversaw operations in the zone. Although the government knows this and there is an arrest warrant out for him, they have failed to capture him. Solares continues to receive his military pension and lives with impunity.
The last protected witness was an eyewitness and survivor of a massacre that took place in another part of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, on July 29, 1982. He was tending to his animals on the hillside by his home when he heard shots and saw soldiers and patrollers enter his house. They came out with his wife and four children. His family members were corralled with others in a goat pen belonging to another house in the aldea. He watched as they were tied up and tortured, their faces and bodies cut, and then killed. The bodies were thrown down a well near the house; there were 27 in all. When the group of men left, the witness was able to count them: there were 10 soldiers and 15 patrollers. He named all those he recognized for Judge Pedraz.
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