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Interviews: Witness to Massacre

In this excerpt from his book, "The Río Negro Massacres," Jesús Tecú Osorio recounts the attack on his village.

Jesús Tecú Osorio

Jesús Tecú Osorio: "Sometimes it's hard for us humans to bear seeing such things. These trees have more memories than we do. They saw everything and so did Mother Earth."

On the 13th of March 1982, at around six in the morning the military and the patrollers, who were dressed in uniforms and armed, entered the village and forced all the people out of their homes. There were boys, girls and pregnant women.

They took me from our house together with my brothers Marcelo, Anastasio and Jaime, who were seven, five and two years old. My sister Juana Tecú Osorio, who was 25 years old, was forced from her house together with her sons Juan and Catharine who were five and two years old. They lived by the road to Chitucán.

One day before, on the 12th of March 1982, in the evening, my sister Juana asked me to get up early the next morning to collect firewood from the hillside with another boy. At nine in the morning on the 13th of March we were in the hills collecting firewood when a man came running past. He was fleeing from the military and the patrollers. We were yelling and joking between us when the man scolded us and said: "Kids, stop yelling. The military and patrollers are in the village and they are taking all the women." I was very worried and I went straight back to our house. When I got back to the house I realized that the soldiers and patrollers were taking all the women and children. So I said to my sister Juana: "Let's leave the house before they get here."

She didn't want to. They were about two hundred meters from our house. She said to me: "If the patrollers find us hiding in the hills, they will accuse us of being guerillas." I wanted to take my younger brother Jaime. My sister insisted on not fleeing. We entered the house and closed ourselves in.

Discovering Dominga -  Rio Negro Massacres

From the book "The Río Negro Massacres," translated into English and published by Rights Action in 2003. Reprinted with permission.

To purchase copies of the book in Spanish or English, or for more information about Jesús Tecú Osorio's work, contact Rights Action at (416) 654-2074, email info@rightsaction.org or visit www.rightsaction.org.

A few minutes passed and then a soldier with his face covered by a red bandana came by. He had the look of an assassin. He walked in front of the women of the village. He began beating down the door of the house. The soldiers and patrollers surrounded the house so that no one could escape. The house was made of wood with a thatched roof. We had a wooden door.

They entered and said: "Where are the weapons that you took from the officers? If you don't give them back everyone will die. Where are all the men? Where have they gone?"

My sister said that we didn't know anything about the weapons and that the men had been killed in Xococ.

The patrollers and the military said that the men had gone with the guerillas and that they were not dead. After searching the house they made us leave. They took us and put us under the concaste tree that was in front of the house. There we saw a group of patrollers who were rounding up the women.

The assassins, who were in our house, began to cook and eat our food. Now there would be no breakfast for us. Having stolen our food, they then began to mistreat the women and asked them the same question. "Where are the weapons that you took from the officers? If you don't hand them over you will all die. Where have the men gone?" The women gave the same reply: "All the men were assassinated in Xococ."

Who are the patrollers Jesús Tecú Osorio refers to?
In their fight to control political "subversion," the Guatemalan government developed a strategy to extend their control over areas where the guerilla movement or other "insurgents of the state" were active. They created paramilitary units in these communities, known as Civil Defense Patrols, and gave these patrols weapons and training from the army. Local men were conscripted to serve, and the patrols were under the direct command of the local military commanders. By law, service in the patrols was voluntary, but in reality, men who refused to serve were threatened and often killed. These patrols were ultimately found responsible by the Truth Commission for many massacres that took place in the early 1980s. The fact that the violence was often committed against villagers by their neighbors, people who knew them and continued to live among them after the massacres, was an added social trauma.

The patrollers and the military wanted to convince the women that the men were not dead that instead they had joined the guerrillas.

After the interrogation they started raping the fifteen- and fourteen-year-old girls. They took them to the bushes and laughed after they had been raped. I saw the patroller Ambrosio Pérez Lauj from Xococ taking Justa Osorio Sic into the forest. She came back very frightened. He yelled obscenities at her. He said that she wasn't a virgin and that her body was weak.

After that they forced us to walk to Pak'oxom. This place is on the hill Portezuelo e Monterredondo. The soldiers and the patrollers mistreated us and said that we were children of guerrilla fighters.

