(Exclusive to Justicia for Migrant Workers…)
The Rios Montt case and my reply to a friend:
Hi Evelyn: how you been? How is everything at work, teaching your classes? I Hope everything is well with you.
Evelyn, you ask me how I’m feeling. Thank you for your question, because it made me think about the accumulation of feelings I have. I’m telling you, last Friday, May 10, which is Mothers’ Day in Guatemala, when I heard the final verdict in the trial for genocide against the ex-President de facto Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala, when the Judge pronounced the sentence of genocide and sent him to prison for 80 years, there came to my mind a world of memories. It was a mixture of emotions that even now are difficult to explain, which somehow still leave me with a feeling of uncertainty: satisfaction, vindication, sadness, justification, hope? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not happiness.
Memories of high-school friends came to mind, who, being almost children, were kidnapped and assassinated, friends and comrades from work and struggle who disappeared, and until now we still do not know where their remains lie after having been “detained” by the “security” forces of the Guatemalan state. I thought of the 520 years since the invasion by blood-thirsty Spanish colonialists. The entire history of racism, exclusion, massacres; the 200,000 dead and 45,000 detained and disappeared in the so-called “internal armed conflict”, the men, women, old folk, and children who did not have the slightest opportunity to defend themselves against the brutal oppression of the military, who had nothing to defend themselves with, not even the slightest possibility of doing so. I remembered our forced flight into exile to save ourselves, and all the relatives who had to remain behind in Guatemala.
The feelings I had, penetrating my whole being, when the courageous Judge Jazmín Barrios read the charges of crimes against humanity and genocide, something which always had to remain hidden, are now recognized by the Court. Hearing the sentence imposed on Ríos Montt, 80 years in prison, incommutable, for someone who had felt he was all-powerful, who acted with such evil. The feeling was indescribable. It will remain with me for the rest of my life. The feelings are contradictory, because I also feel that this has become a very distinguished episode in the history of humanity, in the conscience of humanity, which vindicates all those who were affected. Whatever happens later (because Justice in Guatemala is very weak and it’s possible that Ríos Montt might manage to avoid prison), it is important. It’s important because the truth was pronounced in the Court, the Ixil people were heard, especially those women who painfully testified about the crimes committed against them. And he, who was a powerful dictator, had the opportunity he denied to many, to be heard, judged and sentenced.
With this judgement, I also felt that the racist, patriarchal system of oligarchy which excludes and exploits, the history of despoliation and marginalization of the great majority of indigenous, ladino and mestizo people of the country, was being judged. I felt that a sentence was being pronounced against this worn-out, inhumane model of imposition which prevents development, implemented by force in Guatemala, through fire and blood by the settler families, by armed forces who persecuted their own people, through decisions by illegitimate and corrupt governments, nationally and internationally, with the complicity of transnational corporations. This shameful system has to be changed, transformed or eliminated, sooner or later, we don’t know, but justice gives us hope for the future.
I feel that a sentence has also been passed on the indifference of many people, on the consciousness of a part of the Guatemalan people and of the international community, who with their silence, racism and indifference have also been accomplices in this holocaust, because he who knows that a crime has been committed and does not report it is an accomplice by law. I feel a great satisfaction that since Friday, May 10, 2013, the ex-General, who felt and was treated by some as almost a god, arrogant and pretentious, the untouchable José Efraín Ríos Montt, is prisoner no. 19 in the Matamoros penitentiary, convicted of the crime of Genocide.
I also feel somewhat hopeful, because the State of Law in Guatemala has become stronger, because we have managed to deepen the democracy which until now has been limited to proceedings, because the institutions charged with implementing true justice are now beginning to function for the benefit of all, because if we can manage to ensure this minimal degree of governability then our beloved people will be able to enjoy a better life. I understand that this will not resolve all the structural problems of my yearning, beloved country; I’m aware of the limitations, I know that many more struggles remain; however, this sentence is a small, but at the same time, gigantic step. A paradox, no?
I feel that the memory and struggles of many heroes, known and unknown, were vindicated on Friday, May 10, 2013, because a truth was recognized that has been denied for a long time, and because by carrying out justice we can begin to live in peace, to recognize the truth and envision the possibility that the assassins of the people can be brought to justice. To paraphrase Gandhi, we can say that “there is no road to peace, peace is the road.”
Although very far from Guatemala, I have this feeling that only comes from the dignity of all those men, women and institutions who valiantly and proudly endured with stoicism the lies, calumnies, manipulation, threats, intimidation, and physical attacks in their struggle to achieve justice in Guatemala. I feel pain and yearning for all those who were assassinated in these struggles. I feel that now all those buried in clandestine cemeteries can begin to close their eyes in peace.
“They will steal our fruits,
they will cut our branches,
they will burn our trunk,
but they will never be able to kill our roots!” –
In any case, Evenly, many emotions and feelings, but I feel well, and many thanks for asking, it has helped me to reflect.
Toronto, May 14, 2013—Translated by David Kettle