Guatemala

The Sierra, 1991

Communities of the Population in Resistance

 

Father Geronimo, an Italian Catholic priest, offers mass to members of the Communities in Resistence (CPR) in the remote mountains of the Quiche region. These communities are considered “collaborators” with the rebel insurgency by the Guatemalan Army.

They are not from one village or ethnic group. They are ixiles, chiquimultecos, quiches, aquatecos. They have fled from the Guatemalan army and its massacres, tortures, pillage, disappearances. They have seen their crops and houses burned, cadavers eaten by dogs, villages bombed by planes and helicopters. As one says, nine years of persecution, nine years of destruction, nine years of resistance. They live in the mountains, they carry no weapons, and they call themselves the Communities of the Population in Resistance (CPR)

They create their own democracy. There are area committees, responsables (responsible ones), and an assembly open to all the people. Everybody comes, including the children. One boy stands with a festering sore covering the left side of his head. The army denies medicine to the community. All of our children were born here in the mountains, on top of the mud, under violent storms, without covering; therefore, there is much illness because we are unaccustomed to this.

So many of the murdered and disappeared are husbands and fathers. We widows have learned to work. We work our land with a machete. We widows have double work. We work the land with our children on our backs. We cut our wood; we bring our water, we cook our food.  Many of the women wear the traditional Mayan dress of their town. They themselves weave the bright reds and deep purples and blacks into trajes and headbands. It is an art centuries old passed on from generation to generation. The symbols woven into the clothing recount the history of their people. These women become the artists and the bearers of dangerous memory.

See Informe de la Comision Multipartita, CPR

 

These are recent crimes. You can still see fear in these faces. Its hard to believe that the genocide in Guatemala happened just over 20 years ago. There are almost no photos of it. Guatemalas tragedy doesnt have the place it merits in the history of infamy perhaps for this reason: there are no photos. Or there arent many, if we take into account the images James Natchwey, Jean-Marie Simon or Alon Reininger, along with a few others, made of Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s. In any case, what was happening in Guatemala at that time faded into the background of the story of the triumph and eventual electoral defeat of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, or the war in El Salvador.

The signing of peace treaties on December 29, 1996 opened a space in Guatemalan society for slowly discovering the sad legacy of 36 years of armed conflict. Less than two years later, on April 26, 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi was murdered two days after presenting a report on the human rights violations that had taken place during the war. These dates opened and shut a particular moment of history in Guatemala, cutting short the debate on the origins of and responsibilities for a conflict that left more than 200,000 victims, most of them Mayan.

Today, when the dead come from a place that we didnt know existed until a few months ago, its prudent to remember that the Cold War in Latin America was red hot.

These photos are dedicated to Guatemalan journalist Ricardo Miranda, who always stood up to the history of his country with intelligence and talent.

 

Guatemala City, 1984

 GAM Begins

A GAM (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo or Mutual Support Group) protest the annual "Day Of The Army." They are demanding the whereabouts of their disappeared loved ones.

They gather in the house of the Archbishop. Twenty-five of them in a circle, each one stands and tells the story of their disappeared relatives. The air is thick with sadness. Two of them had met at the morgue. Nineth de Garcia is one of the founders of the Mutual Support Group (Grupo Apoyo Mutuo, or GAM) for relatives of the disappeared. Her husband Fernando was abducted three months before. But this group is not being formed simply to hold hands. They are supporting each other to protest the injustice of the disappearances.

They hold a press conference. They make the crimes public and lay blame on the government and military. They seek international support and protection.

In spite of threatening phone calls and the assassination of several of their leaders, GAM members remain public in their denunciation.

See American Watch, Guatemala: The Group for Mutual Support

 

Spanish Embassy, Guatemala City, 1980

Massacre

Lucas Garcia

The occupation and village massacres by the army in El Quiche province have provoked the people to action. They send 130 campesinos to Guatemala City to raise the issue publicly. No one will listen to them. Out of desperation they take over two radio stations. The government warns that they are guerillas and not to be trusted. Again cut off from raising public awareness, they occupy the Spanish Embassy. Their plan is to occupy the embassy peacefully in order to demand the removal of the army from El Quiche. The dictator, Lucas Garcia, tells his henchmen to take them out.

Guatemalan police surround the embassy, throwing grenades. Inside, the twenty-nine peasants and other visitors take refuge in the ambassador’s office. Lucas Garcia says, Set them on fire. The police lock the door and throw fire bombs.

From the streets below, the people see thirty-nine human beings writhing and dying, burning.

Vicente Menchu, the father of Rigoberta, is burned alive. She says, The only thing left over were their ashes… What hurt me very very much was the lives of so many companeras, fine companeras who weren’t ambitious for power in the least. All they wanted was enough to live on, enough to meet their people’s needs. This reinforced my decision to fight.