They cut branches with thorns and beat us. No one could bear the pain. Women and children cried. At this time of year it's very hot. We asked for water and the patrollers said to us: "We are almost there. Once we are there we will rest and have some water."

It was an ironic response. They already knew what they were going to do with us. The children and women were exhausted when we arrived at Pak'oxom. The soldiers and patrollers brought us together in the flat area where we waited for the women who had not yet arrived. While they waited for them to arrive, the soldiers began to cut tree branches and one meter lengths of rope. They were preparing materials to use to massacre the people.

The military official threatened the women with a grenade that he carried on his chest. He pulled the pin and pretended to throw it into the women and children. Everyone screamed. They thought the official had let the grenade off. He made fun of them and said: "OK, you wanted some water, now we'll give you water. We will pardon your lives if you hand over the weapons that you took from the officers."

The women insisted that they did not know anything. The official threatened them in Spanish and the patrollers translated into Achi. While this was happening soldiers and patrollers took women into the bushes and raped them. If any of them resisted rape, the assassins threatened to kill them. The whole group from Río Negro was surrounded by military and patrollers.

Once all the material was prepared, they began to kill the women and children. They took them one by one to a ravine that was about twenty meters from where we were. We heard shots, screams and crying. The patrollers killed the women out of sight. They did not want us to see their cruelty. They made us lie face down on the sacred ground. I did not want to suffer or die like the other children and women. I searched for a way to escape. My younger brother, who was two years old, and I were right in front of the patrollers. Every second I could feel death encroaching on me.

When a patroller came close to us I thought he would take me next. I thought of two things: die or escape with my brother. I began to move towards the last line of women.

I told one of the patrollers that my brother needed to go to the bathroom. He gave me permission to leave. I walked towards a low ridge looking for a place where my brother and I could escape, but I realized that the whole place was surrounded by soldiers. I wanted to run but the weight of my brother prevented me from running. I came across a soldier raping a woman and he scolded me and sent me to where the group of women was.

When I arrived, I saw the patroller Pedro González Gómez trying to murder Vicenta Iboy Chen. Even though this woman had a baby on her back, she fought back trying to defend herself from the rapist. She picked up a rock and threw it at Pedro. The patroller took his machete from its sheath that was on his belt and gave her two blows. The patroller not only wounded the woman badly, but he cut in half the baby around her back. Vicenta fell down heavily at the edge of the ravine. Pedro immediately came up to her and gave her two machete blows in the neck.

Illustration by Jesús Tecú Osorio.

Illustration by Jesús Tecú Osorio.

I remember other bitter moments of the slaughter. The patroller Pablo Ruiz Alvarado had Tomasa López Ixpatá face down. He had tied a rope around her neck forming a noose. The assassin removed the rope from her neck thinking that he had already killed her, however her body still trembled. The patroller took a club and beat her to death. He treated her like an animal. When she was dead he took her by the feet and dragged her to the ravine.

Margarita Sánchez did not want to die like the other women. She wanted to escape but the official saw her. He took her by the hair, threw her to the ground and kicked her. She apologized and said: "Don't kill me, my father lives in Pacux."

The patrollers said: "We'll send you to your father in Pacux."

She sat down beside me, weeping a sea of tears. Then I realized she was vomiting blood. She no longer had any teeth. The rest of the women cried and asked to be pardoned. They offered their cattle in exchange for their lives but the assassins had already decided to kill them.

They no longer took them to ravine, instead they killed them right there in the same place. They killed them in front of the other women and children.

Around two in the afternoon the patrollers took Petronila Sánchez and Paula Chen, who were about fifty-five years old. They forced them to lie face down and placed ropes around their necks, forming a noose. I was two meters away.

 Illustration by Jesús Tecú Osorio. 2

Illustration by Jesús Tecú Osorio.

I heard it when they could no longer breathe. They buried their fingers in the holy ground as if they were asking for help.

Their necks cracked. When they were dead they dragged them to the ravine. The bodies were swollen and the faces were bruised. All of the children we were crying.

We were sitting on the ground. The children were the easiest victims to kill. When they came for a child, they just put the rope around its neck and took the child away hanging by the rope. The child began to kick. Once they got to the ravine they let them go. They grabbed the child by their feet and then smashed them against rocks and trees that are still found at that place. Other children were killed with machete blows or from blows to the ears. This is the way the assassins took the life of defenseless children.

