33 years ago today the Guatemalan Army moved into the Ixcán village of Santa Maria Tzeja. By the end of the day 17 residents had been killed, mostly women and children, the homes were burned, animals killed and crops were destroyed. This was part of the government’s scorched earth policy to stop the rebel movement. If the army could remove the local people it would be easier to find the guerrillas and some sources of rebel support would be eliminated.
Today, on the 33rd anniversary of this tragic event, I was part of a processional march organized by the middle school to commemorate the victims of the massacre. As we marched to the church the names of the victims were called out and the entire procession responded to each name with, “presente en la mente!” (“present in the mind”). People were carrying signs with the names of the victims and some had flowers and colorful leaves which were placed at the altar at the church.
Many more people were gathered at the church where we listened to comments by 2 survivors of the massacre. Both talked of justice and reconciliation. Pedro said, “We will never forget what happened here. We will keep the stories alive so that this will never happen again.” He then presented some of the facts of Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war: 200,000 people were killed, 40,000 people were disappeared, 620 villages were destroyed (like Santa Maria Tzeja), 100,000 people were displaced, 80% of the victims were indigenous, “…as if they were not important.”
Edwin, in his turn, added that “the road to justice is long, but hope is never lost.” He told the village that he was fortunate to be a survivor and to be able to talk about what had happened, to provide his testimony.
What wasn’t mentioned was the complicity of the U.S. government during these years of violence against the Guatemalan people. The U.S. government provided aid to the Guatemalan Army in the form of guns, bullets and training for their military leaders.
During the minute of silence in remembrance of the victims, one lone baby cried aloud. The rest of the village cried in silence.
To learn more about the U.S. involvement in Guatemala’s years of violence, I recommend the documentary film Granito: How to nail a dictator, by Pamela Yates.
February 15, 2015