Jesús: My name is Jesús Tecu Osorio. I'm on the roof of the building where the People's Legal Aid Office is, in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz.
Interviewer: What do you do here at the Legal Aid Office?
Jesús: Well, here at the Legal Aid Office I am the secretary for a lawyer, and that is my job.
Interviewer: And what else do you do? What other organizations do you work with?
Jesús: Well, I am currently the president of the Fundacion Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Foundation) and also of Adivima, and I also work with the organization
CALDH, mostly on genocide lawsuits and other criminal cases in Rabinal at this time. Also on massacres.
Interviewer: What does Adivima do?
Jesús: Adivima focuses on clandestine cemeteries, and now they also have a project on reparation, in other words demanding that the government give the
victims reparation in one form or another, and they also work to recover photographs of those who were massacred. Right now there are about 300 photographs in the museum.
Interviewer: What has been happening lately at Adivima? Has the personnel been threatened?
Jesús: Yes, especially Don Carlos and Dona Pedrina and Juan De Dios, in other words, the three people who work directly with Adivima have received death
threats, but about two months ago we filed a complaint and now things have calmed down somewhat.
Interviewer: Could you talk a little about your personal history? How did you become a human rights activist?
Jesús: Well, during the Rio Negro exhumation I was struck by the fact that almost no one wanted to talk about what had happened, and almost everyone was
afraid. So little by little I worked on getting over my fear, and I started to talk about what had happened. And the first task I took on dealt with the criminal cases, specifically the Rio
Negro massacre, and later I worked on other cases like the Chichupac Massacre, the Panacal Massacre and the Plan de Sanchez Massacre. Right now in our office there are about 50 – more than 60 –
clandestine cemeteries that have been denounced. There are other clandestine cemeteries, and given the information we have received from interested parties, we suspect there are about 30 more
clandestine cemeteries that have not been denounced. It is part of the struggle. We are trying to collect evidence and take our claim to the Attorney General.
Interviewer: And the exhumation this afternoon?
Jesús: The exhumation scheduled for today is a gravesite that was denounced three, or about four years ago. But the problem is that there has been reluctance
on the part of the Attorney General to investigate, and that is why it has taken us so long to get it exhumed. About ten kilometers from Rabinal there are three clandestine cemeteries. In one
of the clandestine cemeteries about eight people are buried, in the others there are four, and five, respectively. These are typical clandestine cemeteries.
Jesús: Now, on August 6, there's going to be an exhumation – an exhumation where the military detachment was. We've been fighting for this exhumation for
about five years, and finally the Court set a date for the exhumation. We don't know for certain how many people are buried there. We don't know first hand, because the information we have is
that the military detachment was there. And, well, that was when the Rabinal massacre occurred, so we have information indicating that at least 800 people were massacred there, but over time
buildings were built on top of the clandestine cemeteries. So we don't yet know how many people we will find there.
00:07:53:00 - Interviewer: Where is the military detachment now?
Jesús: Now it is somewhere else, but it is still in Rabinal, because they moved after the Peace Accords were signed. Now new clandestine cemeteries are being
Interviewer: Could you tell me about the history of Rio Negro?
Jesús: In terms of the Rio Negro Massacre, well, Rio Negro suffered not just one massacre, but four massacres, and the first massacre was February 13, 1982,
where more than 73 men died, and the second massacre was March 13, 1982, where 70 women and 107 children were massacred. After this massacre, there were still survivors: women and men and
children too. So on May 14, 1982, they were found in Los Encuentros, so the military and the Civil Defense Patrols tortured more than 40 men and about 45 women and took them by helicopter to
the Coban Zone. That massacre was during the time of General Rios Montt, and after than massacre there were still some survivors: children, and women, and a few men.
Jesús: After four months, I think it was in September, the children couldn't survive any longer in the mountains. With the help of some leaders, they were
moved to a village called Agua Fria. So around that time the military realized that there were refugee children in that village, and because of the children in the village, the military
assassinated everyone. They were rounded up and held in a house. Then the military burned down the houses, and that's how they massacred the whole village, including the 35 children from Rio
Negro. And of the survivors of the four massacres, some turned themselves in at the military detachment in Rabinal, and others surrendered in other villages because Rios Montt had signed a
Decree of Amnesty.
Jesús: So that allowed the refugees to turn themselves in. But many of them were massacred later at the detachment because they had turned themselves in
willingly. And afterwards, all those who had turned themselves in at the detachment in Rabinal were transported to Pacux, where they were forced to organize themselves into Civil Defense
Patrols. That is the history of Rio Negro. Now, the specific case of the Rio Negro Massacre is another story, and I was a survivor.