Thousands risk death and flood the streets of Guatemala City in the funeral procession honoring the people who died in the Spanish Embassy. Within days a new opposition group is organized called the Vicente Menchu Brigade. Rigoberta joins it. Her father had said: Some have to give their blood and some have to give their strength; so while we can, we’ll give our strength.

Jonathan Fried, et al, editors, Guatemala in Rebellion 204-206, and Rigoberta Menchu, I … Rigoberta Menchu, 185

 

Continued Repression


 The late 1970s and early 1980s were periods of un-imaginable repression in Guatemala. Under generals like Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt, the Guatemalan army committed at least 225 Indian village massacres. Not coincidentally, those are also areas of Guatemala’s greatest mineral wealth, including oil reserves.

Since 1954, the Guatemalan military has killed one hundred thousand people. Presently, there are forty thousand disappeared, people presumed dead but whose bodies have never been found. Families of the disappeared don’t know whether their relative is dead or alive.

In 1962, the first guerrilla group was founded to struggle against the oppressive conditions that the military and wealthy landowners created. In 1982, several guerrilla groups united under the URNG, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity.

“Who in your family has disappeared?”

“My father, Rigoberto, My brother, Maynor, My brother, Otto, My brother, Armando, My uncle Moises, My uncle Salomon, My aunt, Lilian, My aunt Elizabeth, My aunt, Sipirana, My cousin, Damaris, My cousin Maria, My cousin, Hector, My cousin, Noe, My cousin, Abigail, My cousin, Claudia.”

Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala, 195


Guatemalan Highlands, 1979

Torture

Rigoberta Menchu, one of the leaders of the Guatemalan resistance, tells of the most painful experience of her life.

One of my brothers was a catechist. The other was secretary for a cooperative in the village; that was his only crime. They kidnapped him, and he spent days in the hands of the army, who tortured him. He was only 14 years old. They ripped off his fingernails, cut out his tongue, they destroyed the soles of his feet and burned his skin. I saw him with my own eyes and will never forget it!

…At 8:00 a.m. a military truck arrived. They made about 20 men get off the truck; men who no longer looked human, and among them was my little brother. It was hard to identify him…. He was so disfigured…

They lined up the prisoners, dressed up like soldiers… They hit them with their rifle butts to make them stand, but they would just fall down again. When [the captain] gave the order to undress them, they had to cut the uniforms because the blood from the wounds bade the uniforms stick to their bodies… They tied them and piled them up together, then the captain ordered his soldiers to pour gasoline over them and set them on fire. I was looking at my brother. He didn’t die right away, nor did the others. Some screamed; others could no longer breathe so they didn’t scream, but their bodies were writhing. Unfortunately, there is no water in our villages, so we couldn’t put out the fire that was burning them. When water arrived it, was too late.

I am no longer the owner of my small existence; the world I live in is so cruel, so blood-thirsty, that it is going to annihilate me at any moment. Therefore, the only thing I can do is struggle… if I fight, it is to be treated like a human being…

This is what I can give as testimony… If I have narrated my life, if I have taken this opportunity, it’s because I know that my people cannot tell their story; but it’s no different than mine. I am not the only orphan…

 

Rigoberta Menchu, I…. Rigoberta Menchu, 198-201

 

 

End of Spring

Allen Dulles

They cried to their connections in the highest reaches of the U.S. government that communism was taking over in this hemisphere in Guatemala. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, and Allan Dulles, his brother, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, hatched a plot for a CIA-directed invasion of Guatemala.

The CIA armed a man called Castillo Armas and trained a small band of fighters in Nicaragua. The CIA then manipulated the media in Guatemala to such an extent that the people, including Arbenz himself, thought that a huge conquering army was entering Guatemala. The CIA-backed coup overthrew Arbenz; thirty years of military dictatorships followed.

 

Continued Repression

Jose Rios Montt

The late 1970s and early 1980s were periods of un-imaginable repression in Guatemala. Under generals like Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt, the Guatemalan army committed at least 225 Indian village massacres. Not coincidentally, those are also areas of Guatemala’s greatest mineral wealth, including oil reserves.

Since 1954, the Guatemalan military has killed one hundred thousand people. Presently, there are forty thousand disappeared, people presumed dead but whose bodies have never been found. Families of the disappeared don’t know whether their relative is dead or alive.

In 1962, the first guerrilla group was founded to struggle against the oppressive conditions that the military and wealthy landowners created. In 1982, several guerrilla groups united under the URNG, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity.

“Who in your family has disappeared?”

“My father, Rigoberto, My brother, Maynor, My brother, Otto, My brother, Armando, My uncle Moises, My uncle Salomon, My aunt, Lilian, My aunt Elizabeth, My aunt, Sipirana, My cousin, Damaris, My cousin Maria, My cousin, Hector, My cousin, Noe, My cousin, Abigail, My cousin, Claudia.”

Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala, 195

 



Pages

Subscribe to Guatemala