On July 24, 2016, after nearly two years of being unjustly imprisoned, Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazár were freed from the "preventive detention" center. They had been held captive by the state since March 2015. I had gone to visit them that morning as it was a Saturday and that was the only day visitors (other than attorneys and special dignitaries) were allowed. We'd gotten the news the night before that they would be released but it wasn't clear exactly when, so I made the trip out to see them, as I usually did when I was in Guatemala during the months of their captivity. Then that night we heard that they were to be released -- I was literally in a car with their wives and some human rights workers, en route to the prison, when we heard that they'd already arrived. It was a gleeful night, and I've written about it earlier.
I never got to write about the caravan that was organized for their return -- theirs, and the other leaders from Barillas who had also been imprisoned. It took some days for the details to be worked out, and so last summer I cooled my heels in the capital until the caravan was ready to go. The caravan was exhilarating and exhausting -- we made stops in Chimaltenango, in Los Encuentros (where the highway splits off for Quiché, and the Panamericana continues on towards the Mexican border). We then stopped again in Sololá, at the Cumbre de Alaska, the spot where leaders from the 48 cantones of Totonicapán were killed by army bullets in 2012, and then at one other location along the highway leading towards Huehuetenango (I don't remember the name of the town offhand), and finally ending up in the Parque Central of Huehuetenango in the afternoon. At each site there was a formal welcome, a rally or speech-making of some sort, sometimes music, food at a few places. I could look at the photographs and try to recount the journey, and maybe at another time I will. We spent the night in Huehuetenango -- I was traveling with several of the young people who were handling the logistics, and we were all crowded into a few rooms at a hotel, and then took off very early in the morning since we were supposed to be in San Juan Ixcoy -- the first stop in Q'anjob'al territory -- for breakfast. In between San Juan and San Pedro Soloma, the next town along the way, a microbus coming the other way was waiting for us on the highway near Kab'tzin, the huge rock formation along the side of the highway that are a local landmark. It was a delegation from Santa Eulalia, including Domingo's daughter Maria (a daughter from his first marriage), who was eager to see her father. Everyone spilled out of the cars and pickups and microbuses and embraced and took photos, and then we resumed our journey to Soloma, where there was a rally in the center of town that blocked traffic all around, and then finally to Santa Eulalia. Before entering the town proper the elders of the Casa de los Abuelos (the spiritual leaders of the community) met us and conducted a brief ceremony at a roadside shrine. Rigoberto was part of the group of elders, and so it was fitting that they would do so.
Once we entered the town, the caravan was met by a brigade of motorcycles, bands, balloons. People got out the vehicles and started to walk, as it was nearly impossible for the vehicles to progress. We finally ended up at the town square, in an emotional rally.
Now, a year later, there is about to be a documentary film released about the situation in northern Huehuetenango. I was getting ready to head to Santa Eulalia and would have left this afternoon (July 25) but saw news of this film screening yesterday, with an announcement that some of the protagonists would be there. I checked with one of my friends in Santa Eulalia today, who confirmed that Rigoberto and several of the leaders from Barillas were going to be coming to the city for the screening, so I stayed, since I'd like to see the film but also to hear how these men (and maybe some of their families) are viewing the situation a year later.
While they are no longer in jail or facing charges, the repression has not stopped. Another leader from Alta Verapaz was arrested a few months ago, and the story seems to be repeating itself.