Friends, this week is the 10 year anniversary of the Massacre at Nueva Linda. This event proved to be a decisive moment for Contemporary Guatemala and my own political development. Since then violence has increased exponentially and the sense of instability and anxiety on the ground is acute. Travel with us on the way back machine has we remember those that lost their lives and those that were displaced. In 2004 I was awarded a Watson Fellowship, spending six months in Guatemala. During that time a community I was accompanying and supporting, Nueva Linda was massacred by the government. I had been visiting them once a week for two months, recording their stories and getting to know their improvised settlement. I wasn't there the day of the massacre but I came quickly thereafter to support my friends and try to make sense of the hostility and violence perpetuated by the Guatemalan state and private security. What follows is brief overview of the massacre and what happened that day, some photos and a 45 minute documentary. On August 31st, 2004, as the sun began to rise over volcanoes and mountain ridge nestling onto the rich sugar cane fields and cattle ranches of southwest Guatemala, an estimated 1,000 members of the Guatemalan National Civil Police (NCP) along with military reserves and private security officers entered the community of Nueva Linda in order to evict approximately 190 families. The community was armed with home made party canons and 2 registered rifles. For over two years the Nueva Linda pro-justice group protested the disappearance and suspected homicide of their friend, leader, and administrator of Nueva Linda Héctor Reyes. The violence resulted in the death of 9 peasant farmers or campesinos along with 3 police officers. 7 of the dead campesinos had signs of torture. Furthermore, investigations conducted by the human rights ombudsman indicated that the police shot and killed each other due to crossfire. The massacre at Nueva Linda offers a chilling insight into how the state intends to counter emerging peasant demands to satisfactorily respond to rising inequality and violence and implement the peace accords that ended the 36 year armed conflict (1960-1996) between Marxist guerrillas and the state. The massacre itself came at a time when campesino land rights organizations throughout the country were protesting the delay in land reform laws prescribed by the 1996 Peace Accords. Amidst mass protests, in May 2004, then President Oscar Berger promised to solve all land disputes within 90 days. The massacre took place a week before the 90th day. Within this context, Nueva Linda is an unsettling foreshadowing of what President Berger felt was a solution. Following the Nueva Linda killings, violent evictions have become the norm when responding to land and environmental rights activism throughout Guatemala. Following the massacre the community reorganized and began a series of protests and appeals to the government for justice. The community is currently staging a continuous protest on the roadside near Nueva Linda amid the ongoing battle for legal recognition of their claims.
As civil society groups investigated the aftermath of the massacre what became clear is that part of the violence, the voracity, could be explained by the alarming trend of former military commanders becoming heads of the national civil police. As head of blah blah Eduvina Hernandez explains, "We have determined that in the National Civil Police there is a remilitarization of public security. Those that are retiring from the military are going straight to joining the police. It’s the remilitarization of the police but more importantly, I’d say it’s the repetition of the tactics against insurgents within the Guatemalan police force. Which is reflected in the total imperiousness of the security forces in operations such as the eviction in Nueva Linda and in other events where they acted in a support capacity. In the case of the finca El Coroso, for example, it was the actual National Civil Police that cleaned out the evidence of the massacre that the farm’s private army committed In the case of the finca El Coroso, for example, it was the actual National Civil Police that cleaned out the evidence of the massacre that the farm’s private army committed."It is also the case the large fincas such as Nueva Linda, also employed former military as private security
One characteristic of Guatamalan military dictatorships was the use of the military as a police force, in both public and in cladestine activities. This resulted in illegal detentions and the use of overwhelming brutality to chase out Guerillas and their sympathizers. The case of Nueva Linda indicates that the military is slowly imposing itself onto civilian life in clear violation of the peace accords which specifically identify the need for an independent civil police force. Several articles in a Guatemalan newspaper El Periodico focus on Military Colonels who were former intelligence officials during the armed conflict and at the time recently hired as directors and supervisors in the National Civil Police. Following Nueva Linda there has been an increasing number of armed evictions in joint military and police operations against unarmed campesinos, environmental activists and youth groups who are critical of the government. In many cases private security groups owned by landowners coordinate with the police and often are responsible for the most cases of extrajudicial violence. Many fear Guatemala is slowly reversing the peace accords and becoming a police state once again.
Whenever I have screened the film people what to know a happy ending or where to donate. The truth is since the massacre things have only gotten worse in Guatemala as violence, the United States economic crisis devastated the Guatemala economy and a former Director of intelligence during one of the worst periods of the armed conflict is now president. Above all else drug related violence is increasing and their is a refugee crisis as unaccompanied minors are crossing into the United States. Time are tough in Guatemala and I wish I had a clear answer for how to improve things. All I do know is that if the more aware we are the better this world can become.
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