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Mayan Indians seek U.s. help: Guatemalan military oppresses villagers.

Guatemalan military oppresses villagers

TUCSON, Ariz. - Mayan Indians, long victims of Guatemalan military persecution, last week called upon U.S. officials and others to aid them in their struggle for official Guatemalan civilian status and the protection they think such recognition would give them.

A Mayan Indian delegation, touring the United States, is attempting to gather support for its efforts. Representatives of the Communities of Population in Resistance are meeting with church members, political leaders and human rights groups in five cities

"They (the Guatemalan army) accuse us of being subversives, guerrillas," said Francisco Raymundo Hernandez during an Oct. 13 meeting here with representatives of U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Ed Pastor, both Democrats from Arizona. Raymundo Hernandez and Teodora Martinez Vasquez were to end tbeir U.S. tour in Los Angeles on Oct. 21.

An estimated 25,000 CPR members endure poverty and military oppression in dozens of remote villages in El Quiche and El Peten states in northern Guatemala near the border of Mexico. Raymundo Hernandez coordinates the 17,000-member CPR of the Sierra region. Martinez Vasquez is a founding member of the Organization of Women in Resistance, which involves Guatemalan women in self-help projects.

Raymundo Hernandez said the CPR, supported by the Guatemalan bishops, wanted full civil rights for its members under the Guatemalan Constitution and through international law.

But three recent meetings with President Ramiro de Leon Carpio have not offered much hope he will rein in the army, Raymundo Hernandez said.

The CPR began in the 1960s as church-sponsored agricultural cooperatives. It later became the target of counterinsurgency campaigns that have killed more than 100,000 people. Meanwhile, an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans have fled the country, and 1 million remain as internally displaced refugees.

Rather than fleeing, the CPR chose to go into hiding, to organize, raise crops and retain dialects and other aspects of Mayan culture that the military has tried to wipe out, Raymundo Hernandez said.

Military repression has reduced CPR numbers by more than half since the 1980s.

In 1990, the CPR decided to go public, Raymundo Hernandez said. It invited international delegations to visit to try to keep the military at bay .

Since that time, El Quiche Bishop Julio Cabrera and San Marcos Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, with ecumenical support, have led several delegations into the communities. Army repression has dropped somewhat, said Raymundo Hernandez. However, communities still live under constant surveillance and attack by helicopter, plane and foot patrols, be said.

In September, a CPR delegation met for the first time with de Leon. Members presented to him a petition asking for official recognition as civilians and "respect for all constitutional rights," said Raymundo Hernandez. However, in a subsequent meeting the government laid out conditions for negotiations that the CPR said were unacceptable.

Conditions include showing respect for the Guatemalan military, the very force that has been so oppressive to the CPR, said Raymundo Hernandez. He said such a statement would make the Mayan Indians more vulnerable to forced conscription into the dreaded Civil Patrols, which have been responsible for many of the massacres in Guatemala in recent years.

The CPR is willing to adopt some conditions, such as respect for the constitution, which is central to its position, said Raymundo Hernandez. But de Leon rejected the CPR compromise in an Oct. 7 meeting, stalling negotiations.
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Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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