Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Justice served?/Justicia servida?

This is in response to today's news, that the Kaibils who were responsible for the massacre of 201 peasants at the Dos Erres aldea in the municipality of La Libertad in the Peten, were found guilt and sentenced to a total of 6,060 years apiece -- 30 years for each of the 201 victims.  So this is, relatively speaking, "good news". And this is significant, I think, in a country where judges and lawyers who are involved in such cases are subject to threats and attacks.  So the judges' actions need to be applauded. However, impunity still rules the day, there is no "rectification" for war crimes and genocide, and while 201 victims had their "day in court", so to speak, that leaves... I don't know. 249,799 deaths that haven't been adjudicated? 

A Guatemalan friend, who lived through the war years, commented that what was important was the people who had been killed, those who suffered for the acts of these and others, not the people who were sentenced.  And so, I'm not quite ready to break out the champagne or rush into the streets and celebrate. There is nothing to celebrate, really. 201 people -- and many thousands more -- were killed. Some one -- some ones -- have been held accountable for 201 of those deaths, three decades after the crimes. That is correct and proper (although a bit delayed). But no sentence -- whether 6000 or six hundred thousand years -- will bring back those 201 people. No court can restore fathers and mothers to orphaned children, or give husbands back to their widows. The people who lost loved ones will not be made whole by this sentence, and the dead will not be brought back to life. We have to keep this in mind.  

And it also remains to be seen whether the sentences will actually be carried out, or whether there will be some other maneuverings that keep the condemned out of jail.. or that give them what one of my friends called the "narco-luxe treatment". So I'm not yet ready to go into the streets and celebrate. Lighting candles for the dead seems a more appropriate response.

At the same time, the country seems poised to elect an ex-Kaibil as president: Otto Pérez Molina. The newspaper polls -- which of course are not infallible -- show Pérez Molina still far ahead in most polls, although in some categories of voters, Winaq also seems to be gaining.  So there seems to be a serious disjuncture here, between the need to have justice served, to end the culture of impunity, to break the silence, and a willingness to ignore the past, sweep things under the rug, or simply go along with what seems to be "the flow". I know all this on an intellectual level. But still, when I see truckloads of Maya campesinos in El Quiché, the department that experienced the most massacres, at least one of which -- in Chajul -- seem to be directly linked to Pérez Molina -- waving the orange flags of the Partido Patriota, I want to scream. Or do something.  . 

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