Jesús: There were patrollers and soldiers at the Rio Negro Massacre. They arrived that day at about six in the morning. They entered the village and made
everyone leave their homes, mainly women and children because they had already massacred the men. They took them, saying that they had to go to a meeting at the school. When they reached the
school for the meeting they were told the meeting would be in Pacux. Pacux was the community where the people from Rio Negro were going to be relocated. Since they would be affected by
construction of the dam they were told that they would be taken to new houses in Pacux. But that wasn't the case, and later they were assassinated right there in Rio Negro.
Jesús: So on that day, what happened was, well, they were taken from their homes and made to walk up to the top of a hill, and that is where all the children
and women were massacred. Before the massacre they raped the girls and the women, and then they began to kill them. Some were hanged, others were killed with machetes, and others were killed
with guns. In the case of the children, the patrollers went over to where they were all sitting together and would wrap nooses around them necks and drag them by the rope up to the cliff and
take them by their feet and hurtle them against the rocks.
Jesús: With the other children, who were sitting over by the women, they just took them by their feet and when they got to the cliff they hurtled them
against the rocks. And sometimes they beat them to death, with clubs, or with the butts of the rifles they were carrying, and that's how the women and children in Rio Negro were massacred.
Interviewer: And what happened to you?
Jesús: After the massacre one of the patrollers said that he wasn't going to kill me but that I would have to go with him, to work, because he didn't have
any children. So after the massacre he took me with him to Xococ, where I lived for two years. One of my sisters was also able to survive, and she turned herself in when Rios Montt decreed the
Amnesty Law. So my sister found out that I was living with a patroller, and she used legal recourse to denounce it, and I went to live with her. And that's my story.
Interviewer: And what has become of that patroller?
Jesús: Well, after 12 years, later, since the massacre was in '82, and the exhumation was carried out in '93, so about 11 years later, during the exhumation,
they discovered some cadavers, or rather, they were able to identify some cadavers, and on the basis of those cadavers, they tried three former Commanders of the Civil Defense Patrols. They
were sentenced to death because of the two who were identified during the exhumation, or rather the three women who were identified during the exhumation, and they were found guilty of three
murders. So for the three murders they were given the death penalty, but it was commuted to 50 years in prison. So right now those three patrollers are in jail, and one of them is the Commander
who took me from Rio Negro. [they move because the sun is bothering his eyes.]
Interviewer: Could you tell me about the Chixoy Dam and how the World Bank and the construction of the dam is connected to what happened in Rio Negro?
Jesús: Well, what I know about it, because it was during that period when construction of the dam was beginning, and the people from Rio Negro did not want
to leave their lands, because according to the elders, they say that their grandparents were born there and died there, and therefore they can never leave the place. So there were tremendous
conflicts between the community and the INDE (National Electrification Institute), and even with the dam security forces, where the construction was taking place.
Jesús: So they accused two members of the Rio Negro community of having stolen food from a company warehouse. So, at one point they went to Rio Negro to look
for these two people, but they found nothing, and from then on many conflicts arose between the community and dam security. There was even a confrontation between the community and dam
security. So, just days after all this occurred, the Guatemalan government accused the people of Rio Negro of belonging to the Guerrilla, taking advantage of the fact that guerrilla fighters
existed in other parts of Guatemala.
Jesús: So the government helped them by accusing the people of Rio Negro of belonging to the Guerrilla, but their struggle at that time was not guerrilla
warfare but rather a struggle for land, because like I said earlier, they said that the elders did not want to give up their land. So when this incident occurred in Rio Negro then things got
more complicated. The military accused the people in Rio Negro of belonging to the Guerrilla and began to come around constantly, threatening the population and ultimately committing the
Interviewer: And what has happened with the dam after 1982?
Jesús: What was the reparation like?
Interviewer: Yes, or what happened to the community?
Jesús: During that time there were many offers. They even signed documents or deeds that were INDE obligations, but they were able to do what they wanted,
because in the end they kidnapped the members of the committee, and the day they were kidnapped they also stole the deeds and all the Electrification Institute's promises to the community, and
after the massacres when the people began once again to fight to regain the land and their homes, the INDE again started demanding that the survivors present documents showing the INDE's
promises, but they no longer existed because the houses in Rio Negro had been burned, the leaders kidnapped, and so there were none.
