Alert: My Family in Guatemala is Under Attack
by Jennifer Harbury
As you read this I am heading for Guatemala. My family has been attacked there. We urgently need as many calls as you and your friends can possibly make to the Guatemalan embassy this week, starting Monday morning....
I am writing to ask you for your emergency calls for protection for my family down in Guatemala. All three of my sisters in law have been threatened and one was badly battered a few days ago in front of her small children. She is now in hiding with her entire family. I am leaving for Guatemala in a day or so to see work with the MINUGUA team and other human rights groups; and to lodge my formal protest with the government. The army knows everyone is getting ready to leave for the holidays, and they are testing the waters to see what they can get away with in terms of retaliation against my family. They also hope that given the Sept. 11 backlash, that they can do whatever they please nowadays. All this is happening because they are up against the deadline the Inter-American Court gave them for complying with the reparations order in Everardo’s case, and they are very, very angry. I fear that someone is going to be killed or badly hurt if there is not an immediate and powerful response from all of us. Has not the Bamaca family suffered enough?
Ironically, all of this started with what appeared to be a startling victory. A few weeks ago, Copredeh, (the government’s defense lawyers in the case), called us to say that the government was willing to pay the money damages award ordered by the Inter-American Court. We were all astounded by this news, needless to say. I have always assumed that it would take me twenty years to get this particular government to comply in this particular case. The Court, of course, had also ordered that Everardo’s body be returned to me, and that the Court’s findings and fact and law about what really happened be published in the main Guatemalan newspapers. But when we asked about these portions of the order, we were told that there was no time for discussion about these issues. The Copredeh people also insisted that I arrive in Guatemala at once to sign the papers, and that there should be no publicity. This caused some obvious concern, but I did go down, and met with both the family and Copredeh lawyers. We decided that for the sake of the family’s safety, we would keep all this secret until they could move to a more protected area. We were, frankly, all amazed when the funds were actually transferred later that week. The Guatemalan government has paid the damages in Everardo’s case.
Unfortunately, they are evidently now bent on making us pay too. Some of the reprisals began even before we had heard from the government.
Several months ago, my sister in law Alberta Velasquez, Efrain’s half sister, reported several disturbing incidents. She and her family had fled from the remote finca where they grew up as a result of the army repression in the area. They have lived quietly in a small barrio in the
Capital until recently. Then the neighbors began to report that armed men were looking for her husband and asking where he lived. Friends told her son that he should hide, that a car with black glass windows was circling the area, and had asked where he lived. The car was full of armed men. Strangers she had never seen before began speaking loudly in the streets about the Bamaca case, swearing they would kill any relatives if they ever found them. She and her family once again fled their home, and are now in a new location.
When I was in Guatemala two weeks ago, I learned that my other sister in law, Josefina Bamaca Velasquez, had also fled her home as well, over a month ago. Armed men had broken into her small hut on the remote finca where she still lived, terrifying her, and searching everywhere, for what she did not know. Needless to say, a robbery by a large group of well armed men in a tiny and impoverished peasant community is very unusual, given that the residents would have virtually nothing to steal.
Such assaults have traditionally been politically motivated and carried out by the army or other state security sectors.
On Wednesday, December 11, my sister in law Egidia Bamaca Velasquez was attacked in her home in a small barrio just outside of Malacatan. Six well armed men wearing ski masks, and bearing guns and machetes entered her house and beat her in front of her children, threatening to kill her. This is a very tiny and frail woman who suffered from severe malnutrition for most of her life. The style of the attack is very much that of the military. Once again they tore up the house, searching for something, and lamenting that they had not found it. I presume they were searching for her bank book, intending to take away the very funds they had just been forced to pay in reparations.
Obviously, the military is furious and also mortified by the payment of the reparation portion of the award and now intends to seek "vengeance".
They know that the best way to hurt me is to hurt the family. They also wouldn’t mind if a "common criminal" kidnapped someone to take the money back, or killed someone to "teach me a lesson". I have now met most of my 21 nieces and nephews, from baby Everardo, two years old, to the young adults. It would be difficult for me to imagine a brighter, more talented group of young Mayans, and I am so pleased to think that my share of the reparations award will send each and every one of them to the University. (I signed years ago to give all of my share to the new generation and will honor that commitment.) If they live. I could, of course, try to bring them here, and will do so if they wish. But exile was not part of the Court’s concept of justice in this case; and Guatemala has already lost three generations of its best and brightest, either to the death squads or as refugees. This has to end.
I will, as I say, be leaving for Guatemala either Monday or Tuesday. I have notified some Congressional offices, but remain concerned that the army may try to arrest me or charge me with "illegal speech", as they have been doing with so many other human rights leaders recently. It is the new fashion to bring charges for criminal defamation, incitement to riot, or even treason….as we have seen in the cases of Rigoberta Menchu,
Rosario Pu, Bruce Harris, and many others. We have already notified the Court that the family needs protection at once. However, your calls to the Guatemalan Embassy, as of early Monday morning and throughout this week, are the most important of all. The government needs to know that this case has not been forgotten, and that our own commitment to human rights for all people is as strong as ever. They are waiting to evaluate our response. Your calls will keep people alive over the Christmas holidays, quite literally.
PLEASE CALL OR WRITE THE GUATEMALAN EMBASSY AT ONCE.
TELEPHONE : 202-745-4952
ADDRESS : 2220 R St. NW Washington D.C. 20008
EMAIL : firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax: (202) 745-1908
1. Please tell the Guatemalan government that we will not tolerate acts of state terrorism and reprisals against any persons seeking justice.
2. We demand guarantees of safety for all members of the Bamaca family.
3. We demand safe passage for Jennifer Harbury while she seeks to protect her family.
4. Should there be further actions of this nature, we will ask our Congresspersons to move for the extradition of military officers implicated in the drug trade in Guatemala.
5. If this is how Guatemala respects the international judicial system, we will start up a campaign to have Guatemala expelled from the OAS.
IF YOU WISH TO MAKE CALLS TO CONGRESS TO ASK THEM TO CONTACT THE GUATEMALAN GOVERNMENT , PLEASE DO SO. THE SWITCHBOARD NUMBER IS (202) 224-3121.
THANK YOU, EVERONE FOR YOUR MANY YEARS OF SOLIDARITY AND SUPPORT.
-- ABRAZOS JENNIFER
Jennifer Harbury is a noted human rights attorney. She is the author of Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala (Warner Books, 2000) and Bridge of Courage: Life Stories of the Guatemalan Companeros and Companeras (Common Courage, 1995). To learn more about Jennifer Harbury and her work on Guatemala, visit: http://www-personal.engin.umich.edu/~pavr/harbury/
Some background sites:
- Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/
- FBI and CIA target Harbury, July 2002: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles/Harbury_Targeted.htm
- Harbury sues CIA, State, argues before US Supreme Court: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020422&s=alterman