Date: Sat, 30 Mar 1996 07:59:52 -0600
> S * IN ACTIV-L
Bishop Questions Law That Protects Rich
Cerigua Weekly Briefs, No.13, 22 March 1996
Guatemala City, March 22. San Marcos Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini has come under fire for publicly sympathizing with farm workers who had taken hostages to prevent their eviction from the lands where they were born.
Eight people were taken hostage February 13 by workers of Los Cerros plantation in San Juan el Rodeo, San Marcos province and held for 18 days. According to the hostages and Los Cerros owners -- whose version of events received most coverage in the Guatemalan press -- the hostage-taking was prompted by worker dissatisfaction with a court order that reinstated 18 instead of 127 workers who were fired illegally. In this version The workers not only defied the law, but vented their rage on the very authorities who had tried to enforce the order -- Judge Rocael Barrios, his secretary and six bodyguards.
The workers' version has never been given a public hearing. But according to Ramazzini, who mediated during the hostage-taking, workers broke the law only after plantation owners illegally stopped production, costing the workers nine months of wages. Los Cerros owners had tried to expel them from the corner of the plantation where many have lived for more than a generation, the bishop said. "Is this human?" Ramazzini wrote in response to accusations by Los Cerros owners that the bishop unfairly backed the workers. "Orient people toward the law? A law that forgets the divine commandments? A law that's made to defend the interests of the powerful? I don't believe in this law that isn't law."
The released hostages and plantation owners want the Public Ministry to investigate Ramazzini's alleged part in the hostage-taking. "The law and the church should be on the side of truth and justice, not on the side of those who have or don't have," the owners of neighboring Tablero and Australia estates wrote in a statement attacking the bishop.
In another land-related incident, the National Indigenous and Campesino Coalition (CONIC) reported the March 21 torture and killing of Jose Luis Ramos, head of the Pro-Land Committee of La Esperanza in Santo Toms Castillo, Izabal province. CONIC holds landowner Jaime Francisco Arimany responsible for the killing.