In a future post, I plan to discuss the recent passage of the 2014 Consolidation and Appropriations Act in U.S. Congress and the provisions that relate to reparations for survivors of the World Bank-funded Chixoy Dam. This legislation is a long-awaited step towards providing compensation to the Maya Achi communities that suffered displacement, forced disappearance and massacres of entire villages as a result of the development project.
Here, I’d like to talk about survivor and activist Jesus Tecú Osorio. I was honored to meet Jesus more than 10 years ago, when he was on a speaking tour in the U.S. Jesus was just 10 years old on March 19, 1982 when he witnessed the brutal massacre of 177 of his fellow village members, including his 2-year-old brother, in Rio Negro, Rabinal. Jesus, whose parents had been murdered in a previous massacre, was then abducted by a paramilitary who had participated in the killings and forced to live with him as his domestic servant.
Why were the villagers of Rio Negro targeted? At the time of the massacres, Guatemala was in the throes of a genocidal civil war. Using an anticommunist, national security doctrine as justification, the military killed thousands of Mayan civilians, accusing them of providing support to guerrilla groups. In this climate of political repression, civilian dissent and opposition to the government could be deadly. Testimony by the survivors of Rio Negro, research and reporting by truth commissions, as well as international solidarity efforts, strongly suggest that the population’s resistance to the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam was a key factor in the massacres. The Chixoy dam was a project of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), and has often been cited as an example of disastrous international development policies.
When I met him years later, Jesus was engaged in his life’s work: the struggle for justice for the survivors of the Rio Negro massacres. His efforts have included the long fight to bring the material perpetrators of the massacre to trial, a fight for reparations from the World Bank, and the establishment of local initiatives to rebuild the community, fight for legal rights, and heal from psychological trauma.
Jesus Tecu Osorio has won several human rights awards, including the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1996 and the 2010 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award for international human rights defenders.
The following is a video produced by Jesus Tecú Osorio in 2000 and published by WITNESS, “A Right to Justice”.