Jesús: Then the administration of Oscar Humberto Mejía Vitores told the people in Pacux, or the leaders, that their homes and land no longer belonged to
them, but rather to the patrollers who had fought against communism. Then, by applying lots of pressure, the community got back the land, but under threat of violence, and at one point, in
1987, they even kidnapped a leader in Pacux.
Jesús: Then, over the course of our struggle, we contacted Accion Permanente por la Paz (Permanent Peace Action). They wrote a report on the construction of
the dam, and through tours that we did with Accion Permanente por la Paz we got the attention of the World Bank, so that they would come supervise the projects managed by the INDE, and that is
how the World Bank learned that the projects handled by the government were not managed properly but were very corrupt.
Jesús: The money that was earmarked for compensation of the affected parties was never paid out; it disappeared. By struggling, we have managed to purchase a
few farms. We won deeds for a few homes in Pacux, and deeds for some plots of land, but only by exerting lots of pressure. We gain nothing by waiting for the good will of the government.
Interviewer: What is the INDE?
Jesús: INDE is the acronym for the Instituto Nacional de Electrificacion (Nacional Electrification Institute). That is what happened, and at that time, after
the people were taken to Pacux, because they were threatened, it became a model community. So back then, every month or every two months they took a census of everyone in Pacux. So in 1986 they
took the last census, where they recorded more than 106 who were affected. But before, in Rio Negro, there were about 150 who were affected, while in '86 they only recorded 106 families. So
about 44 families were left off the list.
Jesús: They were left without homes, without land, because according to the INDE, these families never existed, but really the owners of the homes were
massacred, but there were children and nieces and nephews left, so in 1992 we took up the struggle again against the INDE so that they would give land to these 44 families, and homes. So, by
struggling, we pressured the INDE and also the World Bank so that homes would be given to the 44 families, but they never received land.
Jesús: According to the INDE, the relatives, in other words the children of the victims can no longer make any claims, according to them. But we feel that
this is not fair, that they are heirs; they have the right to the lands that belonged to their parents. We have only managed to get the houses, but not the lands. So now in Pacux, a new
struggle is beginning; the people are organizing to form an organization that will demand that the World Bank buy more land, and build proper housing for those who were affected.
Interviewer: Has the World Bank accepted its responsibility in this case?
Jesús: The World Bank has said that they are not responsible for everything that happened, because they only gave the funds to the Guatemalan government. And
they feel that the party intellectually responsible for all of this is the Guatemalan government. But we don't agree. We feel that of the intellectual authors responsible for what happened in
Rio Negro, the World Bank was partially responsible, the government was responsible in part, and the military, because if there hadn't been projects, if there hadn't been financial resources
available, there wouldn't have been any way to work, to carry out the projects. So, since the World Bank approved the projects, they are in some way responsible for what happened in Rio
Interviewer: And here in Guatemala, who are the intellectual authors of the crimes?
Jesús: The administrations who were in power at that time: Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt. We feel that they are the intellectual authors of the massacres in
Rio Negro. According to the report by the Commission for Historical Clarification, what happened in Rio Negro was genocide. The intellectual authors of the genocide in Rio Negro were Lucas
Garcia and Rios Montt.
Interviewer: And what has become of them?
Jesús: Well, approximately three years ago a case was brought against them in the International Court by Rigoberta Menchú, but as of yet the suit has not
advanced, and about three years, or two years ago, we presented a case against Rios Montt and Lucas Garcia accusing them of genocide. At this point I think the Lucas Garcia investigation is
about half finished, or 50% complete. Now, in the case of Rios Montt, perhaps 30% of the investigation has been completed. They are the intellectual authors of the Rio Negro massacre, and not
only Rio Negro, but nationally.
Interviewer: What did you think about the gathering of former Civil Defense Patrollers yesterday?
Jesús: Well, the meeting, or rather the new organization of Civil Defense Patrollers, is very logical, if you will, because among them there are victimizers,
and there are also victims. So, in my personal opinion, I believe they have a right to demand reparation from the government, but the one thing I don't agree with, and I believe is a lie, or a
correction of the past, or a means of justifying the past, is that they claim that they fought to defend the nation.
Jesús: But in reality they didn't defend the nation; they massacred innocent women and children. So we will investigate the ones involved in massacres or
genocide, through human rights organizations, and we will investigate their activities during the armed conflict, especially the ‘80s, because it is not right that they be given impunity for
the crimes they committed. It is important that they petition for reparation, but also that those who committed crimes of genocide be brought to justice. Not only the former patrollers, but
also the soldiers involved in these massacres.
