Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Massacres, justice and impunity

In recent weeks, there have been some important developments in cases that date back to the armed conflict. A few weeks ago, some men were sentences to 6,060 years (yes, that's the right number) for a massacre at Dos Erres, committed in the early 1980s. Then there were some captures of men who allegedly committed genocide in a massacre at Plan de Sanchez in Alta Verapaz in 1982. Today's paper carried a story that a fifth man was arrested in connection with the Plan de Sanchez massacre. Here's the article (in Spanish)  Another arrest for Plan de Sanchez Massacre.

This is all good; that is, it is good that the wheels of justice are turning slowly and that cases are being brought forward. 

And still... none of these convictions bring back the dead. And still ... the people charged and the ones convicted are not the intellectual authors of the crimes. Those ones, the men who designed the scorched earth strategy, who had the big picture who ensured that it was carried out, who gave the orders and made sure they were followed, they are still walking free. They are running for political office, and one of them seems likely to be the next president. So justice moves slowly, creakily.

I had a long conversation via email with a Guatemalan friend who expressed sympathy for the families of the men who were convicted and sentenced to 6,060 years. I decided not to reply publicly to her post on Facebook about this, but write to her privately. She is Guatemalan (or part Guatemalan) and I am not, and I wanted to be circumspect. On the other hand, another Guatemalan friend had reacted to the convictions by saying that the people who were convicted meant nothing to him, only the ones who had been killed.  

So the friend who had empathized with the families told me a lot about what she had experienced, witnessed, and heard about. That fleshed out the original commentary, because my reaction to her was based in part on having heard a lot, in the past six months, of responses along the lines of "Well, everyone suffered in the war," or "Well, the war was awful and we all suffered but now we have to put that behind us and move forward."  And I wanted to see if that was the message behind what she had written. 

I won't do justice to her thoughtful and detailed commentary, and I don't have permission to quote it here, although I might ask her. But it was a good and an important exchange.  

And still, there are people who deny that what occurred in Guatemala was a genocide, or want to minimize the extent of the suffering and slaughter, or the racism that is so clearly reflected in the statistics (over 80% of those killed were Maya).

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