Nobel laureate says Guatemalan peace elusive
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) -- On the 21st anniversary of a fire that
burned her father alive and started the most brutal stretch of one of the world's
bloodiest civil wars, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu says the war's
200,000 victims died for nothing.
On January 31, 1980, Menchu's father and 36 other peasants were burned
as they occupied the Spanish embassy.
Menchu said her homeland is no better off today even though peace accords
ended the fighting four years ago and a genocide complaint she filed in Spain in
connection with the fire has much of Guatemala's ex-military brass afraid to
leave this country.
"To this day we have yet to recover his body," Menchu said, speaking of
father in an interview with The Associated Press. "This case has so much
importance to Guatemala and the world, but it also shows the real human
suffering of the families of all the war's victims."
"Our peace, our democratic model was kidnapped on its way to the people
were so desperately awaiting its arrival," said Menchu, wearing a traditional
Mayan blouse of green and white lace. "The peace process is dead."
In January 1980, 27 K'iche' Indians arrived in the Guatemalan capital to
criminal complaint against soldiers engaging in a scorched-earth campaign near
their village of Chajul, in the mostly Indian state of Quiche.
Prosecutors ignored the contingent and security forces stopped an attempt
enter Congress to talk to lawmakers. The protesters decided an armed takeover
of an embassy was the only way to get someone to listen.
Armed with machetes and homemade explosives, the peasants invaded the
Spanish embassy -- partly because Ambassador Maximo Cajal had traveled to
Quiche and had proved sympathetic to the plight of locals there in the past.
In the hours after the takeover, Cajal reported that those occupying the
had put away their weapons and wanted to negotiate a peaceful end. But
negotiations failed and police soon stormed the premises.
The protesters retreated into Cajal's office, which was surrounded by authorities.
Minutes later, fire erupted, burning alive the activists who were trapped inside
after police blocked the only exit. Whether the officers or protesters started the
fire remains a mystery.
The fire killed 36 peasants and embassy employees and became a centerpiece
Menchu's criminal complaint charging seven former military and civilian leaders
-- three of whom are former heads of state -- with genocide and state-sanctioned
In December 1999, after the court's indictment of ex-Chilean dictator Augusto
Pinochet, Menchu presented her case before Spain's National Court.
The court refused to hear the case until Guatemalan courts try it first.
Menchu plans to argue that Guatemala's war-torn legal system is too weak
her case, pointing out a constant stream of death threats against those who
attempt to prosecute.
Meanwhile, echoes of the war continue to haunt Guatemala. Roman Catholic
Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in 1998 after delivering a report
implicating Guatemala's military in more than 90 percent of the civil war's
killings. Last week, parents of hundreds of children who disappeared during the
war demanded an investigation .
Menchu said she continues to receive death threats almost weekly.
"We genuinely expected many sectors of society to change their exploitive
violent ways," said Menchu. "The military, the government, the political parties
and all of those in power in Guatemala let down this nation and a lot of friendly
nations who were watching our peace process closely."
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.