Things That Matter

People Commemorate The Guatemalan Genocide No One Talks About

In 2013, former Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted for crimes against humanity and genocide he committed 30 years ago against the indigenous Maya Ixil people.

Credit: @inspiractionorg / Instagram

The 89-year-old was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but three years after the trial, that verdict is still up in the air.

The Constitutional Court, pressured by the elite and the military who were afraid of their fate after Ríos Montt’s sentence, threw the verdict out and set a retrial. Human rights lawyers and two of the judges criticized the move as an absurd intervention.


Absurd to say the least, because, during the trial, victims described horrific crimes committed during Ríos Montt’s rule.

#Repost @opensocietyfoundations with @repostapp. ・・・ Massacre survivor Sebastian Iboy Osorio, 50, steers a boat on the Chixoy reservoir along with wife Magdalena Alvarax, 48, and daughters Adaly (left), 5 and Paulina, 7. Iboy Osorio, originally from the Achi Mayan community of Rio Negro, survived the massacres carried out by the Guatemalan army and civil patrolmen from neighboring Xococ against residents of Rio Negro in 1981 and 1982. Nearly 400 community members of Rio Negro were killed in four separate massacres due to the community's resistance to give up their lands and make way for the Chixoy hydroelectric project. Rio Negro, Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. Hello, this is James Rodríguez (@mimundo_org), Mexican-US documentary photographer based in Guatemala since 2006. This week I am honored to share images via the @opensocietyfoundations Instagram feed from my long term project on Life in Post-War Guatemala. After a brutal 36-year civil war (1960-1996) that left over 250,000 victims, the tiny Central American nation, with an Indigenous Mayan population of over 50% and one of the most violent and economically polarized societies in the western hemisphere, still reels from the harrowing conflict. All photographs have been taken with a phone. Iboy Osorio returned to Rio Negro in the early 1990s along with two other survivors and have currently grown into a community of 24 homes. Electric service was finally established in August 2015, but each house was charged 2,150 Quetzales (US $280), something they believed should be waived considering their original town was flooded to make way for a hydroelectric project. Most of the residents of Rio Negro live below poverty levels making less that US $2 per day. #opensociety #humanrights #documentary #photojournalism #postwar #guatemala #everydayguatemala #everydaylatinamerica #everydayeverywhere #genocide #ixil #achi #riosmontt #bn #bw #achi #maya #mayan #chixoy #hydro #hydroelectric #hidroelectrica #embalse #dam #reservoir #electricity #electric #electricidad

A photo posted by James Rodríguez / MiMundo.org (@mimundo_org) on

Credit: @mimundo_orga / Instagram

Men, women and children testified, describing how the women were gang-raped and how their family members were torn to pieces right in front of them. How they were forced to leave their home and escape into the jungle for years seeking safety.


In her essay for the Huffington Post, human rights activist Jo-Marie Burt said, “During Ríos Montt’s rule, the Guatemalan state’s official policy was to exterminate its indigenous population in the name of national security.” For this, Ríos Montt was to go to prison.

Credit: @jomaburt / Twitter

The verdict was a victory for the indigenous people because, as Burt says, it was “the first time a high-ranking military official was being sanctioned for grave violations of human rights in Guatemala. The first time ever a former head of state was held accountable for genocide in a domestic court of law.”


The retrial has been rescheduled many times, sometimes due to Ríos Montt’s dementia. It has also changed from a public trial to one behind doors. This, however, isn’t discouraging Guatemalans. In their eyes, the first verdict still stands, and they will continue to fight impunity.

Credit: @nobelwomen / Instagram

As Juan Francisco Soto, executive director of the Center for Legal Action for Human Rights, says, “What is surprising is that we were able to bring the case to court and see it through. We proved in a court of law that there was a genocide in Guatemala.” Even though the verdict was overturned by dirty legal moves, “For us,” he says, “the sentence is still valid.”

