The Long Struggle
By Fr. Victor Dinangan cicm
Father Victor Dinangan, cicm is a native of the Philippines. He was ordained priest on April 10, 1999 in Tierra Nueva, Guatemala City. Before his ordination he spent a couple of years as a missionary intern in Guatemala. The following article relates some experiences he has at that time, specifically with the Community of People in Resistance.
An important dimension of my program as an intern in Guatemala was to obtain a better knowledge of the history of the people. I expressed a desire to get to know the CPR (Community of People in Resistance). I wanted to just go and live among them and listen to their stories.
The CPR started as a response to the military repression that swept all over Guatemala from the 70’s up until 90’s. The majority of these who went into hiding in the mountains did so avoid the abusive and violent control of the military. They had heard of the cruelty of the soldiers and their strategy of using innocent villagers to persecute, torture, and kill their co-villager. Opposing such military orders meant death.
On December 29, 1996 the signing of peace agreement ended the military operations in the area. Part of the agreement was the resettlement of all those displaced by the war. One community of 350 families was resettlement of all those displaced by the war. One community of 350 families was resettled on the farm estate of El Triunfo. It is in this community that I learned about CPR experiences, by just participating in the daily life of the people and by listening to their stories.
Testimony of Ramos Sica Family
Apolonia is 48 years old and married to the late Santiago Baten 27 years ago. They where both natives of Las Mejada, Aguatacan, Huehuete-nango. Guatemala. They were blessed with two children; Pedro who is now 26 and Antonio who is 19.
In 1978 the so-called military repression started. There were lost of killing, massacres, disappearances of people and burning of houses in the villages. The people of Las Mejada heard that the military was getting more violent and that they were penetrating the most interior parts of the province. But because there village was quite far from the town proper, they did not expected the military to reach their village.
One day, in February 1982, Santiago was working in the cornfield. Pedro, then ten years old, was pasturing goats and Antonio, three years old, was sleeping inside their house. Apolonia was cleaning the backyard. All of a sudden, Apolonia heard gun shots. She knew that the military were coming but thought that they were still a distance away. Se went to fetch Pedro and while they were on their way home they saw their house was on fire. She thought that Antonio is burning inside the house, but she could no longer get any closer because the soldiers would have killed her.
Later she said, “We owe a lot of thanks to our neighbor who was brave enough to take my son from the house. He carried him on his shoulder and ran away while the military were firing them. He really saved my son.” She added, “Since the community was dispersed, we had to look for one another and regroup. We went to hide into the thick mountainous forest.” As they penetrated deeper into the mountains, looking for a better and safer place, they met other communities who had left their villages due to the same error.
Friend, spy and traitor
In December of 1984 they arrived at Santa Clara, were the villagers kindly accepted them. They lived peacefully in this place for two years as the military lessened their offensive operations.
On January 5, 1987 some men volunteered to go back toothier place of origin and nearby villages to buy salt. sugar, clothing, medicine. Mr. Santiago Baten was one of these volunteers. Eye witnesses, his companions who later told the story to Apolonia, said that when they arrived at the village Mr. Santiago established contact with a most trusted friend and neighbor. Unfortunately, Santiago did not realize that his friend was a military spy and traitor. His friend set him up, and even made false accusations. While they were talking, the military and their civilian arm known as PAC (Patrulla Auto-Defensa Civil) came in. They arrested Santiago, tortured and finally killed him on January 15, 1987. Nobody knows companions were able to escape from the scene and manage to return to the community.
During the years 1987 to 1990 the military intensified their offensive. Their were more bombings, burnings of houses, destruction of plants and killing of animals. All that the community had built up in two years was destroyed. The Baten family and their community played hide-and-seek with the military. When the military was not present, they planted whatever they could. Then the military would return and born down all the fields. During those four years Apolonia did her cooking midnight so that the military would not be able to see the smoke of her fire.
Peace Agreements Signed
In 1991 some members of the community risked their lives to sneak into the city and contact some Church leaders of local and international organization. This led to a massive campaign for public recognition of 3, 000 families as CPR. All this, and mediation by other organization, enabled the CPR families to come out form thier mountain hiding places and to settle in three communities of Santa Clara, Xeputul and Cabaj. The military still tried to isolate them and prevent them from selling their produce.
Finally, the military oppression came to an end with the singing of the Peace Agreements in 1996. At last the families of CPR were given access to any town or village.
My work with them
The struggle still continues to day. In the words of Sister Lynn Leuterio, icm, the CPR people “...continue to build a new identity... the greater value of life and solidarity.”
As a missionary intern I am obliged to know their conditions, to feel with them and to be in solidarity with them. I opted to accompany the CPR people and though their unforgettable experience cannot be set aside, I felt them journey from that terrible past toward a new life. Despite being uprooted and replanted twice, they remain determined to keep on struggling.
My deepest gratitude goes to this community; to the families who accepted me and had the confidence to share their experiences with me. Surely their history will be kept and always remembered in my journey as a CICM missionary.