As I carefully lumbered through the rough terrain, down the steep riverbank exposed by the dangerously low water level, exhaustion from carrying my backpack and luggage made each necessary step towards our small lancha boat harder. But for the group, finishing the tedious hike and enjoying the scenery as the lancha slowly drove through Río Negro also signifies reaching a milestone on our journey — the completion of the Guatemalan tragic story from the Period of Armed Conflict.
In Rabinal, we had the honor to meet Don Jesús Tecú Osorio. When he was ten, the atrocious Río Negro Massacre took place in his community. He lost both of his parents overnight at Xococ. A month later, the patrollers gathered the remaining widows and children, massacred them on top of the mountain at a site known as Pak’oxom, and spared only eighteen young lives. Don Jesús was then “adopted” by one of the patrollers. For the next few years, he went on living as an exploitable labor with the very same patroller who murdered Don Jesús’ two year old brother in front of him.
At Río Negro, we were welcomed by Don Julián, one of the first survivors to return and to rebuild the community after the massacre. Although we had already heard many stories and watched several documentaries that were to prepare us for Río Negro, nevertheless, I was left petrified in front of the picture wall of the victims at the museum.
The next day, we hiked the very same path taken by those women and children on March 13, 1982 to Pak’oxom with Don Rogelio. Don Rogelio would stop several times to retell the story of the 3 mile path to death of the 177 innocent lives. At Pak’oxom in front of the memorial, Don Rogelio’s detailed description left everyone speechless. With the reference to Don Jesús’ memoir in my head, it was almost like I was there on March 13, 1982 witnessing the atrocity. On our way back, I had to stop and gaze blankly at the river for a while so that my body could readjust itself for the hike.
“In this place the voice was silenced.
In this place, existence perished.
All the earth rests.
Upon the forsaken bodies.
Of the children and the women of Río Negro.”
Translated from: Balada de losNiños y de las Mujeres Masacrados en Río Negro José Luis Villatoro
I have always been trying to gather my thoughts and to digest the overwhelming amount of information presented to us in the past 3 weeks. But it was in that moment, on top of the mountains at Pak’oxom looking down at the magical Panima’, Mayan Achí for Black River, I was suddenly able to connect the dots. Now I truly understand why Don Miguelangel “Gato” took up arms at age 15 to fight in the dangerous jungle of Petén. He fought to survive so that he could carry on the memories of his village. Now I truly understand why Don Cristobal continues to work day and night even after successfully founding two projects addressing community issues. He continues working with young Mayans so that they would not choose the wrong path of life, as those men in the 80s did, taking part in the massacre of their own people.
Like Gato and Nuevo Horizonte’s inspiring story, Don Jesús’ is about resilience in the face of injustice and strength to carry on the memories. Eventually, he was rescued by his sister, whom also survived the massacre. In 1993, he began to seek justice for his people. After years of trials, appeals, doubts, and threats, Don Jesús and other survivors were able to bring a few paramilitaries into jail.
The issue is far more complex than it seems. Don Jesús also pointed out in his memoir that the guerrillas executed thirty of their own members whom are from Río Negro as well. It was believed some acted on their own, provoked the military, and placed the civilian lives at risk. Nevertheless, the massacre of innocent men, women, and children is a crime against humanity. None of the convicted patrollers admit their crime. For Don Jesús, justice is when the ex-officials who are in hiding, those who are paying and threatening the convicted patrollers for their silence, and the mastermind behind all the massacres are found guilty. He will continue his work, constantly reminding the government like a rock in its shoes, until the day of justice for his people.
And for me, I am glad that I spend my summer to hear different stories, to seek the facts, and to be less ignorant on the matters of history of our humanity.
“Everyone is a messenger for Truth.” – Don Julián de Río Negro.
Now we begin a new chapter in San Juan. Stay tuned.
This Yak is written for all the survivors we have met.
http://www.fne.cosmosmaya.info/bienvenidos_en.html New Hope Foundation by Don Jesús
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IthQ_7MjW8c Surviving the massacre