Get more details on this genocide trial here


READ: Real Life Risks Guatemala Immigrants Take to Make It to America

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Three Men In Mexico Were Forced To Strip Naked And Walk The Streets As Punishment For Stealing 15 Cows

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Three Men In Mexico Were Forced To Strip Naked And Walk The Streets As Punishment For Stealing 15 Cows

Mexico’s everyday life, particularly in rural areas, is full of surprises and events that the average gringo would find too strange to be true. Such was the case of a recent robbery in the state of Veracruz. Three men were caught stealing 15 cows, which is a very significant asset and someone’s actual livelihood if you subsist by raising crops and producing farming goods such as milk. So they of course had to be punished in some way, and because people in some areas of Mexico (and we would dare to say in the country at large) mistrust the authorities, some citizens take matters in their own hands.

This is a symptom of a decades-long mistrust in the authorities or the real repercussions that criminals will face given the high levels of corruption at all levels of government that the new administration wished to eradicate (just how they pretend to do it remains largely unclear!). 

So first things first: yes, this was their punishment for stealing the cows, holding hands while totally naked

Credit: @QuePocaMadre_MX / Twitter

The punishment by public nudity took place in Suchilapan del Río, in the municipality of Jesús Carranza in Veracruz. The three men were caught right con las manos en la masa. The man who recorded the video, which has made its rounds on Mexican social media, made the robbers confess to their crime while naked and holding hands in the middle of the street. According to La Verdad Noticias, one of these men is a butcher, which makes perfect sense given that he was attempting to steal cattle. They are standing on Independencia street, right in front of the meat producers association. 

The news was broken by the Twitter news dissemination site @QuePocaMadre_MX which translates into something like “You gotta be kidding me, that’s rough, man!” 

The case has not been completely solved and whether the authorities have done anything on this matter is unclear. The case has garnered some attention in local media, so we might hear more about this. It is important to note, however, that while highly unlikely the video might actually be staged (we gotta at least entertain that possibility until we know otherwise!). 

The story might seem funny or chusca at first, but if you dig a bit under the surface there is a far darker undertone.

Credit: @QuePocaMadre_MX / Twitter

For one, the video evidences an almost total gap of authority in this municipality. The fact that these guys (criminals, if we are being honest) were forced to display public nudity to atone for their actions is almost laughable, but it also shows that law enforcement in the are has been decimated to reach a level of ridicule that can make headlines. Let’s not forget that Veracruz is one of the most violent states in the country, and since Los Zetas emerged in the 2000s and challenged the Cartel del Golfo, it has also become an epicenter of the cartel wars. This lack of government action lends itself to semi-funny situations but should not be taken lightly. 

The people made them hold hands, which is a clear sign of homophobic mob mentality.

The fact that the men were forced to hold hands and do a display of pretend homoeroticism is also an indicative of the prevailing homophobic views shared by some Mexicans. In everyday Mexican lingo, words that denote a queer identity are used as token insults and one of the cruelest ways to harm diverse genres and sexualities is making them an insult. We also have to consider that Veracruz has a very dark history when it comes to hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. Crimes against trans individuals, for example, are common and most of the times end up in impunity. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, measures such a conversion therapy are legal as well. 

And there is a thin thin line that separates forcing three men to get naked and an actual lynching, which has been a sad and brutal feature in contemporary Mexico.

Perhaps this story might seem amusing at first, but it also recalls some recent incidents in Mexico in which criminals are caught by the population instead of the authorities and then things escalate and lynching happens. People have been bashed to death, set on fire and dismembered in public. In some instances the lynched are guilty of crimes, often of sexual nature, but it has been the case that a disgruntled neighbor starts a rumor that has fatal consequences. Because there is such a climate of uneasiness and impunity in the country, people have even ambushed police cars carrying suspects. We are of course not saying that justice should not be served, but when it is an eye for an eye everyone ends up blind.

He Intentionally Drove His Truck Into A Migrant And Now This Border Patrol Agent Gets Off With Simple Probation

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He Intentionally Drove His Truck Into A Migrant And Now This Border Patrol Agent Gets Off With Simple Probation

USDHS / Border Patrol

Matthew Bowen, a border patrol agent who frequently went on racist tirades and who plead guilty to purposefully driving his car into a migrant in Arizona, was sentenced to three years probation. In a court filing, Bowen admitted to intentionally striking into 23-year-old Antolin Lopez-Aguilar, a Guatemalan man who Bowen believed jumped the border fence. 

