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Rosalina Tuyuc: Defending the Rights of Guatemala's War Widows

Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez

This article is part of the Heroes of Social Inclusion series from the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly. View the full list of heroes here.

Rosalina Tuyuc (foreground) meets with the executive board of CONAVIGUA at the Kaminaljuyu Achaeological site, February 14, 2012. (Luis Fernando Ponce)

From 1960 to 1996, approximately 250,000 Guatemalans were victims of genocide—largely at the hands of our country’s military forces. I helped establish our country’s first association of war widows (Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala—CONAVIGUA) in 1988 as a counterweight to the influence of the military in our communities and in our government. I and my co-founders wanted to defend our children from forced military recruitment, and to find our disappeared loved ones. As someone who lost her husband to our country’s violence, I was determined to empower Indigenous women in our struggle against violence, poverty and discrimination. In 1982, my father was disappeared by the military and three years later, my husband met the same fate. I have experienced three attempted kidnappings.

Even as CONAVIGUA encourages women to exercise their civic rights, we recognize that only by helping women become active players in the political process—at local, municipal and national levels of government—can we truly influence public policy.

In Guatemala, we are still coming to grips with our violent past. Nearly a half-century of civil war has left us in need of reparation and reconciliation. Thus, an important aspect of CONAVIGUA’s activities is monitoring public disbursements to victims under the government-led National Reparations Program (Programa Nacional de Reparaciones—PNR) established in 2003.

Former President Óscar Berger was the first leader who recognized the conditions of civil war widows and committed his government to action. Through the PNR, the Guatemalan government provides compensation to genocide survivors and their families, as well as agricultural assistance and financing for the reconstruction of war widows’ homes. But an immense number of surviving victims have been ignored, in particular orphans and female victims of abuse and rape.

I served as a congressional deputy and then vice president of Guatemala’s congress from 1996 to 2000, which represented a double achievement, both as a rural woman and as a woman of Maya heritage. And perhaps just as important, as a survivor of genocide, I worked with other women in congress to pass the Domestic Violence Act and the Law of Dignity for Women, which revised the civil code to allow women to own land and have access to credit.

To further improve the conditions of rural areas, we also helped establish Banrural—the Guatemalan Bank of Rural Development and the only national bank that supports social enterprises in the countryside through microloans and online services. Now that I am out of congress, I have returned to the issue that brought me into politics. I plan to dedicate the rest of my life to CONAVIGUA and the cause of Guatemala’s war widows.

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