Protesters Tell Stories of Relatives’ Disappearances With AM-Guatemala-Elections
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Gregorio Shun, 72 years old and blind, turned to the crowd of onlookers outside the Metropolitan Cathedral on Saturday and shouted in broken Spanish, ″Mr. Government, where is my son?″
Holding the hand of his 10-year-old granddaughter, the elderly Indian added, ″He never committed a crime, Mr. Government. He was never in jail.″
Shun was one of more than 120 people who moved into the cathedral Thursday, vowing to remain until the military government releases information about 775 relatives the protesters said were arrested or kidnapped by security forces in the past three years.
Thousands of Guatemalans have perished or disappeared in years of fighting between the government and left-wing guerrillas, according to figures compiled by human rights agencies.
Ramon Zelada Carrillo, a spokesman for chief of state Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, was asked Saturday about the protest and he told The Associated Press: ″The government does not negotiate with terrorists.
″The seizure of the cathedral is a problem of the church.″
The protesters, members of a group called Mutual Support, want a pledge from Mejia Victores that he will order an investigation of their relatives’ disappearances before he leaves office next Jan. 14.
Guatemalans go to the polls Sunday to elect their first civilian government in 15 years.
Presidential candidate Vinicio Cerezo, a Christian Democrat considered the front-runner, is heading a mediating team at the protesters’ request. The other mediators are a university rector and Monsignor Oriano Quilici, the papal nuncio in Guatemala.
Cerezo said Saturday he did not expect a favorable response from the government.
Most of the protesters are women, but reporters also saw more than 20 men and a similar number of children in the cathedral.
Some of the protesters went onto a patio in front of the building Saturday afternoon, singing and praying from behind a 10-foot wrought-iron fence. Bystanders, some offering food, listened to their stories of how relatives had disappeared.
Shun said his missing son had worked ″for a rich man who has a farm. Why does not the government answer us? We are not animals, we are children of God, too. I want my son back the way he was.″
″Help us, people of Guatemala, help us, brothers,″ said a woman who gave her name only as Alejandra. She said her husband disappeared after being arrested. ″He lived for his children and his home. We are poor. When they took him away there was not a grain of corn in the house,″ she said.
″My son was a working man,″ said an Indian woman who identified herself as Isabel Mendoza. ″I come to ask your help with an aching heart.″
″Show us their bones at least,″ said a woman who identified herself as Paula Aguilar.
Nineth Garcia, founder of Mutual Support, said the mediation team had done nothing so far. ″We will remain here until we get an answer,″ she added.