Thousands of q’eqchi’ peasants near Livingston, Guatemala had been anticipating February 14, 2011 as a possible day of joy and celebration. Instead it became a day of unbearable grief after the bodies of three missing leaders affiliated with Encuentro Campesino (Peasant Encounter) were found floating in a lake near Livingston, covered with bullet wounds.
Encuentro Campesino is a peasant and indigenous rights organization which political prisoner Ramiro Choc helped form. February 14 was the first day that Choc became eligible for release from prison, and the three were expected to participate in activities to pressure for his freedom.
Despite their young age, all three had already earned reputations for their commitment, creativity, intellect and compassion.
Sebastian Xuc, approximately 30 years old, was a “basico” or middle school teacher at the community Quebrada Seca where all three were from. “He was a lover,” friends were overheard saying. “You didn’t have to ask him for help three times, you didn’t have to ask him for help two times, you just told him you needed something and he was there to help you right away.” In addition to his role as a teacher, Sebastian was helping move forward community controlled development which would bring much needed resources to families in Quebrada Seca. The majority of q’eqchi’ children suffer from chronic malnutrition, but the Unites States and Guatemalan government continue to violently oppose community controlled decision making. This includes through continued training of Guatemalan military at the US Army School of the Americas (soaw.org) as well as the ongoing State of Siege in Alta Verapaz. Sebastian left five children.
Catalina Mu Maas was only 23 years old, but she had already become a respected community leader. “She was very proactive from an early age. She was an amazing person,” said a friend. Catalina was the first woman from Quebrada Seca to graduate from high school. She was also the first woman to become a spiritual guide for Ak’ Tenamit, a large local organization working to promote harmony between q’eqchi’ and western culture. She was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and women’s participation in decision making.
Alberto Coc, 26 years old, may have been the main target of the attack. Alberto was well known for his leadership in the community and with Encuentro Campesino. He was a spiritual guide and took a more active leadership role in Encuentro Campesino after the February 14, 2008 arrest of Ramiro Choc. Alberto left three children, one just several months old.
The three young leaders were trained in part by Choc, who helped them focus their intellect and passion. The three, as well as another young peasant from a nearby community, were last seen on Saturday boarding a canoe to return home from the University where they were advancing their education in addition to their numerous other responsibilities.
When they didn’t arrive at home, search parties were sent out. Alberto and several other Encuentro Campesino leaders had recently received death threats and communities feared the worst.
On Sunday their boat was found, full of blood and bullet holes. The Guatemalan navy refused to join the search, saying that their primary work in the area was to protect tourism.
On Monday the bodies were found. Each had been shot multiple times, including at least once in the face from close range. On Tuesday the body of a fourth q’eqchi’ peasant youth, Amilcar Choc, was found.
It is not certain who carried out the massacre, but hundreds of q’eqchi’ communities have been violently attacked in recent years by police, military and paramilitary soldiers. There have already been significant errors in the “investigation” into the massacre, which GSP and Encuentro Campesino will expose at a later date.
The attack was an attempt to silence and terrorize peasants in the region, and in particular Encuentro Campesino. But because of their courageous commitment, and because of starvation in their communities, Encuentro Campesino will not be silenced.
The GSP stands with Encuentro Campesino in their struggle for their legitimate rights. We will be collecting funds in support of this struggle, and in support of the children of the fallen comrades. The GSP will take no cut of donations and our volunteers will work with Encuentro Campesino to make sure they are having the desired impact. We will also be posting updates on the situation, including suggested actions to take in solidarity with the communities.
* To sign the petition to free Ramiro Choc, which includes background info and a video about him, visit http://www.change.org/petitions/free_qeqchi_leader_and_political_prisoner_ramiro_choc
* For info on the ongoing fast in support of Choc, visit http://guatemalasolidarityproject.org/fastforramiro.htm