Interviewer: What do you think when you pass one of them on the street in Rabinal? Because there are former patrollers here in Rabinal. What do you think
when you see them?
Jesús: Well, we always really... well, perhaps we don't all have the same reaction. I always trust in justice, that God willing, one day will act with its
full force. Because right now, it is not only former patrollers, but also former military commissioners, former deputies (judiciales), former G-2 agents, also called secret agents
(confidenciales), who are freely walking the streets as if nothing were wrong.
Jesús: They still threaten the widows – if someone wants to make a declaration about where the remains of a family member is buried. But there are people, as
I mentioned earlier, who are weak, others say that we should take justice into our own hands. But I believe that is not right, because sometimes in Guatemala, the one who seeks revenge is the
first to go to jail, while the ones who committed genocide are never taken to jail. So we tell them to be patient because someday all of the suits that we have presented to the courts will be
successful. There is a saying: that it may be when they are old, but perhaps because of their age, justice will prevail.
Interviewer: How would you like the International Community to get involved in this struggle for human rights here in Rabinal and in Guatemala?
Jesús: Well, I feel that it is important to pressure the authorities so that they will enforce the laws. Because sometimes our authorities sell themselves in
some way or another. Sometimes they sell out. So support is important: not just moral support, but financial support is also important. Especially now, after the signing of the peace accords.
The people want justice, they want education, they want healthcare. They also want justice, but the problem is that currently in our country we are seeing a lot of corruption. Our authorities
are more concerned about what they can take, or what they can get to take home in their pockets, while the country's problems remain the same, at least the victims are still marginalized, they
still suffer, and the government isn't even concerned about compensating for damages caused during the war.
Interviewer: So the international community has to keep up the pressure and support them morally and economically?
Jesús: That's right, because now the government is requesting economic support internationally from governments that have supported Guatemala's efforts to
compensate former civil patrollers and soldiers. So it's important for international organizations to exert pressure on the authorities, so that they won't send aid to Guatemala to compensate
former civil patrollers and former members of paramilitary groups, because if they support the Guatemalan government in these efforts, that shows that they are still supporting injustice in
Guatemala; they are still impeding efforts to obtain justice in Guatemala. And we also feel that this support, or this project that is now being promoted by the government for former patrollers
is really about winning more votes for upcoming elections.
Interviewer: I'd also like to ask about the Foundation and its relationship with WITNESS: What projects are they working on now?
Jesús: From the time the Foundation was established, we felt that it was important to create an organization in Rabinal that would provide scholarships to
people in the rural areas who were lacking resources, and that is what we have done. But now, since I am the director of the organization, I worry a lot because it's becoming increasingly more
difficult to get funding for the scholarships, and so we are looking at ways to create a bilingual technical institute in Rabinal, which would help more youth from rural areas, because right
now many young people leave school because of the lack of opportunities, and others migrate to the Southern Coast, or to the capital, and when they get to the capital they join groups, which
are gangs; they become delinquents. So, through the Foundation we want to create an institute, but right now we need a lot of assistance, especially economic assistance. We want to purchase the
property where we can build the facility. These are the most important activities we are involved in right now, and we also need scholarships for young people from the rural areas. Right now we
are working with the grandchildren and also the children of the victims of the violence. And we are working with low-income youth. In other words we provide assistance to indigenous youth as
well as ladino youth, as long as they are from low-income families.
Interviewer: When did you become a partner of WITNESS?
Jesús: Since I received that award in 1996; I was given a camera. So, with the camera we started to document all the human rights violations in Rabinal,
especially the exhumations, interring of the remains, demonstrations, and other activities we've been involved in. And we've always sent our material to WITNESS, since they have access to
international audiences. I've enjoyed the chance to record everything that is happening in Rabinal, knowing that our activities and the work that we are doing is not destined to disappear into
Interviewer: So what do you think about the archive?
Jesús: I think it's great because, like they told me at WITNESS, they have been trying to publish some documents through Amnesty International and other
organizations, and it is important because this is the only way to get the word out about what is happening in the world. That's why all the material that we collect in Rabinal is always taken
Interviewer: What is the power of an image, in your opinion?
Jesús: Well, the important thing about images is that one sees the events directly. With photographs, you see only a portion, but with video you see
movement, you see activity, and many people say that you see what really went on during an activity, I mean you can't change the facts about what happened during an activity. And it is another
means of documenting our history. So that some day it can be used as a tool to educate our youth.
Interviewer: What would you hope that youth would learn from the experience of your community?
