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Amid murmurs from onlookers, forensic archaeologists cut open the boxes one by one and laid out their contents as Judge Yazmin Barrios listed the new evidence for the court reporter. On one side of the courtroom, behind a row of government and NGO lawyers sat 11 elderly women from the Q’eqchi Maya communities of the Polochich Valley, in the fertile lowlands near Guatemala’s Caribbean coast.Their faces were covered with colorful scarves to hide their identities, but as the archaeologists pulled out clothing and bones, several of the women shook silently, scarves slipping to reveal lined brown faces.Sitting across the courtroom, starting alternately at the ceiling and the floor, was Heriberto Valdez Asig, a military auxiliary and municipal policeman accused of leading the raids that transported the six men to Finca Tinajas.He is being charged with their forced disappearance, a crime under Guatemalan law.To the defense, the case is a legal lynching, a politically motivated trial of the wrong men, based on nonexistent evidence.But the display of the boxes was a theatrical reminder of one thing both sides agree on: Whatever happens, the consequences of the Sepur Zarco trial go far beyond the fate of the two men in the dock. The Land and the Base According to the prosecution, the story begins with a fight over land. 8, Juan Carlos Pelaez Villalobos, an expert on land conflicts, testified that for generations, rich plantation owners in the Polochich Valley took lands from the Q’eqchi Maya by fraud and force.
According to the prosecution, in August 1982, Guatemalan soldiers responded to a Maya land-rights campaign by raiding valley communities and taking many men — including the husbands of six of the women in the courtroom — to Finca Tinajas, never to be seen again.
Rosa Tiul, one of several Q’eqchi women who testified by videotape, said that after soldiers would return from patrols in search of families who had fled to the mountains, they would go to her house and rape her at gunpoint.