“Report of an Injustice”

Update March 21: Amnesty International Urgent Action 83/11: “Forced eviction of communities in Guatemala”

On March 19, 2011, the 44th anniversary of the torture and murder of poet and guerrilla Otto René Castillo and his comrade Nora Paiz by the Guatemalan military, the government of President Álvaro Colom commemorated their deaths by recognizing the Guatemalan state’s criminal responsibility for their deaths, and offering an official pardon for both. “Crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations, because heroes never die.  Otto René, Nora and so many more who fell in the avalanche of violence of the past live on in their memory, their works, their example, the strength of their principles and values,” said the President during the ceremony.

Otto René Castillo

Otto René Castillo

On the same day, Guatemalan police and military forces continued evictions of Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in the Polochíc Valley, where last year hundreds of families occupied land claimed by a agroindustrial firm owned by oligarch Carlos Widdman, lands purchased by the Guatemalan state via a loan from the Central American Economic Integration Bank and currently mortgaged due to lack of payment on that loan. At least one person died in the evictions and others were injured, and subsistence crops were systematically destroyed in what rural workers’, indigenous peoples’, and human rights organizations denounced as a return to the “scorched earth” tactics of the Guatemalan state’s genocidal counterinsurgency.

Earlier this week, the Government released a statement asserting the state’s responsibility to maintain “governability and the rule of law” by carrying out evictions and arresting all activists with pending warrants for participating in direct action protests—in the vast majority of cases, activists who have participated nonviolently in acts of civil disobedience such as roadblocks, occupations of public and private property, and refusal to pay exorbitant bills for public services. The Government’s statement denounces social organizations which have legitimately sought peaceful means to increase their bargaining power in negotiations and make their collective voices heard, declaring a “freeze” of dialogue with any groups that have promoted or participated in direct action or civil disobedience—in sum, measures which social organizations are forced to employ in a climate of diminishing political space for protest and reform are to be met with repression and a further closure of state-sanctioned political space.

The government’s valorization Guatemala’s liberatory heritage, as symbolized by Nora Paiz and Otto René Castillo, while it simultaneously reenacts the same acts of injustice that pushed them to take up arms against the state, is an act of coöptation and hypocrisy in their most naked forms. The following poem, written by Otto René Castillo during the mid-sixties as he struggled against the military dictatorship in Guatemala, illustrates this point with great clarity. (See also an excerpt—in Spanish—of a biographical narrative titled “The literary practice of Otto René Castillo” by the Guatemalan writer Mario Roberto Morales.)

Tractor used to destroy crops during eviction in the Polochic Valley, Guatemala. (Photo: FGT/CUC)

Tractor used to destroy crops during eviction in the Polochic Valley, Guatemala. (Photo: FGT/CUC)

Report of an Injustice

     “For the past few days the personal belongings of Mrs. Damiana Murcia widow of García, 77 years of age, have been out in the rain where they were thrown from her humble living quarters located at 15 “C” Street, between 3rd and 4th, Zone 1.”

(Radio newspaper “Diario Minuto,” first edition, Wednesday, June 10, 1964.)

Perhaps you can’t believe it,
but here,
before my eyes,
an old woman,
Damiana Murcia widow of García,
77 years of ashes,
under the rain,
beside her furniture,
broken, stained, old,
receives
on the curve of her back
all the monstrous injustice
of the system of yours, and mine.

For being poor,
the judges of the rich
ordered eviction.
Perhaps you no longer
understand that word.
How noble the world
you live in!
Little by little
the bitterest words
lose their cruelty there.
And every day,
like the dawn,
new words emerge
filled with love
and tenderness for humanity.

Eviction,
          how to explain it?

You know,
here when you can’t pay the rent
the authorities of the rich
come and throw your things
in the street.
And you’re left without a roof
for the arc of your dreams.
That’s what it means, the word
eviction: loneliness
open to the sky, to
the eye that judges, misery.

This is the free world, they say.
What luck that you
no longer know
these liberties!

Damiana Murcia widow of García
is very small,
              you know,
and must be very old.

How great her loneliness!

You can’t believe
how these injustices hurt.

They are the norm among us.
Unusual is tenderness
and the hatred of poverty.
And so today more than ever
I love your world,
              I understand it,
                     I glorify
its cosmic pride.

And I ask myself:
Why do the old
suffer so in our midst,
if age comes to us all
one day?
But worst of all
              is the habit.
Man loses his humanity,
The enormous pain of another
is no longer his concern
              and he eats
                     and he laughs
and he forgets everything.

I don’t want these things
for my country.
I don’t want these things
for anyone.
I don’t want these things
for anyone in the world.
              And I say I
because pain
should carry
an indelible aura.

This is the free world, they say.

Look at me.
And tell your friends
my laughter
has turned grotesque
on my face.

Tell them I love their world.
They should make it beautiful.
And I’m very glad
they no longer know
injustices
       so deep and painful.

– Otto René Castillo

About cascadiasolidaria

Human rights and solidarity activist from Cascadia, North America, writing about issues of justice and security in Guatemala and Central America from a perspective of solidarity with human rights and social movements.
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