By David Toro Escobar
Guatemala City, Dec 6 (EFE).- Relatives of the 200 victims of the “Dos Erres” massacre in Guatemala on Tuesday commemorated the 40th anniversary of the crime and one of them, Felicita Romero, who lost six relatives in the Central American nation’s worst massacre by the army, said that wounds still remain unhealed.
“Each December it’s difficult. The massacre was on Dec. 7, the same day that the people celebrate the ‘burning of the devil,'” Romero told EFE, referring to a traditional event in Guatemala celebrated with the creation of small bonfires.
“I feel it’s like a joke. It hurts a lot and it’s difficult to get over,” said the 57-year-old woman, who lost three brothers, her parents and her grandfather in the massacre committed against at least 200 people in a small farming community in December 1982 in the middle of the country’s armed conflict.
Romero was born in the eastern Guatemalan province of Jutiapa, but in 1974 her father Mateo decided to move with his eight children and his wife to the Peten, a huge jungle region in the far northern part of the country.
By 1980, the Romero family had established themselves on a farm in a zone known as “Dos Erres,” in the village of Las Cruces de Peten, where people grow fruit, corn and beans, along with raising cattle and poultry.
“It was a nice place, there was a lot of work. I helped my dad to work the land,” Romero recalled, adding that she had no idea that just two years later one of the bloodiest massacres in Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war would take the lives of her family and change her life forever.
On Dec. 6, 1982, the 17-year-old Romero was at the Las Cruces village school and was getting ready to go home to her father but she was warned about the presence of soldiers in the area.
“A man named Rafael told us not to go to Dos Erres because they were killing people there,” she recalled.
Exactly 40 years ago, a special forces unit of the Guatemalan army made up of about 55 soldiers entered the area and occupied the town for three days, until Dec. 8.
Mercilessly, the soldiers subjected the villagers to torture and several of the women, including young girls and teens, were raped repeatedly. The victims were finally executed and thrown into a well, according to a report prepared by the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH).
That army unit had come to the town looking for 21 rifles allegedly stolen by guerrillas operating in the area a few days earlier along a nearby highway. They interrogated the townspeople and despite finding no rifles there, or any indications of rebel activity, they executed the villagers.
“It wasn’t fair what they did. Our relatives were not guerrillas, they were peasants,” Romero said, adding that she took refuge at that time in a parish church where she spent Christmas along with others who had survived the massacre.
Four decades later, She lives in a town 60 kilometers (36 miles) from Guatemala City, where she runs several businesses with her sons.
Today, she holds a degree in Legal and Social Sciences, hoping to become an attorney. “I decided to study law to defend myself,” she said.
In 1994, a group of forensic anthropologists from Argentina found the remains of 164 of the massacred townspeople in the community well.
Three years later, Romero approached the Association for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA), where she told her story for the first time and began the search for justice.
Although the case began working its way through the Guatemalan judicial system in 2000, it wasn’t until 2011 that the first five soldiers, by then retired, were sentenced to thousands of years in prison for their role in the massacre. In addition, a sixth soldier who participated in the killing was sentenced to 5,160 years behind bars for crimes against humanity in 2018.
Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who was president of the country from 1982-1983 when the massacre occurred, was charged with the crime but died before sentence could be passed upon him. It has still not been possible to prosecute the top army commanders who at that time were militarily responsible for the zone where the slaughter occurred.
In 2023, two other members of the army unit will be brought to trial, although the judiciary still has not set a date for the proceedings.