After a years-long investigation, text messages were uncovered that showed him lamenting his inability to use harsher tactics because the laws prevented him from doing so. Some feel as though three months of probation is just a slap on a wrist for the violent act. 

The judge had harsh words for Bowen but a light sentence.

“I want you to remember this,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Ferraro told Bowen during the federal sentencing hearing. “I can’t ignore the seriousness of this offense. Nationally, people are complaining about ICE and Border Patrol and the job that they do. Your conduct reinforces their stereotypes and makes it much more difficult for your colleagues to perform their duties. It only takes one incident like this to really undermine things.” 

On December 3, 2017, Bowen hit Lopez-Aguilar with his Border Patrol Truck as a way to stop him from crossing the southern border illegally after a camera operator spotted him possibly jumping a fence near Nogales, Arizona.

While Lopez-Aguilar was not able to attend to the hearing, prosecutors say he believed he was going to die during the attack. Moreover, he was unable to receive treatment for the various injuries to his hands, knees, and back and still experiences ongoing pay. 

Bowen admitted to the incident dismissing it as poor judgment as opposed to a vendetta against immigrants which court documents and prosecutors suggest. 

“I made a mistake in judgment by choosing to bump him with my vehicle. I’m thankful he was not seriously injured, and I would like to apologize to the victim sincerely and also to the court,” Bowen said in court. 

Prosecutors said Bowen “accelerated aggressively,” and hit Lopez-Aguilar twice, almost running him over the second time. After the incident, Lopez-Aguilar was charged with unlawful entry into the U.S. and sent to Tuscan by prisoner transport, according to the Washington Post. Prosecutors accused Bowen of filing a false report about the incident on the same day. 

“Chasing a guat with an f150 and accidentally bumped him at like 7 mph,” he wrote in a text the next day. “Just a little push with a ford bumper.” 

Border Patrol agents drive government-issued Ford F-150 trucks. 

The trial reveals documents showing Bowen referring to immigrants as “savages.” 

Prosecutors discovered text messages prior to the attack where Bowen referred to migrants as “subhumans,” “mindless murdering savages,” and said he was upset the laws didn’t allow him to do his job which was “hunting down sh-t-bags with your crew.” 

In another text message, he said agents were treated unfairly and “prosecuted for doing what it takes to arrest these savages.” In another message, Bowen said, “Guys are being made to think any use of force results in you being investigated and so they are letting tonks get away with too much.” 

Bowen’s lawyer Sean Chapman argued that his text messages weren’t racist but rather taken out of context because allegedly there exists a context where calling immigrants savages, subhumans, and tonks is not racist. 

“There have been claims in the media that Mr. Bowen made racist comments about the immigrant community, and it’s simply not true,” Chapman said.

In another series of texts, Bowen called immigrants unworthy of being fire kindling. 

“PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!” Bowen said in a text. “Disgusting subhuman sh-t unworthy of being kindling for a fire.”

Bowen pleads guilty to striking Lopez-Aguilar intentionally. 

“In the court filing, Bowen admits he ‘intentionally struck [the migrant] with an unreasonable amount of force’ and said his actions ‘were not justified and violated [the migrant’s] rights protected by the Constitution of the United States’,” according to the Washington Post

Bowen pled guilty to the crime in August and resigned from the agency. Chapman said his client deserved a lighter sentence because Lopez-Aguilar was barely injured, according to court filings. However, Judge Ferraro denied the request for a mere six months probation believing three years would suffice.

“I’m not going to take the easy way out,” Ferrero said to Bowen. “You need to have a sense of consequence — for the next three years, you’re going to have the same sense of stress that you had coming into this today.”

He will also have to pay $8,000 in restitution fees that will cover Lopez-Aguilar’s medical expenses and have to complete 150 hours of community service.