Thursday, September 19, 2013

Victim of Río Negro massacre exhumed from Cobán mass grave and buried in Rabinal

Boys carry Martina Rojas' photo through the streets of Rabinal. Photo: CPR Urbana

On September 7, Martina Rojas was buried in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, 31 years after she was forcefully detained and disappeared from her home community of Río Negro, situated on the banks of the Chixoy River. On May 14, 1982, the Guatemalan military disappeared Rojas and dozens of other Maya Achí victims, as part of a series of massacres aimed at displacing the people of Río Negro in order to make way for the Chixoy dam. It was reported that Rojas was taken away by helicopter to an unknown location, until only recently confirmed to be a military base in Cobán, Alta Verapaz.

Rojas is honored on the eve of her burial. Photo: CPR Urbana

Earlier this year, Rojas' remains were uncovered in the mass grave located in the "Regional Training Command Center for Peacekeeping Operations", or CREOMPAZ, what used to be a functioning military base in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) and the Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared (FAMDEGUA) began exhumations of the mass grave in February 2012. Despite the fact that anthropologists have uncovered the remains of at least 500 people, many with signs of torture, military officials continue to claim that, "The graves that have been discovered in Cobán are part of a cemetery".

So far, FAFG has positively identified seven individuals based on DNA collected and cataloged in their genetic database. Martina Rojas was identified before being buried on September 7 in Rabinal, near the community of Pacux, where her family members and other Río Negro survivors currently live.

The Chixoy river, once only a few inches deep and surrounded by the community of
Río Negro, is now flooded due to the hydro-electric dam. Photo: Elizabeth Bain

Guatemala's National Institute of Electrification (INDE) began speculation for the Chixoy dam project in 1976. Between February and September 1982, during the height of Guatemala's internal armed conflict, at least 444 men, women and children were killed in Río Negro. Financed by the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank, construction of the Chixoy dam began in January 1983.

In 2008, a Guatemalan court sentenced five ex-members of the civil patrol to 780 years in prison for the largest massacre in Río Negro, which killed 177 women and children on March 13, 1982. In June 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard the Río Negro case and by September emitted a sentence in favor of the survivors. The court strongly recommended that the Guatemalan state search for those who were disappeared, investigate and charge the material authors of the massacres, and assume responsibility for the atrocities committed.

NISGUA provides ongoing human rights accompaniment to the Río Negro survivors and accompanied the 2008 legal process in the national court as well as the 2013 burial of Martina Rojas.

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