December 2012 Newsletter
SAVE THE DATE
Saturday, February 9, 2013
We will welcome back the January Delegation to Guatemala
More information will follow in January
The following is an excerpt from a recent letter received from SEPA sponsored accompanier Erik Woodward. Every word is worth reading. The letter in its entirety may be found at www.obsepa.org.
Dear Friends and Family:
I am currently living in the town of
Rabinal, in the department of Baja Verapaz, about 50 miles north east of
Guatemala City (but still 5 hours away by bus!). Rabinal is a large pueblo,
home to about 20,000 and the overwhelming majority are ethnically Maya Achi. In
the markets and on the streets you’re more likely to hear Achi, the indigenous
language in the region, than you are to hear Spanish. The pueblo itself is
situated in a valley and surrounded by mile high mountains, lush forests, and
dozens of smaller villages, or as they are called in Spanish aldeas. My
French-Canadian partner and I work in 14 of these aldeas, each with its own
unique context, community, and history. Common to all however is the brutal
violence they have experienced during the years of the Guatemalan armed
conflict, many having been massacred in the early 1980s in the government’s
genocidal anti-insurgency campaign. Of the 14 aldeas we visit, most are within
a 30 minute car ride away from Rabinal and therefore we are able to make most
of our visits as daytrips. However, 6 of the aldeas are far enough away from
the pueblo that we have to stay over night in order to visit all of the people
who have asked us for accompaniment. One of those far away communities is
called Plan de Sanchez.
Plan de Sanchez is settled high in the mountains overlooking Rabinal, home to some 40 campesinos and their families. A single lane dirt highway lined by cinder block houses runs through the center of the village, to the east high mountain peaks and to the west a steep slope that leads to the valley of Rabinal. One Catholic Church, an understaffed community health center, a primary school, and three small tiendas (small stores) complete the tour of the aldea.
Plan de Sanchez has a long history of community
and political organizing, including struggles for agrarian reform in the 1940s
and again in the 1960s as a part of the greater movement of liberation theology
in Latin America. Under the reign of dictator Lucas Garcia in the
1970s and later under Rios Montt in the 1980s, Plan de Sanchez’s
affiliation with political and social organizing came to be perceived by the
government as anti-government guerrilla organizing. Without oversimplifying
what is an incredibly complex history, it is fair to say that this perception
contributed to the military presence in Plan de Sanchez in the 1980s, and
ultimately to the 1982 massacre of the village when 268 men, women, and
children were tortured, raped, and murdered. In March of 2012 a Guatemalan
Court also ruled that 5 of those responsible for the massacre of the community
would be sentenced to 7,710 years in prison each.
nervous to learn that my first day of work would have me attending a community
commemoration for the 30th anniversary of the massacre of Plan de Sanchez. Imagining
a melancholy night filled with unfathomable testimonies of violence and
suffering, I was unsure how I would personally react to the history of violence
and how the community would receive me, an outsider and complete stranger, on
their night of remembrance.
When we arrived in Plan de Sanchez the streets were empty and quiet. The sun was setting over the mountain and darkness quickly set in. My partner and I went to a community member’s house for dinner, where we ate chicken tamales, pinol (a soup made from the seeds of a native squash), and of course tortillas (normally dinner is beans and tortillas, so this was definitely a meal for a special occasion). Over dinner they asked me if I knew why everyone was coming to Plan de Sanchez that night. I replied that the community was commemorating the 30th anniversary of the massacre. Luis stoically looked at the setting sun, and I uncomfortably prepared myself for what I was sure would be his traumatic story of that day. But his story never came—instead he nodded, thanked us for coming, and offered us more tortillas.
After dinner we made our way to the catholic church, a one room building situated on the hill where the massacre took place 30 years ago to the day. By this time the sun has already set. The church was illuminated by a single light bulb and hundreds of candles. We sat down against the back wall to take in the scene. At the front of the church was an altar with a crucifix, steps lead down to the floor which were covered in candles, pine needles, flowers, and photographs. A handful of men gathered in front of the altar, and the women and children of the community sat on benches lining the walls. In total there were probably 100 people present. The church walls themselves were lined with the names of the victims of the massacre, and on one side a large poster hung with the pictures and stories of 20 people who lost their lives on July 18, 1982. All around the room candles were arranged in the shape of crosses, and every few minutes a man would walk around to each and carefully pour liquor, beer, wine, or soda around them in a very precise manor. Three men loudly played a marimba (a Guatemalan instrument like a large xylophone), and the people of Plan de Sanchez talk amongst themselves.