Day 1 in Guatemala (Sunday)
Carrie Anne Comer
I arrived yesterday afternoon with Christina Iturralde, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. For me, this delegation is more of a return ‘home’ than a visit. I lived in Guatemala from 2006-2012, only recently relocating to Berlin. Yesterday and this morning, while trying to recover from jetlag, I had the opportunity to speak with a few old friends and colleagues who testified as expert witnesses last week in the trial or who are working with the civil party complainant on the case.
However, the atmosphere is tense—people are reluctant to speak in detail about the case via telephone or in public. Fear of repercussions and concern about telecommunications interference or the wrong people overhearing a conversation are unfortunately part of a long tradition in Guatemala.
Human rights defenders know that their actions touch raw nerves, and their caution is understandable: today El Periodico, one of the country’s widest circulated newspapers, included a 20 page insert paid for by the Fundación Conta el Terrorismo (The Foundation against Terrorism), entitled ‘The Genocide Farse in Guatemala’ (link below).
In my seven years of living in this country, I became accustomed to the continued use of inflammatory rhetoric to intimidate and create resentment towards victims of the 36-year armed conflict and other human rights defenders. Such people are commonly accused of being communists and traitors, for example. However, today’s insert is the most alarming piece of such material I have seen. It begins with a threat:
‘We hereby warn the kingdoms of Sweden and Norway and the rest of the states that fund hate and resentment in Guatemala that the vast majority of Guatemalans are not your subjects and we shall defend our sovereignty. We are not lab rats for your social experiments and we will not allow you to impose on us your twisted models of justice. The world deserves to know the truth!’
Within the document, the authors accuse the guerrilla forces of the atrocities committed during the war. They make accusations about the involvement of Catholic priests and nuns, including Bishop Gerardi who was assassinated in 1998, and of international solidarity networks such as NISGUA, of complicity with terrorists and of propagating the ‘genocide farce’. Internationally recognized human rights personalities such as Rigoberta Menchu (1992 Nobel Peace Prize recipient) and Frank La Rue (UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression) are also implicated.
The piece ends with the following:
‘The farce achieved its strategic objective, that Guatemala be accused and discredited for a supposed genocide that never existed.
After the rejected, and therefore illegal “Peace Accords” (rejected by the population convened for a referendum in May of 1999), the Catholic Church, committed to liberation theology, fired the last shot, with the REMHI [the Catholic Church’s truth commission report], an instrument of revenge written by a team led by Marxist priests and headed by Juan Gerardi. The rest is biased and perverse history written by those who were opponents of the State, who, lacking manliness and principles, use it as AN INSTRUMENT TO INEVITABLY LEAD US TOWARDS A NEW CONFRONTATION.’
Being distributed in the Sunday edition of a well-reputed newspaper lends this piece an air of credibility and portrays the material as factual. It will no doubt add fuel to the ongoing atmosphere of conflict and hostility, which is clearly concerning for witnesses, lawyers and other human rights defenders involved in the genocide case. Increased international attention on the situation in Guatemala for human rights defenders is especially important in light of such circumstances.
Our delegation is here to observe what we believe will be the final week of the trial, and we hope that our presence will be useful not only to accompany this important and historic process, but also to document some of the tactics being used to discredit these same proceedings. Finally, as fundamental as the genocide trial is, it is important to locate it within a context of continued human rights violations nationwide, and to support comprehensive justice efforts in Guatemala.
Link to full document: