Issue 4-2022 small

17 April 1997 Edition

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Guatemalan regime called to account

     As part of Latin American Week An Phoblacht examines the contrasting politics of Cuba and Guatemala

By Dara MacNeil

While five years of peace talks finally produced an agreement between government and rebels in Guatemala - formally signed last December - the brutal legacy of over forty years of military rule remains. It may take generations to repair the damage done to Guatemala's citizenry by one of the most barbaric and vicious regimes the contemporary world has witnessed. But, at least, the process has begun.

In March, the Organisation of American States' Interamerican Tribunal of Human Rights announced its intention to investigate the murder of four children by Guatemala's National Police in 1990.

Casa Alianza - an independent project for streetchildren based in Guatemala city - has laid charges against the Guatemalan government, accusing it of the abduction, torture and murder of the four streetchildren. It will be the first time an OAS member has appeared before the court charged with violations of the human rights of minors.

According to Casa Alianza, the four children were arrested by police in June, 1990. Their bodies were later discovered, in a forest on the outskirts of the capital. All bore signs of torture and had been `finished off' in typical military style: a bullet to the back of the head.

More disturbingly, in April, the Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared, announced they are to begin the exhumation of a recently-discovered mass grave which dates from 1982. Although it is not yet known how many bodies the grave contains, earlier such discoveries give some indication. In 1994, three graves were unearthed in the same area. They contained the bodies of 143 people - 58 women and 85 children.

The area in question was, in 1982, under the command of the notoriously depraved General Efrain Rios Montt. In March 1982, Rios Montt became head of the country's military regime. In just over a year, his regime had slaughtered more than 15,000 civilians. Today, Rios Montt is a practising evangelist minister who claims to commune regularly with God. Last year he contested the country's presidential elections, and is said to enjoy the admiration of Guatemala's wealthy elite because his period in power was marked by a decline in official corruption. Figure that one, if you can.

Brave Cuba defies the blockade

Needless to say, during the decades when Guatemala was butchering its citizenry, the United States never saw fit to impose a blockade on the country. Instead it armed, financed and trained the killers. Cuba, on the other hand, has been blockaded by the US for 37 years. There are no mass graves in Cuba, no death squads, no state murders of children.

As part of Latin American Week, two Cuban representatives are currently in Ireland to explain both the rationale behind the blockade and its effects on the Cuban people.

According to Teresita Trujillo life has been ``very difficult for the Cuban people'' over the last seven years. Speaking at a public meeting in Dublin, Trujillo characterised the blockade as ``an attempt to blackmail the Cuban people. What they (the US) couldn't gain by political means, they try to gain by starvation.''

Trujillo detailed how Cuba was forced, last year, to expend some $30 million in purchasing medicines for cancer-stricken children in its hospitals. The US blockade has meant that such medicines are all but unobtainable, as companies worldwide refuse to deal with Cuba for fear of incurring the wrath of Washington. As a result, the country was forced to pay almost three times the normal cost of the medicines, on the international market.

The blockade has also meant that children over the age of seven no longer have milk to drink, explained Trujillo, as the country is forced to re-allocate its scarce resources. This means giving priority to younger children and infants.

According to Javier Dominguez, the US blockade remains in place, despite the ending of the Cold War, because ``they cannot accept this small country is still alive.''

Although the country suffers from shortages, said Dominguez, ``there is never a shortage of friendship, because they cannot blockade solidarity.''

He pointed out that the Cuban Revolution ``has given a lot to our people'' and that in turn has determined the population's capacity to resist.

Dominguez also explained that the issue of the US blockade extends far beyond the shores of Cuba. ``We have a lot to lose, if the Cuban people are defeated by the US. The whole world is going to lose. We are fighting for hope and for a new world.

``What is taking place is a battle for dignity. The battle of a small country to decide the type of society they want to build.''

*Teresita Trujillo will speak at a special conference in Dublin, on Saturday April 19. The conference - in the ATGWU Hall, Middle Abbey Street.

The conference focuses on the Cuban blockade and the abuse of workers rights in Latin America's fruit industry, much of whose produce ends up on European tables.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1