Guatemala City – Beatriz Gonzalez was standing a few feet away from the ashes of a ceremonial fire on Thursday. Thirty-nine years ago, the fire was in the Spanish Embassy, located at the same Guatemala City location.
“My father died here in the Spanish Embassy,” Gonzalez told Al Jazeera.
Thursday marks the 39th anniversary of the January 31, 1980 massacre, when state forces attacked the Spanish Embassy and set it on fire. Some 29 civilians, most of them indigenous Maya members of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), were killed along with eight Spanish diplomats, including the consul.
Gonzalez’s father, Juan Jose Yos, was among the victims. A member of CUC, Yos was a sugar cane worker from the Escuintla department in southern Guatemala. Gonzalez never got to meet him.
“My mother was pregnant with me when he died,” she said.
Born just three and a half months later, Gonzalez was given her uncle’s last name. She has been participating in the anniversary commemoration activities for years.
“For us it is important that people know that we are always present, to demand justice for our relatives,” she said.
More than 200 people, including survivors and the families of victims of the armed conflict in Guatemala, gathered on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the massacre, and to protest a bill under discussion in Congress that would set war criminals free and prevent future prosecution.
Guatemalans hold a ceremony to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the January 31, 1980 Spanish Embassy massacre in which dozens of people burned to death [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]
During the 36-year conflict between the army and leftist guerrilla forces, an estimated 200,000 people were killed and another 40,000 were disappeared. More than 80 percent of those killed were indigenous Mayan civilians.
A UN-backed truth commission found that state forces committed more than 90 percent of civilian killings. The commission also determined that state forces carried out acts of genocide, and domestic courts have come to the same conclusion.
In 2013, a tribunal convicted former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity for a series of massacres in the Maya Ixil region during his rule in the early 1980s.
The conviction was overturned, but Rios Montt died last year just months before the partial retrial concluded. His co-defendant and former head of military intelligence was acquitted. But for a second time, a Guatemalan tribunal ruled that the state committed genocide during Rios Montt’s rule.
There are dozens of concluded, in-process and pending cases against ex military personnel for their roles in conflict-era atrocities, including massacres, rape, and forced disappearance. Some 40 former members of the military and one ex-guerrilla are currently in prison, either serving out their sentences or in custody pending trial.
Every one of them could soon walk free. A bill under discussion in Congress would reform the National Reconciliation Law to include a broad amnesty for all perpetrators of crimes against humanity and other crimes, ordering the release within 24 hours of those in custody and preventing future prosecution of others.
The bill was introduced in 2017, but did not proceed to the floor until earlier this month, when it passed the first reading. Retired military officials cheered from the congressional viewing area.
The bill’s proponents claim the bill would advance the cause of reconciliation. Estuardo Galdamez, one of the legislators who introduced the bill, disputes the history and conclusions of truth commissions and courts. Galdamez is a retired Army captain and now also the ruling party’s presidential candidate.
“We soldiers are not killers or murderers. As soldiers, we combated terrorists,” he told reporters on January 17, when the bill passed the first reading.
Miguel Itzep saw it coming. A Maya Ixil human rights activist and national coordinator of the Q’anil Tinamit National Victims Movement, Itzep is concerned there may be the conditions in Congress for the bill to pass the next reading as well as the third and final debate, and become law.
“It was foreseen that the alliance for corruption and impunity would prioritise the National Reconciliation Law reforms,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It is not just a step backward in history. For us it is also a step backward to repression,” Itzep said. “It is not possible that 22 years after the Peace Accords, we could revert to these kinds of laws.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu speaks to reporters after a ceremony at the site of the January 31, 1980 Spanish Embassy massacre in which her father and more than 30 others were killed [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera]
During Thursday’s ceremony, flower petals lined the dwindling fire into which offerings were made while the names of the victims were read aloud. One of the names was Vicente Menchu, the father of Rigoberta Menchu, a Maya Kiche human rights defender and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“We are here and we are saying no to impunity,” Menchu told reporters at the site of the embassy massacre.
“We have to act, and that is what we are doing, as more than 100 organisations,” she said, referring to the groups from around the country that endorsed a statement opposing the proposed amnesty law.
“Reconciliation is built on a foundation of truth and justice, not on lies and impunity,” the organisations wrote in the statement issued Thursday.
Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah
Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…
Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.
US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions
The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…
The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.
‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’
People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says. Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former…
People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says.
Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He said that one of the major achievements of the deal – considered a huge political and diplomatic win – is that it opens up a “cooperative space not only for leaders but also for citizens of all the participating countries”
“The architects of this important agreement must ensure that the Accords is not an agreement just for their countries but for their people. Abraham Accords should serve as a launchpad for the sustainable peace and prosperity in the region,” Ban Ki-moon said while addressing a virtual conference on ‘The Abraham Accords: Advancing UAE-Israel, Regional, and Muslim-Jewish Cooperation’ organised by UK-based Emirates Society.
Stressing on the important role of education in building secure, peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies in both a short and long term, the Secretary General said it is his “sincere hope that the UAE and Israel and others redouble their sustained effort to educate their students and citizens – both young and old – about the significance of this important agreement and each other.”
“Devising curriculum and expanding global citizenship education as well as being aggressive about stamping out instances of anti-Semitism and islamophobia are important steps to take in this regard, he added.
He said people to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in helping to change mindset and begin a dynamic new era of cooperation.
The UAE is the first GCC country and the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel by signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords on September 15. Bahrain and Sudan also followed suit and have signed peace deals with Israel.
The deal is considered a game changer for peace and stability in the region, as in exchange, Israel has agreed to temporarily halt annexations in the West Bank.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the UAE continues to consider the issue of a Palestinian state as the most important one but without impeding opportunities for dialogue and open communication.
She said Abraham Accords was born from a “desire to change the business as usual approach” that has mired the countries of Middle East in conflict for long.
Even as the UAE continues to work for its own national agenda, Al Hashimi said the country is “really looking to learn from each other and also to explain to one another who we are and what matters to us”.
“And it does matter to the Arab and the Muslim world that a Palestinian state in its rightful place … exists.”
Ban Ki-Moon said it would be difficult to forge lasting peace without addressing the Palestinian question as well as issues like the final status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlement.
“To truly advance the vision of peace throughout the Middle East, we should not forget that the Palestinians must be involved in determining a future that is based on security and prosperity for all people in the region. I hope that Abraham Accords can function as a springboard for invigorated action on ensuring a negotiated two-state solution aligned with the relevant UN security council resolutions.”
Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.