Guatemala: The Activism of Massacre Survivor Jesús Tecú

Maya Achí activist Jesús Tecú Osorio is a survivor. When he was a child, he witnessed the Río Negro Massacre, one of the most horrific massacres of Guatemala's armed conflict. Many of his friends, his 2-year-old brother, and his young parents were murdered. He spent some time forced to work, along with 17 other child survivors, doing domestic work for the man who killed his brother.

Photo by Renata Avila

Photo by Renata Avila

Years later, after he was released into the custody of his older sister, Tecú began to work to exhume the mass grave of those killed in the Massacre. Eventually, this work led to the conviction of 3 of the men who took part in the killings. This work has been crucial in the pursuit of justice and the preservation of the historical memory on local and international levels.

Tecú wrote a book called “Memory of the Río Negro Massacres” that tells his experience as a homeless child who survived the war. Tadeo explains more about the story that Tecú tells:

The military and paramilitary forces rounded up all of the women and children and accused them of collaborating with the guerrillas. Together they proceeded to rape, torture, and murder everyone. Some 177 human beings, including 107 children, were massacred on the 13th of March, 1982, in Rio Negro. The few survivors, mostly young boys, were forced into slavery. In The Massacres of Río Negro, survivor Jesús Tecú described being enslaved by a leader of the Xococ PAC, a man who ripped his youngest brother out of his arms and swung him by his feet, smashing his brains against rocks in front of his eyes because his wife was “not used to caring for [such] a small child.

Tecú's case is different from many others, because he stayed in his community helping his community to fight for their human rights. He is leading a Legal Clinic to help poor and under-educated people to fight for their rights. This struggle  by Tecú and other survivors of Guatemala's civil war led to the creation of the New Hope Foundation (FNE). Their mission can be found on their blog [es]:

Consideramos que una buena educación para nuestros hijos es la única manera de combatir la intolerancia, construir una paz verdadera, y mejorar la calidad de vida para nuestras comunidades en las que viven en extrema pobreza tantos sobrevivientes de la violencia pasada.

We consider that a quality education for our children is the only way to combat intolerance, construct real peace in this country, and improve the quality of life for our communities, in which many survivors of past violence still live in extreme poverty.

Other similar initiatives are taking place in the Achí community, as a way to remember the past, but also celebrate their culture. The Achí community recently opened the Riij Ib’ooy Center in the town of Rabinal, where people can learn more about the massacres, but also about the culture and glorious past of this Mayan group. In an interview with the Coordination for International Accompaniment in Guatemala (ACOGUATE), Tecú explains that the situation in Rabinal is extremely complex, since perpetrators and victims are living and sharing spaces in the same small village.

In her blog, Christina Gray of the organization Youth Helping Youth describes how Tecú explains the story of his village to visitors:

Sunday afternoon, the delegation, interns, and coordinators met-up with Jesús Tecu Osorio, a Maya-Achí speaking survivor of the Río Negro Massacre of 1982, who shared with us some of Rabinal and neighboring community’s history as represented in the monuments dedicated to those murdered in the massacres, these monuments allow the community and foreigners to remember the lives of those that passed and speak out against the government's desire for everyone to forget.

For his work, Tecú was awarded the Reebok Human Rights Award. In this Witness video, Tecú explains his struggle for Justice:

Despite the progress made by Tecú and the Achí community, the work continues. Survivors are still pressing the Guatemalan government to convict those responsible for the massacres, as shown by Colectivo Guatemala Blog. Some of these individuals are being intimidated for their work.

Recently, Tecú has received threatening phone calls. Padd Daniel of the Guatemala Solidarity Network describes this news:

On the afternoon of September 14th, 2009, human rights defender Jesus Tecú Osorio received a telephone call on his personal cell phone from an unidentified extortionist who threatened to kidnap, torture and dismember each of Jesus’ children, one-by-one, if his demands are not met. The caller demonstrated that he knows where Jesus lives with his wife and children, as well as the location of the school where his eldest son studies. Like most human rights defenders in Guatemala, Jesus has received many death threats over the years, none of which have been properly investigated. But Jesus has never let intimidation tactics deter him from continuing his human rights work.

Nonviolent action has played a key role in the struggle for social change in Guatemala, as shown by local activists like Jesús Tecú. However, as the recent threatening phone call demonstrates, there is still much progress to be made.


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