Jesús: Well, like I was saying earlier, it is important to document each event that occurs in the community, whether through books, or photographs, or video,
and through these materials the youth can read and see and ensure that history will not repeat itself. Because sometimes, due to lack of awareness, young people get involved in bad things. Like
what occurred in the 80s, many people were involved in the killing of their own people, so with documentation young people, the new generation, can be educated, because we are often only here
in passing, but documentation, if cared for properly, can last forever.
Interviewer: What are your hopes for the future?
Jesús: Our struggle has given us a lot of hope. Some day we will harvest all that hope, and if not us, then our children or our grandchildren. Because
sometimes we don't get to see the fruits of our struggle; sometimes it's our children, sometimes our grandchildren, and it is important so that these things will not happen again to them.
Interviewer: Is there something more that you would like to say?
Jesús: Maybe, but I'm not sure what right now. Yes, maybe one of the things I mentioned earlier. Why I've sent copies of the videos. I think it's a good idea
because sometimes we are not that safe in our offices. Sometimes if we are not careful things are stolen from our offices, which has happened at other organizations. Sometimes they have been
raided by unidentified persons, or by the military. So if we lose a copy of our material, we don't worry because we know that the originals are stored somewhere else. So that is an advantage,
because if we were to keep the originals in our offices and we were broken into, we would be left with no copy, so that is why I think our relationship with WITNESS is so important.
Interviewer: When you use the camera, do you find that it affords protection in certain situations, for example at the gathering we attended yesterday? Does
the presence of the camera help you or not?
Jesús: Sometimes with the camera, people become very suspicious: where is he from, who is he, and sometimes people hide their faces behind the camera, but it
is very important, even if there are many activities where it can't be used, and even if it is sometimes risky, but one has to struggle to get...
Interviewer: Jesús, can you say something about the threats that you and other members of human rights groups here in Rabinal have received?
Jesús: Well, members of Adivima, and not just them but also other people in Rabinal and some who work nationally have received threats, sometimes because
they have done work in human rights, such as exhumations, or bringing to justice those responsible for serious violations of human rights. And sometimes these threats come from the military and
are made through other repressive government apparatuses, because the threats are not coming from the campesino who is working in the field, rather they come directly from members of the
military or mainly from the military, because they know that there are more and more remains being exhumed and that these may one day constitute evidence against them. So they feel angry and
under fire because some day they will be brought to justice. So that is why they threaten the leaders of organizations, and not just the leaders of organizations but also those charged with
guarantying justice: the judges, the prosecutors, because they are the ones involved in this process. So that is why they often resort to threats. And since currently there is more access to
telephones in Rabinal, it has made it easier to make threats. Not like before when there were no telephones and the threats were more direct. That is what I have to say about threats.
[Clip reel of raw footage / July 2002 Interview with Jesus Tecu Osorio] 2 of 2
Interview with WITNESS partner Jesús Tecú Osorio by Sam Gregory. Jesús describes the Rio Negro Massacres that occurred in 1982 and the events leading up to the massacres, namely the controversy over construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. He speaks about the role of the World Bank and the Bank's responsibility to the victims in Rabinal. He also describes the impact of the violence on the community and current social and political issues in Rabinal. He explains how he is trying to raise money to provide scholarships for rural youth and to build a bilingual technical institute in Rabinal. He talks about the importance of documenting events through video and why it is important that WITNESS maintain archives of the material, given the difficulty of protecting it in Guatemala. He feels that the material needs to be used to educate the youth, so that the atrocities committed in Rabinal will never be repeated. English transcript available
2 of 2
Jésus Tecú OsorioRole: Creator
Jésus Tecú OsorioRole: Copyright holder
WITNESSRole: Copyright holder
Jesús Tecu OsorioRole: Interviewee
Sam GregoryRole: Interviewer
Jésus Tecú OsorioRole: Videographer
University of Texas Libraries
armed conflict and persecution--genocide
armed conflict and persecution--mass killings
advocacy, activism, and responses to persecution--video advocacy
advocacy, activism, and responses to persecution--activists
advocacy, activism, and responses to persecution--cultural repositories
armed conflict and persecution--paramilitaries
armed conflict and persecution--death threats
Maya Achi People
Jesus Tecú Osorio
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Baja Verapaz--Municipio de Rabinal
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Baja Verapaz--Río Negro
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Baja Verapaz--Municipio de Rabinal--Pacux
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Baja Verapaz--Chichupac
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Baja Verapaz--Municipio de Rabinal--Panacal
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Zacapa--Agua Fría
North America--Guatemala--Departamento de Baja Verapaz--Xococ
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