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Guatemala: Activism Helps Remember the Disappeared

The verb “To disappear” became a commonly used noun when describing the sad situation across Latin America. “The disappeared” referred to forgotten names or the body never found of those that victims of armed conflicts and dictatorships. This month in Guatemala, bloggers are involved in activism by telling the world their feelings about the crime of forced disappearances and how it harmed many Guatemalans during the armed conflict, as well as participating in campaigns and attending art exhibits.

Two students from Haverford College write about their experiences researching the stories of those who have disappeared:

The blatant denial of the truth by all responsible is the greatest insult to the survivors and the slaughtered. The greatest injustice is the inescapability of this horror by innocent, poor, disregarded individuals.

One of these individuals is don Andres. At age 82, he was digging for his two daughters and grandson who were brutally strangled with ropes by the military in July of 1982. As the hollow sound of the pick axe pounding the black soil increased and the remnant of green cloth emerged, he broke down sobbing, and so did we. The pain that don Andres demonstrated in that moment was the outpouring of 25 years of grief. For 25 years, he was unsure of where his two daughters. Given this country’s history, he was sure they were dead. The same goes for his 9 month old grandchild. This life that would have been 25 years long today, years longer than ours, was not allowed to begin. As we exhumed the bodies of all three, our hearts bled for don Andres. But after stepping back, we realized that his is not an isolated case. There are 500,000 don Andreses.

A recent public art exhibition was held called “The Disappeared” in Antigua Guatemala, as described by Fe de Rata [es] :

Esta exposición, Los Desaparecidos, es una muestra itinerante de 25 artistas latinoamericanos que asimilan el tema y lo plasman en obras impactantes como las que pueden observar en las fotografías. Esta exposición es una iniciativa de Laurel Reuter, directora del Museo de Arte de Dakota del Norte y recoge la memoria de los desaparecidos durante los regímenes autoritarios que gobernaron en países como Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala o Uruguay.

The traveling exhibition, The Disappeared, features the works of 25 Latin American artists who express their feeling on the subject through impactful art works. It is an initiative of Laurel Reuter, Director of the North Dakota Art Museum and it captures the memory of the people disappeared during the authoritarian regimes that ruled countries like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Guatemala or Uruguay.

The central focus of the exhibit was a series of performance works of art called Horror Vacui . Artist Stefan Benchoam wrote the phrase, “One never has been so present, when one is not there,” in sand on an outside street. The wind began to slowly blow the sand away. Other works were described in the exhibition's blog, such as Jessica Lagunas’ “120 Minutes of Silence,” which featured the artist cutting pieces of fabric from military uniforms.

Slideshow courtesy of Los Desaparecidos blog.

Guatemala suffered a lot during the armed conflict, with agressions against civilians, tortures, and up to 40,000 people who disappeared at the hands of the military-ruled government according to blogger at La Ladilla [es]. Much of the backlash and blame for the disappeared is placed on the armed forces. As a result, the organization H.I.J.O.S. protested against the military parades held on Army Day and Independence Day explained by Mimundo.org:

We demand the abolition of the June 30th [Army Day] and September 15th [Independence Day] military parades. Such display of force by the Army to Guatemalan society can only be considered offensive and a clear signal of impunity as the institution has been signaled for crimes against humanity by several justice systems [both at national and international levels]… It is paradoxical that after the signing of the Peace Accords [which ended a 36-year war] we still have such displays which contribute to the institutionalization of violence and totalitarianism in a country seeking to build democratic processes." H.I.J.O.S. (Guatemala) (Acronym for: Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice, against Forgetfulness and Silence).

And they succeeded. For the first time in Guatemala since the start of Army Day, the celebrations will not be public. Some Bloggers were delighted with the decision, Many activists collected signatures to stop the celebrations. Blogger Historica Transitoria [es] is happy with the result:

Toda esta, nuestra historia, es la que ha parado hoy un símbolo de historia de terror y barbarie, JUNTOS TODOS Y TODAS HEMOS PARADO EL DESFILE MILITAR, junto a todos aquellos que rompieron el silencio con su huella y sus firmas en las hojas que llegaron a San Marcos, al Ixcán, al Peten, al Estor, a Cobán …

Our history is the one that stopped a symbol of terror and barbaric actions, together we stopped the military parade, together with those who broke the silence with their fingerprints, their signatures, on papers that came from San Marcos, Ixcan, Peten, El Estor, Coban ….

However, not all accepted or shared the same position. Member of the armed forces and blogger Perspectiva Militar [es] wrote:

Es comprensible la actitud de personas que perdieron un ser querido durante el Enfrentamiento Armado Interno, pero muchos ciudadanos que también perdieron familiares militares no mantienen una actitud de confrontación a casi doce años de firmada la paz.

It is understandable the attitude of those people who lost a loved relative during the armed conflict, however, many citizens who also lost relatives, who were members of the army, do not show an attitude of confrontation after almost 12 years of the Peace Accords.

Even though many of the crimes are left without prosecution and the government continues to keep the archives closed, which contains information about the victims, many Guatemalans continue to learn more about their own history and continue to be active in remembering the victims.

3 comments

  • Always great posts, Renata! Keep up the good work.

  • In accord with Niall Ferguson’s adage that history is “communicating with the dead” I think that more bloggers should be doing exactly that. So often we focus on the future, which only accelerates how quickly we forget about the past. If Hemingway has a Twitter account, I think that some of the Guatemalans who were disappeared also could. Great post Renata.

  • Freelibertad

    La verdad se llega a saber algun dia, aunque sea tarde pero se llega a saber. poco a poco bamos sanando, dejando ir tanto dolor que cargamos, de las generaciones pasadas. Apollandonos como hermanas y hermanos. No es suficiente regalar un complemento “que bueno vos lo que estas haciendo me gusta” si no toma apollas y tomas parte de la marcha asia un dia tranquilo.

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