The NP team stayed in Guatemala City this weekend anticipating hurricane winds from "Barbara". But in fact we in the city had one of the nicest weekends for weather yet. People closer to the coast were braced with sand bags and emergency planning. But the anticipated disaster did not take place. Although the hurricane did not touch ground, some fishers did not return home presumably drowned, several people lost roofs on their houses and there was some flooding in San Marcos.
The rainy season has started, so the air is cleaner and the morning sky is blue. It was warm with a gentle wind all weekend, so what was to be a rainy indoor weekend turned out to be a good one for taking walks around the city.
The hurricane that did hit at the end of the month was violent threats to a sister organization.
The Fundacion Anthropologia Forense de Guatemala (Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala FAFG) is exhuming the bodies of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who were "disappeared", tortured and killed during the "internal war" of the 1980s where army encampments were sent into Guatemalan cities, killing whole villages. The US government was an ally and supporter of the Guatemalan government at that time and has since apologized and is providing financial aid to the FAFG.
Staff of the FAFG, returning from the bank Thursday, May 24, were robbed at gunpoint by four armed men on motorcycles without license plates. They were carrying 9 mm guns such as are used by the national police. Both were hit on the face.
The next day, May 25, staff members of the FAFG received the following e mail messages:
"I have been watching like a hawk! You will all die soon. We have an order to make that damn director of FAFG suffer.
"Everyone in your family is being watched, for a long time we missed your sister's shit. We saw her in IGSS (Guatemalan Institute for Social Security). The bitch will suffer for her brother. We'll rape her and cut her up into pieces. Omar Giron (her husband) will find her. He'll be a widower. Then he'll leaves, we'll stop him. You can't imagine. FAFG will be in mourning, not just for Fredy but for other high ranking staff members. REVOLUTIONARY SHIT. Everybody must die in Zone 12 where our attack will be. The list is long, but your day will come Fredy. After we kill all your family."
These threats followed a formal legal request from several human rights organizations to not certify Efrian Rios Montt as a candidate for Parliament in the next election. Being elected to office would give him immunity from prosecution for crimes of genocide during the 1980s when he was President. Or at the very least would make it very difficult for any prosecution of him for crimes against humanity.
On Monday, May 28, the Director, Fredy Armando Peccerelli, received an e mail with the following threat:
"Time is running out Revolutionary shit. Today we are watching your sister she is wearing black pants and white shirt, it's going to be easier than we thought. The moment Omar knows that we raped her, it will all be worth it, and we are going to torture him until he tells us about all the exhumations. Fredy, your turn is coming.
ANTHROPOLOGISTS MUST DIE!!!!!!!!!!"
Human Rights activists believe that the mounting evidence of genocide is propelling the threats. FAFG announced on 23 May that they would begin the exhumation of 165 gravesites in specifically named communities, mostly in the northern part of Guatemala. The organization uses scientific method to locate and identify the bodies of victims of genocide. It perpetuates the historical record that many would have Guatemalans pretend never happened. Knowing the fate of their loved ones helps to bring closure for the survivors for years of anguish. It gives some measure of dignity to the deaths of innocent women, men and children who were massacred and buried in common graves.
The physical unearthing of the genocide would provide evidence for prosecutors seeking to bring Rios Montt to justice. Spanish courts have issued a warrant for his arrest and prosecution for the assassinations of Spanish citizens in Guatemala. He cannot be tried in absencia, so without immunity from prosecution, it would be significantly easier to arrest him. Once convicted for the crimes against Spanish citizens, the way would be open for others to charge him with crimes against humanity.
La Unidad de Proteccion de las Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos, the organization Nonviolent Peaceforce is accompanying, is investigating this case. Although a grievance was filed with the prosecutor's office, human rights activists do not anticipate that the government will investigate the threats to the FAFG.
The human rights community acted publicly in solidarity with Fredy Perccerelly and FAFG on Tuesday and the press was there to cover the story. However, no mention was made in the press either of the event or the death threats. As of 30 May, the electoral court has denied the petition to keep Rios Montt from running for office. This decision is under appeal.
A fundamental condition to be able to do nonviolent action is to overcome fear. If you are afraid, you are likely to flee or fight. Overcoming fear permits one to choose Jesus' "third way". See works by Walter Wink at http://www.cres.org/star/_wink.htm Much of the nonviolent action in Guatemala is organizing for better lives (projects of development, opposing hydroelectric plants that would inundate their lands and mines that would pollute their rivers) and investigating the cases of threats of assassination and rape and clarifying the nature of prevalence of the crimes against humanity in the hopes that they never happen again. People in Guatemala just want to live their lives without threats and intimidation. To overcome fear is to have courage.
In my Oshkosh Northwestern column 5 30 07 (see link below),
I wrote about the courageous people I meet every day and some I read about in the newspapers. Staff and family of FAFG are examples of this courage.
My Oshkosh Northwestern community commentary is at http://www.thenorthwestern.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070530/OSH06/705300504/1189
If you'd like to be part of our work, please go to http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org or e mail firstname.lastname@example.org Contributions from individuals and congregation through churches is matched by Samsara Fund.