Seventeen boys and girls remained. The patrollers came closer to the older ones. At this point Mrs. Juana Tum asked the patroller Macariao Alvarado Toj to take her daughter Silveria Lajuj Tum to Xococ, asking him to care for her as his own daughter. When there were only twenty women remaining the patroller Pedro González called me and said: "I'm not going to kill you but you have to come with me to Xococ and help me with my work. I am only taking you because I have no children."

I said yes immediately to save my life. He separated me from the group and told me to go above the ravine. I took my younger brother Jaime. The rest of the soldiers came closer to the children and chose the ones they would take with them to Xococ.

After killing the twenty women who remained they brought us all together. They prepared us for the walk to Xococ. The assassin Pedro González came to where my brother and I were and said: "OK, let's go to Xococ."

Then he realized that I had my little brother Jaime with me. He told me that he could not take him as he was tired and we had to walk all night from Río Negro to Xococ. I told him that I could carry my brother and that I would take all responsibility for him. Enraged he said to me: "No because my wife is not used to caring for a child as small as your brother."

Discovering Dominga - Illustration by Jesús Tecú Osorio. 3

Illustration by Jesús Tecú Osorio.

I insisted on taking my brother with me. He became angry and said that if I insisted he would kill us both. I was sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree. I had my brother in my arms and he took him from me by force. He wrapped a rope around his neck and took him hanging from one of his hands. Jaime was kicking his feet. I followed behind him crying. I asked him a million times to spare my brother's life but it didn't matter.

I wished for someone to help me but no one appeared. We arrived at the ravine where the bodies of the victims were dumped. He threw my brother on the ground. He took him by the feet and smashed him against the rocks. Seeing that he was dead he threw him down the ravine.

There, I saw the women who had been raped, hung, shot and stabbed with machetes. Some of the bodies were still trembling.

I sat on another fallen tree. I was crying. The patrollers reorganized themselves into lines and checked that everyone was present. I counted around thirty-five patrollers and twenty-five soldiers.

We left Pak'oxom, site of the massacre, together with the patrollers and the military. It was around four o'clock in the afternoon. On the way the assassins related how they had killed their victims. Each one tried to tally their number of victims. Some said ten, others fifteen.

We passed by Chitucán around five in the afternoon. All of the houses were abandoned. In one of the houses I found some water. It was polluted, but I drank it anyway as I was dying of thirst. We had not eaten anything all day long.

The patroller Fermín Lajuj Xitumul fainted on the plains of Chitucán. To revive him they gave him urine to drink. We left Chitucán around six in the afternoon.

Around eleven at night we reached Buena Vista. The patrollers there gave us something to drink. After resting for a while we continued walking to Xococ. We arrived there at midnight. The patrollers who had children from Río Negro reported to Captain José Antonio González Solares. He would decide the future of the children. He could give the order to kill or save them. The captain said: "Well, guys, you should have saved all the children and killed all the women."

Some people were waiting for us at the Catholic church with some food. They had cooked meat soup. I couldn't eat any because I thought it was human flesh. That night we slept in the Xococ market. I stayed by Pedro González' side. I couldn't sleep. All night long I had nightmares.

On the morning of the 14th of March, Pedro took me to his house. I couldn't get used to living with him. They gave me food but I didn't eat. What I wanted was to return to my village to find out about my brothers and sisters, what had happened to them and what had happened to the women and children who were murdered and attacked with machetes. I kept crying several days afterwards and told Pedro that I wanted to go back to Río Negro. He responded: "I'm going to advise the army official that you want to return to your village. He will decide if you will be sent there or if you will be killed."

I cried everyday. I was alone, sad, without my parents and there was no one to care for me. I tried to forget the memories of the violence by playing with other children. That was not easy. First of all I had to earn the trust of the other children so that they would allow me to play with them.

I can't forget the moment in which they killed all the women and the children. I can still remember the screams and the gunshots in the ravine.

Jesús Tecú Osorio is a Mayan-Achi man living with his wife and children in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. Since 1993, he has worked tirelessly towards justice for human rights crimes and towards healing and rebuilding of the communities in Guatemala. He is the co-founder of ADIVIMA, the Rabinal Legal Clinic, the Rabinal Community Museum, and founder of the New Hope Foundation.





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