ALBA/Puffin Award supports struggle for victims’ rights in Latin America
ALBA’s annual celebrations in New York City and Berkeley, California, commemorated the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica and honored the groundbreaking work of two tireless defenders of human rights in Latin America: Fredy Peccerelli, Executive Director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, and Kate Doyle, Senior Analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive. They accepted their shared $100,000 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism before the sold-out auditorium of the Museum of the City of New York on May 13 (video; photos). Doyle also joined the reunion festivities at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage auditorium on May 27, where she was greeted by Lincoln vet Delmer Berg, the only surviving vet able to attend either event. He was delighted to see that the “good fight” goes on.
“Doyle and Peccerelli do the tough, tedious searching and retrieving of evidence, which the perpetrators try so hard to bury and destroy, and without which no case could be made,” ALBA Board Chair Sebastiaan Faber remarked. “They have shown tremendous tenacity, courage, care, and acuity in vindicating victims of government violence and pursuing the perpetrators of criminal activity—helping make possible the first-ever conviction of Guatemalan military forces for crimes against humanity. The forces and people they are up against are cunning and powerful, and the stakes are high. But their search for the truth does not serve just a legal purpose. They also provide closure. Every document and every body they dig up help strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Their work embodies international solidarity, moral outrage, and a thirst for justice. That is the lasting legacy of the volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade that we want to honor—a legacy that leads from Guernica to Human Rights.”
Peccerelli heads a large team that, over the past 15 years, has exhumed hundreds of mass graves filled with victims of Guatemala’s civil war. Doyle has spent 20 years working with Latin American human rights organizations and truth commissions—in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru—to obtain the declassification of U.S. government archives in support of their investigations.
“Doyle and Peccerelli have bravely sought out the criminals in Central America,” said Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation, “criminals whose murderous actions have been supported by our government. We worry about Kate and Fredy’s safety. But we hope their work will inspire others to participate in bringing the stories of these atrocities to light.”
“Human rights activism,” Doyle said in her acceptance speech, “is the recognition of the imperative of engagement in order to right wrongs so grievous that we have no other choice but to join in the struggle. In Guatemala, Fredy and I work within a web of extraordinary colleagues. We have been plucked out of a line where we stand with hundreds and hundreds of amazing activists.”
“The work we carry out,” Peccerelli added, “is made possible first and foremost by the thousands of brave survivors, witnesses and relatives—who have never stopped searching for their loved ones, for truth and for justice.” Peccerelli dedicated his award to the victims of military violence in Guatemala.
A roundtable discussion preceding the award ceremony described the advances made in the fight against impunity in Guatemala, as well as the obstacles still remaining. “The numbers of perpetrators indicted and convicted may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of victims of violence in Guatemala,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Deputy Director of the Americas Division at the Human Rights Watch organization. “But the progress made is actually remarkable. Fifteen years ago nobody would have imagined that a former head of state like Augusto Pinochet could have been indicted, as Judge Garzón did in 1998. This past January, the same fate befell Efraín Rios Montt, President of Guatemala during the worst of the genocidal violence in the early 1980s. His indictment was made possible largely through the work of Doyle and Peccerelli.”
The roundtable discussion was moderated by filmmaker Pamela Yates, whose documentary Granito: How to Nail a Dictator recounts the story of the Ríos Montt trial. Also present was Néstor Villatoro, son of Guatemalan labor leader Amancio Samuel Villatoro, who was disappeared and killed in the country’s internal conflict. Villatoro’s remains were retrieved and identified by Peccerelli’s team.
This year’s ALBA/Puffin Student Activism Award was granted to Andrew Plotch, a high school sophomore from Bergen Academies (New Jersey), because of his commitment to social justice as a leader in his school’s Junior Statesmen of America program and in Amnesty International. “An activist life,” said Plotch, “means a commitment to fighting injustice, no matter the odds, no matter the consequences. Learning about the Lincoln Brigade has opened my eyes to a group of people who cared about righting the wrongs in the world to an extent I had never seen before.” Plotch is a student of two alumni of ALBA’s institute for education, which organizes workshops for high school teachers all over the United States. “It is amazing,” said ALBA Executive Director Marina Garde, “to see the work that high school students are capable of when put into contact with the compelling stories contained in ALBA’s archive.”
Both events, which also honored recently deceased Lincoln vet Vernon Bown, closed with a stirring performance of Spanish Civil War songs by Bruce Barthol’s band.
The New York event was made possible by the Puffin Foundation and the Rosenstein family, the Host and Honorary Committees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Jacob & Ruth Epstein Foundation, the Political Science Department at Pace University, and the Museum of the City of New York.