Guatemalans Seek Redress in Spanish
by Allan Nairn
www.thenation.com/, May 12, 2008
On Super Tuesday, when Americans were deciding who would get the
power to kill or spare millions, a group of Guatemalan Mayan campesinos
went to Madrid, on a civilizing mission.
They were there to testify about the US-sponsored
Guatemalan officers who, in the 1970s and 1980s, murdered their
families, and came out on top as rich men, drug dealers, US embassy
consultants and Harvard fellows.
It's not as if you can bring back the
dead wives, missing kids, or shot-in-the-cerebrum husbands, or
even sufficiently punish the guilty, who now grin in elegant Zona
Cinco pools and in MacLean, Virginia, homes with lawns. They still
twirl power and walk around, uncuffed, in polite society.
But you can, as one of the mountain corn
farmers observed, "Capture them, imprison them. That's sufficient."
It is generous of him, since they butchered his dear ones, friends
and animals, and burnt his gut till his intestines spilled out.
To the great credit of Spain's judiciary they were willing to
let him try.
Before the Spanish court, one of the surviving
Mayans ended his testimony by standing up at the judge's desk
and asking for his land back.
How much land was it? I asked him last
night. Less than five acres, corn land.
But after all these years, he still wants
it back, and wants to leave it to a surviving son.
When the army of his homeland entered
his village they burned the three-room schoolhouse ("They
stole the roof!") and cut and crushed the drinkable-water
pipes. And as they raped, throat-sliced, and trigger-pulled their
way through, they forced people onto the mountain--dodging US-arranged
Israeli Galil bullets as they clambered upward, toward life.
They left behind land--which, in theory,
is recoverable; the man was raising a fundamental point--but also
much that cannot be gotten back, like a life without tormenting
Speaking publicly in Spain , a very brave
man from the Mayan highlands remarked that when he returned to
his mother's house once the US-backed Guatemalan army had gotten
through with it, he found that his entire family had been "carbonized,"
i.e., burnt carbon-black and crispy.
Soon after, the US sent more money (and
other things) to that very army, perhaps pioneering--under Reagan--the
first known application of the "carbon credits" concept.
There was another time, for example, a
woman recounted just now, that she snuck down from the mountain
and found that "all that was left were the dogs, barking
in the houses."
Outside, elsewhere, there were fires,
bad smells, smoke, some crying, still-living children, as well
as her own mother, dead--dead as a result of policy.
"There arrived a great sadness, a
great pain," she said, "a pain that remains until this
She said that she had carried that two-decade
torment to Spain and that on this formal, legal, occasion, "This
is the moment that we take out our pain," and seek justice
This is a case of torture, state terrorism
and genocide--and international arrest warrants have been issued--but
the big, tough generals who once could answer the question (posed
by the conservative Guatemalan daily El Grafico (May 17,
1982), "How is it possible to behead an 8- or 9-year-old
child? How is it possible for a human adult to murder in cold
blood a baby of less than a year and a half?" are now afraid
to fly to Madrid and face the parents of the kids they consumed
while pocketing cash from Langley. (Grafico referred to
the massacre of Semeja II, Chichicastenango, but in all, according
to army records, 662 villages were destroyed, and perhaps 120,000
civilians were murdered in a place with the population of New
They're afraid because there's been something
like a tear in the fabric of the political universe and, somehow,
as in one of those anomalies of quantum physics, there has emerged--in
this world--a stray particle of civilization: a legal forum perhaps
willing to enforce the murder laws, even against high officials.
Not yet too high, mind you. There are
not yet American names on the defendants list. But as we say in
the sports which American guys love, its not over till its over.
The case is in Spain's Audiencia Nacional
(National Court), which, operating on the principle "We're
all people here," is exercising its right under international
law to try atrocity cases involving non-Spaniards.
Imagine if that precedent caught on. Super
Tuesday's US primary might be awkward, as candidates and advisers
dodged the cops, were pressed to sign pledges to stop murdering
and were asked by the press to explain their own pasts--vis-à-vis
killing civilians, not trivia--and to explain their bipartisan
ideological softness on official crime.
In this particular US-killing matter,
one of dozens from around the world, the Republicans' patron saint
is Ronald Reagan, so beloved by the Guatemalan leaders who slaughtered
the Mayans (and others) that they hung ten-foot portraits of him
in their homes as he sent them CIA men, surveillance equipment,
covert money and--most importantly--open political blessings.
The US Democrats' dove is Barack Obama, whose chief foreign adviser,
Zbigniew Brzezinski, greenlighted Israel to deliver the actual
killing rifles (Galils) to Guatemala, since his President--Carter--was
a little embarrassed.
Is that the difference between the two
big US parties on mass murder--embarrassment versus pride? Maybe.
We shouldn't have to wrestle with such
fine--though, sometimes, bitterly consequential--distinctions.
We should be able to vote effectively
against, and prosecute, murder.
Maybe US politics needs a civilizing Mayan