For more than 10 years, the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network has had a relationship with Jesus Tecu Osorio and Isabel Osorio de Tecu and their family, in particular through the International Youth Internship Program as the network placed close to 20 interns with the Rabinal Legal Clinic and the New Hope Foundation since 2001. In addition, dozens of members of our annual Breaking the Silence delegations have visited Rabinal to learn about the history and current struggles for justice and human rights.
Jesus Tecu Osorio is a survivor of the Rio Negro massacres and the director of the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic (Asociacion Bufete Juridico Popular- mujerachi.interconnection.org/bufete.htm) and one of the founders of the New Hope Foundation (Fundacion Nueva Esperanza- www.fne.cosmosmaya.info). The Rabinal Legal Clinic currently is bringing forward major legal cases in Guatemala, such as cases of genocide, land conflict cases, and cases of abuse against women and femicide. At the same time, the New Hope Foundation was founded for the children and grandchildren of survivors and victims of the Rio Negro massacres during the early 1980s, which saw hundreds of people killed; Jesus and Isabel are both from Rio Negro and Jesus is one of the key witnesses in the case. Today, thanks to the survivors of the Rio Negro massacres, there are over 150 students receiving middle and high school education in Rabinal, with focuses on the local indigenous Maya Achi culture and community development.
Isabel was eleven years-old on March 13, 1982 when her grandmother Juliana Chen, 50, died at Pak’oxom with her one-year old sister, as well as several cousins and aunts. Isabel was in the nearby village of Pueblo Viejo buying corn with her mother when the violence occurred. Her father was already hiding in the mountains after the massacres in Xococ in February 1982.
As they were returning from the store, other refugees from the village told her mother what was occurring in Río Negro. They returned to the village to see what had happened and then fled into the mountains. The next day, she and her mother went to Pak’oxom to bear witness. “There were women and children everywhere, naked and robbed of their jewelry. The mountain lions had eaten them.” They found Isabel’s father soon after and lived for two years without reliable access to food, clothing or shelter in the mountains around Río Negro.
Isabel had seven brothers and sisters in Río Negro, six of whom died in the 1982 massacres-Pablo, Matilda, Luis, Elena and Eugenia,
and Tomasa. She and her mother arrived in Rabinal in 1984 followed by her father a few weeks later. Today, Isabel lives in Pacux with her husband, Jesus Tecú Osorio, and eight children of their own.
She is an eloquent, forceful speaker who brings the story of Juliana to life as she speaks about how much both she personally and the Río Negro community lost. “Nothing is the same. We have to buy everything now. Women of my grandmother’s generation knew how to do everything. Juliana lived alone, cut and hauled her own wood, planted corn and beans and worked as a midwife and spiritual leader.” For The Advocacy Project, Isabel wove a textile for Juliana with images of the small mountain lions that roamed Pak’oxom after the massacres.
Jesus and Isabel have received worldwide recognition for their work in human rights. Jesus was the recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1996, an honorary doctorate from St. Francis Xavier University in Canada in 2007, and in 2010, the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty by Human Rights First in New York. Both Isabel and Jesus have traveled internationally to speak about their work. Isabel has traveled to New York and Washington to speak about the work of her community and the survivors of Rio Negro, including women who use weaving to tell their stories of survival and resistance.