Yesterday I witnessed the 23rd anniversary of the massacre in Plan de Sanchez, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz in which 268 indigenous men, women and children, were brutally murdered by the military.
On July 18, 1982, 60 military personnel and four judicial detectives arrived in the town of Plan de Sanchez and raped approximately 20 young women and brutally murdered 268 of its inhabitants with grenades and gunshots. They later forced the survivors to bury the bodies of the dead in 22 mass graves.
This year´s commemorative event has added significance as it is the first anniversary since the Inter-American Human Rights Court issued its verdict, on November 19, 2004, in favor of the victims and survivors in the case against the government and the military ruling for the first time that a genocide had taken place in Guatemala. Part of the sentence issued by the Court called for a public acknowledgement of the government´s responsibility and a public apology for the massacres that were carried out in the community.
Accordingly, this year the Vice-President of Guatemala, Eduardo Stein Barillas, attended the event and delivered what seemed to be a sincere heart felt apology to the community for the atrocities that occurred at the hands of the government on July 18, 1982, and declared this government´s will to bring forth legal action against those responsible for the massacres.
What remains pending is the reparations for the psychological and social damages suffered, public infrastructure works, and works for the improvement of the living and health conditions. The sentence also forced the Guatemalan Government to pay US$8 million (approximately Q60 million) in reparations to the victims family members (approximately $20,000 per relative of each victim), translate the Courts sentence into the local Achí language, and try those responsible for the massacre. VP Stein publicly pledged to fulfill all of the above mentioned points in the sentence.
The event itself was incredibly moving. It began with a vivid re-enactment of the brutal capture and massacre carried out by the Military and paramilitary forces in Plan de Sanchez, presented by a group of students from Pacux (the model resettlement community created to relocate the community of Rio Negro). The re-enactment was very graphic and as such clearly evoked very dramatic reactions and emotions by survivors of the massacres.
Some people cringed, others wept, others clenched with the sound of gunshots as if they were reliving that moment. Sitting side by side with survivors was an incredibly moving experience, and though I can never really know the pain that these survivors have felt and continue to feel, this experience brought one as close to their emotion as possible.
The re-enactment was described by one of the survivors as ¨not only a play, but as the stories of our families, in order for this to never be repeated and for it to never be forgotten.¨ The event was followed by a series of speakers, which included Frank LaRue from COPREDEH (Presidential Committee for the defense of Human Rights), who delivered a very candid speech not only acknowledging the government´s role (under Efraín Rios Montt) in the massacres of Plan de Sanchez, but also the need to answer the call for justice in the persecution and sentencing of those responsible for the massacre, and also acknowledging the work of CALDH in bringing the case before the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
In conclusion, another group of students, in conjunction with Fundación Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Foundation), delivered another vivid re-enacted the massacres in the community of Rio Negro on March 13, 1982.
I left the event feeling incredibly moved by the memory of what occurred on the very field in which the event was being held and on which I was standing. I visited the Church that was build to commemorate the lives of those who perished. The walls tell the tale of what occurred on that 18 of July, and also lists the names of each of the 268 people killed.
A vigil was held, candles and pictures laid out among 3 large crosses, each one representing the men, women and children who were killed. Survivors and relatives wept and shook as they remembered the horrors, others consoled them, and all the rest of us could do was bear witness and try to grasp the horrors.
Last night as I reflected on the day´s activities and talked them over with my host mom, I pondered over the costs and benefits of such an event and the effects of the act of re-living the experience on the survivors. On the one hand, a public commemoration of the massacres out of respect for those who were killed seemed appropriate. On the other hand, I cannot help but wonder to what extent the vivid nature of the event, the re-enactment of the brutality only helps to re-open some very deep and horrible wounds in the hearts, minds and souls of the survivors.
One will never know how each of the survivors will come to terms with or deal with the nightmares over what occurred on the 18 of July, 1982, one can only hope that this event, like the many others that preceded it, will help them remember but also allow them to move forward and create a more promising future for themselves and their children.
Posted By Paula Garcia Tufro
Posted Jul 19th, 2007