In Guatemala, a long road to Justice

Published on Waging NonViolence, by Marta Molina, June 7, 2013.

Two weeks ago, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the historic guilty verdict of the nation’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who had been convicted of committing genocide and crimes against humanity during his short reign from 1982 to 1983. The Constitutional Court’s decision annulled Montt’s 80-year prison sentence and ordered that the final weeks of the case be retried. At 86 years old, Ríos Montt was the first former head of state in Latin America to be sentenced for genocide by his own country. 

In response, human rights organizations across Latin America organized actions protesting the sentence annulment, supporting the victims of genocide and condemning legal impunity. In Guatemala, an estimated 5,000 people marched through the capital on May 24. Simultaneous actions occurred in front of the Guatemalan embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico City, Mexico; Managua, Nicaragua; Lima, Peru; Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Additional protests occurred in El Salvador and Costa Rica.

Competing interests: … //

… A female face:

  • Across Latin America and Spain, feminist organizations led the solidarity movement. In Honduras, one of the core organizers of the protest outside the Guatemalan embassy in Tegucigalpa was Helen Ocampo, a member of a feminist studies group.
  • “We are in solidarity with the women who were attacked, raped and killed,” she explained in a phone interview.
  • Neesa Medina, from the Center for Women’s Rights in Honduras, was also at the protest in Tegucigalpa.  “It was an action of solidarity among women that transcends what happens in our own country,” she said. She explained that the call for solidarity protests came from a group of women in Guatemala rather than from organizations or political parties. Medina joined the solidarity effort, she explained, because she recalled the images from the trials, in which she could see the women’s pain, and she identified with them. “I can’t erase the images of the Ixil women from my mind, nor their stories. That’s why we will keep standing up for the role of women in indigenous communities, not just as victims but as fighters,” she said.
  • In Madrid, Mercedes Hernández, the president of the Guatemalan Women’s Association, also helped organize solidarity protests. To her, the entire struggle for human rights has a female face, and the history of resistance in Latin America can be seen as the history of the rights and struggles of women. In Guatemala, widowed women spent decades organizing to defend human rights, assuming community leadership roles and full responsibility for the children when men were killed in the conflict. All Latin American countries have these women. In Argentina, for example, the Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo — an organization of women whose children or grandchildren disappeared during the country’s military dictatorships — are the most prominent group defending human rights.
  • Yet, this organizing history is often buried, in part because the original violence is never fully acknowledged. Hernández explained that the truth commissions that have narrated the conflicts of Latin America have often hidden the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In Honduras, for example, femicides increased 160 percent after the 2009 coup d’état, prompting Medina and others to begin an organizing effort that has not stopped to this day. “We didn’t let ourselves be forgotten,” she said. “Because we have the constant fear that something similar may happen again.”
  • According to Hernández, these commissions have also obscured the gender violence in Guatemala’s past, in which unarmed women constituted more than 40 percent of those murdered during some of the worst moments of the crisis.

A continent looking for justice: … //

… (full text).

(Marta Molina is an independent journalist from Barcelona, Catalunya. She has written about cultural resistance in Brazil and nonviolent resistance in Palestine. Now she is based in Mexico following the steps of the Movement for Peace, Justice and Dignity (MPJD) against the war on drugs, and the movement Yosoy132 for the democratization of media and an authentic democracy in the country. She also reports about movements on defense of the land and struggles for autonomy in the South of México and Guatemala. You can follow Marta on Twitter at @martamoli_RR).

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