In the spring of 1982, at the age of 11, Jesus Tecu Osorio lost his parents, his younger brothers, and an older sister and her two children in a government-sanctioned massacre in Rio Negro, Guatemala.
At that time, a total of 177 Maya-Achi people were murdered by civilian defense patrollers loyal to the Guatemalan military in an attempt to quell a local uprising. Assumed to be guerilla-inspired, the uprising grew out of the small community "s opposition to the forced relocation it was facing, because the World Bank was funding a dam project nearby.
Osorio survived the massacre, narrowly escaping the hands of the patrollers, and has spent the last 18 years of his life working as a human rights activist trying to resolve the past and present political situation in his country.
Between Tuesday, Oct. 17, and Thursday, Osorio will make several stops in Spokane and Colville, giving six presentations that painfully revisit the gruesome acts that 11-year-old boy witnessed nearly 20 years ago.
Tom Sutherland, an insurance agent from Spokane, is involved with a Presbyterian partnership program connected to Guatemala. Last July, he traveled to South America with a diverse group of Spokanites, trying to establish relationships between churches in Guatemala and congregations in the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest.
"I think that it's easy to not believe some of the reports that we hear about political issues in Central America: they seem sensational, " says Sutherland. "But to see someone like Jesus who experienced those injustices -- it's much more believable, and we begin to realize how our government policies and our immigration, military-training and economic policies affect people in Central America. "
Sponsored by Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), Osorio is currently touring the Midwest on a "Justice and Impunity Tour. " Not only will Osorio share his experience and address World Bank policies, but he will also seek to educate people on human rights issues in Central America as they still exist today. NISGUA has been operating out of Washington, D.C., since 1981.
"Basically, NISGUA networks with over 80 different activists in grassroots organizations, " says Chris Rush, an intern with NISGUA. "It's a combined effort to support human rights and the development of democracy in Guatemala. "
Osorio "s own dedication to human rights issues has spanned years and countries. In 1995, he helped found the Rabinal Widows, Orphans and Displaced Committee, Maya-Achi, a volunteer organization comprised of survivors of the Rio Negro massacre. Between 1980 and 1982, during a time of acute, indiscriminate state violence, the community of Rio Negro fell victim to five massacres that wiped out half the population. The Maya-Achi organization works to rebuild the lives of the few survivors.
Osorio has also helped rebuild the community through educational aid programs. In 1997, he co-founded the Rio Negro New Hope Foundation, of which he is now president. The foundation helps provide scholarships and materials for the children of low-income families in Rio Negro.
Currently, Osorio works as the bilingual secretary for the Bufete Juridico Popular -- a legal aid center in Rabinal, western Guatemala -- which provides free legal services to locals and victims of political violence. This so-called "people's law firm " is driven by the vision of reestablishing peace and democracy in a region still reeling from the civil war and military oppression of the '80s.
"All Guatemalans must feel that they have a right to make demands on the judicial system and to expect it to respond to their needs, " says Dominic Williamson, who works with NISGUA. "It should protect their human and constitutional rights and respect their cultural and linguist diversity. "
As a part of the mission to rebuild the justice system in Guatemala, Osorio has braved numerous death threats and testified against paramilitary members who participated in the "82 slaughter in Rio Negro. His courage in doing so helped shed international light on human rights abuses in remote areas of Guatemala, and -- along with his various other leadership roles -- won him a Reebok Human Rights Award in 1996.
Still, despite his strong pursuit of justice, Osorio has avoided the drive for revenge. "I know that it isn "t revenge I want, " Osorio writes on NISGUA's Web site, "because that would convert me to an assassin, like them. "
Sutherland understands the importance of an individual voice like Osorio's: "There are some things that we can do to help, " says Sutherland. "One of the most important is to see real people and to hear real stories. "
& & Jesus Osorio will speak on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 7 pm, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, with a potluck beginning at 6 pm. On Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 11:30 am, he'll speak at SCC's Auditorium, where he's joined by a panel. Then, at 2 pm, he'll speak at Gonzaga's Hughes Auditorium, before finally speaking at 7 pm at Whitworth College's Lindaman Center. On Thursday, Oct. 19, Osorio speaks at EWU in Cheney at 11 am before heading to the First Congregational Church in Colville, Wash., where he'll speak at 7 pm. All presentations are free. Call: 325-3475. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &