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A voice against rights abuses

Almicar M'endez Urizar knows well the danger involved when human rights are systematically abused. A teacher, union member, and rights activist in Guatemala's highlands, he is more than simply a witness. Mr. M'endez has been kidnapped by government troops, had a death threat painted on his home, and was told he could no longer teach in his town.

But M'endez continues to run his one-man human rights post just blocks from the Army base in Quich'e Province. ``We know we run a risk. But the international community should be aware of the reality of my country. There is no democracy.''

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M'endez insists listeners hear the whole story - the disruption of democratization in the 1950s, the compliance between political leaders and the military, and the massacres of the 1970s as the military government sought to destroy a rebel movement.

There was a ray of hope when a civilian leader was elected in 1985. But, M'endez says, change has not come. The Army may have changed some tactics, he says, but its objective ``is to keep control of all peasants.'' Though killings and kidnappings have decreased since 1986, he says the numbers are rising again.

Indeed, reports out of Guatemala say 22 unarmed peasants were killed in a remote hamlet late last month. Initial reports hold leftist guerrillas responsible, though they deny it.

In the face of 30 years of violence - some 140,000 people have been killed or disappeared - why do people like M'endez continue? ``We are tired of the repression,'' he says.

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