Peasant farmers from the southern coast who comprise the Civil Association Pro-Justice Nueva Linda Group celebrated their fourth Christmas in a row along the side of the road. Their resistance continues as they seek justice for the abduction and disappearance of Hector Reyes in 2003 as well as the violent eviction of August 2004, which left 12 dead and 45 injured.
Kilometer 207. Highway to Champerico, Retalhuleu, Guatemala.
Peasant farmers from the southern coast who comprise the Civil Association Pro-Justice Nueva Linda Group celebrated their fourth Christmas in a row along the side of the road. Their resistance continues as they seek justice for the abduction and disappearance of Hector Reyes in 2003 as well as the violent eviction of August 2004, which left 12 dead and 45 injured. During such event, Guatemalan security forces acted in conjunction with hired-gun civilians and carried out at least 5 point-blank executions while others, including a pregnant woman, died from police brutality. (1)
Following with Guatemalan tradition, Christmas Eve was celebrated in Nueva Linda with a traditional dinner of tamales as well as the lighting of firecrackers.
Granddaughters of the abducted and disappeared Hector Reyes play with sparklers.
Selvin Hernandez (left), who suffered multiple fractures during the 2004 violent eviction at the hands of National Police officers, expresses his feelings during dinner: “I am happy to be spending Christmas here. I want to be clear though that we are not here because we want to. We are here because of the disappearance of Hector Reyes. I am in solidarity with his family, because on this occasion it was them. But tomorrow it could be my family, or even me.”
“Due to our lack of solidarity among peasants, or the poor in general, the rich have been doing with us what they have felt like. They do not respect us as humans. They use us like any tool which may be useful for some time, and after that, we become expendable. The only thing they care about is the labor we can provide for them. With Hector, instead of paying his indemnity, they killed him. To me, this is unfair. And that’s why I’m here.” (2)
“Also, laws are not upheld in Guatemala. These laws have been made for the rich and do not apply to us poor. A rich landholder kills a poor peasant and buys his freedom for 30,000 Quetzales [US $4,000]. He must be punished by law! In fact, the disappearance of Hector Reyes was not even carried out by the boss. He hired another poor person to do it. This latter did it without thinking that someday the boss could do the same to him. I am very aware of this. Human rights must be respected. And we, despite being poor, also deserve such rights.” (3)
I have family in the United States, but I do not agree with those who migrate illegally to the U.S. Why should our relatives and colleagues risk being killed in such a trek just for the illusion of material wealth? There is nothing better than to live with one’s family, to feel and share their love. I have seen many fathers and mothers who have headed up north, worked endlessly, while their children remain here. Sure, the kids receive a little bit of cash each month. But they no longer receive the love from their mom, from their dad. Parental warmth gets lost and that, to me, is most important.” (4)
Nicolas Uxlaj (left) adds: “[Outgoing] President Berger has often reiterated at international level that Guatemala is a country at peace. But it is not like this. It is a country where we peasants and indigenous folk have suffered, have cried, have lost our relatives due to the injustice that prevails.”
“We are not poor due to laziness. We are poor because the wealth of Guatemala is controlled by only a few rich foreigners and oligarchs. Guatemala is a very rich country which could provide for everyone here… There are days during our resistance when we have something to eat, and days when we don’t. Nevertheless, the clarity of our demands keeps us on our feet.” (5)
“Our objective is to close the Hector Reyes case and that justice is served. We will not take one step backwards despite the threats, the intimidations, the persecutions. We know we are seeking a correct justice. How is it possible that a landowner like Carlos Vidal hires an assassin to eliminate Hector Reyes instead of paying him his due compensation?!” (6)
“We Guatemalans are not invaders. If the abduction and disappearance of Hector Reyes would not have occurred, we would not be here. As it is already well known at both national and international levels, our taking of the Nueva Linda landholding [back in 2003] was not an invasion but a measure to pressure the authorities into taking action.” (7)
“In this southern region of the country there is a significant invasion of Spaniards. I want to ask them to please go back to their own country and to leave our lands to us. And it is not just the land issue, but they also exploit the working class. If many of our fellow countrymen are in the U.S. it is because there is no land available for them to work here. Meanwhile, some Spaniards have multiple and enormous landholdings. They are the true invaders! The respect for others brings peace. And they have not respected us.” (8)
Mariano Calel, legal representative of the Civil Association Pro-Justice Nueva Linda Group, comments while eating a tamal for breakfast: “They will never manage to scare me off with intimidations. Only if the family of Hector Reyes decides to give up the struggle, then I will leave as well. The struggle without Reyes’ family can not continue because we are demanding justice for his disappearance. Otherwise, they will have to kill me so as to eliminate me from this struggle.”
In order to avoid having their food eaten by the large field rats, the Nueva Linda group members hang their tortillas and other provisions in a basket. The plastic bottle prevents rats from climbing down the rope.
Esteban Perez, pictured reading the MiMundo.org photo-essay Nueva Linda: Along the Side of the Road, states: “I began working in the fields from dawn until dusk at age 9. I was discriminated against, mistreated, paid a meager and unjust wage; the conditions imposed by most landowners. But we can change Guatemala! Unfortunately many people do not realize we can do so, don’t participate, and continue working as slaves to the foreigners. I am 22 years old and often tell the youngsters that we have both a voice and a vote. We must express our opinions and demand our rights! My parents are afraid that I could be harmed because of this struggle which I have involved myself in. But I tell them not to worry. I want equality for all. This is my goal. And despite of what may occur, I will continue here fighting for it.”
French filmmaker Grégory Lassalle (second from right to left), who directed the documentary film Km. 207: By the Side of the Road, shares a moment with members of the Nueva Linda Pro-Justice Group.
A 2-minute synapse of the documentary Kilometer 207: By the Side of the Road.
Bety Reyes, daughter of Hector Reyes, comments: “For us it is sad to spend Christmas without our parents. My mother is far away and well, who knows where my father is. It is hard to spend Christmas with your children along the side of the road. But we are happy that you have accompanied us, and yes, in a way we have had a pleasant time. We are determined to stay here as long as it takes in order to bring to justice those who forcibly disappeared my father because it is clear who did it.”
Christmas portrait which includes grandchildren, daughters, and a number of in-laws of the missing Hector Reyes, in addition to Mariano Calel in the background.
One-and-a-half year old Hector Ernesto, Bety Reyes’ youngest child, was named after his missing grandfather and born in Guatemala City’s central square during the summer of 2006 when the Nueva Linda Group held a months-long protest in front of the presidential palace.
“We hope the new government of [incoming President] Alvaro Colom carries on its promises, unlike the government of President Berger who did nothing for us poor. He ignored us during his term and now leaves office still ignoring us.” (9)
Rodolfo Perez, Bety Reyes’ husband, concludes: “We will continue, in a joyous manner, with our sight set straight ahead on our objective. It has been 4 years already, but we are willing to continue demanding our rights for 10 or 15 more because our struggle is a just one.”
To contact and get involved in the struggle carried out by the Pro-Justice Nueva Linda Group, please contact (Spanish preferred):
1 Masacre en Nueva Linda: Caso Abierto… A Rights Action Report, November 2005, p. 3. 2 Interview with Selvin Hernandez. December 24, 2007. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 Interview with Nicolas Uxlaj. December 24, 2007. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid.