Mateo

I was between 8 and nine years old in 1982 during the worst part of the war. We were in a town near where there were massacres. But we were lucky that they did not continue with the massacres, they stopped about 4 or 5 Kms. from my town. The military came to my town but they were tired of killing . So, in my town they just rest, but all the men get together to receive the military and around 5 or 6 p.m., the military arrive at the school and talk with the men in the community and say they want food. So, the men go back to their houses and bring all the food they can for the military and the military sleep that night at the school, in our community, in Santa Eulalia.

In the morning before the military arrive, the people who see the massacres run from the military walk white ghosts.  In my village, the people who were fleeing said to my mother and father “let’s go, the military are coming”. My father and mother say “No, this is my home, I can’t abandon my home”, and everybody left by midday, but my father and the community waited. I don’t know why but they all waited. They say, “If we’re going to die, we die, but we won’t leave.”

It was lucky, when the soldiers arrive they don’t do anything. They  said “We’ll guard tonight and you guard tomorrow. You can go home to rest”. So, it was like an option to wait for death, to die at home. But, that night with the military there, my father and mother pray to God together, to the God that doesn’t exist, but they all pray. All my family got together. I was very little…

All of my siblings were born by then, there are 8 of us, the little ones and the older ones with my father. So, we pray that night but I don’t understand then, not now.  My parents cry and pray. I was 8 or 9, I didn’t understand, but nothing happened during the night. The next day, the military return to town and go in the military trucks to the military base in Huehue, so luckily nothing happened to us. They were tired of so many days and nights just killing, so when they got to us they just wanted to rest and nothing else.

What did your parents tell you?

They already knew about the massacres , how they happen before.  When the military come they already know everything, they hear that the military kills people. Women, men, houses, everything…they know.

Yes, they know.  My father mostly, maybe because of pride, was trying to organize the civil autodefense groups. They voluntarily got together and they take the Guatemalan flag and welcome the military, so it’s like a good relationship. Because if they are not welcomed, it is as if the groups were guerrillas.

It’s just a warning from the military. That’s why my father talked a lot with the military. He’s like a friend of theirs because he belongs to the civil autodefense group. In the past, my father was the commander in chief for about 4 years. But later on, in 91, 92, 93, there were no problems with killings.  With the past commanders there were.

My village is very big. The military were killing in communities far from the city where there’s no newspaper. But my town is close to the city, so it’s more difficult for the military to kill.

Rios Montt’s killing policy comes from a mix of different cultures. It’s called “model towns”. He uses the United States system for killing. Before, his policy is to create cooperatives in the mountains. He says that “the land is free”. So the people who have no money or land go to the mountains to a town or community. One community here and another one there. His program of model town I think lasted for 3 or 4 years. So it’s a mix of cultures like Quiches, Kachiquel, Mam. Ladinos, Espanol, in one community: this is Rios Montt’s plan so that they can’t communicate, they can’t organize.

They are from different towns, for instance, people in one community that don’t have land or money. But Rios Motts offers them an agricultural economy, INTA politics (National Institute of Agricultural Land). They give them land but in the mountains. They have a house, school, church, there in the north, so people travel to live there. And people from the capital that have nothing also go there but after 2 or 3 years. Rios Montt sends the military to protect the people from guerrillas. And then, when there are military in each town, Rios Montt starts to kill the people in model towns.

It’s politics. First they promote it, then they kill. But this is very common in the north, as you see it’s the jungle, there are mountains, communication is not possible and the international community can’t see it. My town is in the north, but not in the mountains. There is newspaper to know if they kill. Generally, in the radio they say it’s the guerrillas, but the guerrillas are the people who escape a model town. So the military look for them in the mountains and it is there where they kill.

You know the conditions, the discrimination, racism, because the idea that ladinos have is that the indigenous, Indians, are the problem in Guatemala. For instance, Miguel Angel Asturias, the Nobel Prize in literature, is the first racist. His thesis is about evaluation of indigenous and ladinos. Whether the indigenous are intelligent or not. He’s very racist. Racism starts there. He’s an intellectual, it’s a racist investigation. And the people now are not intellectuals, but they are racist. So, the problem is racism.

Rios Montt believed that Guatemala doesn’t progress because the indigenous are uneducated, lack hygiene, don’t shower. That they don’t have good habits, that was the problem that kept Guatemala from progressing. Then, it’s better to kill, genocide, to kill the indigenous culture because they are the problem for Guatemala. This is the main problem, racism.

But, since there are many indigenous people in Guatemala and few ladinos, then, if the indigenous population grows, it’s a problem for ladinos. And it’s a problem now because the indigenous have an education. Ladinos don’t like it because each time there is a Maya professional at the university, it’s like substituting a ladino in a profession. Because Mayas are bilingual and ladinos are not, then, since it isn’t good for ladinos, it makes it harder for indigenous people to graduate from the university. Before, about 20 years ago, only the ladinos had an education. But now it’s different. 20 years ago, the ladinos were teachers at the university, at the elementary school, administrators at the court, in medicine, at the bank, everything was ladino.  But now there are many teachers that are indigenous or bilingual.

About 5 years ago I had a lot of problems with discrimination. It was hard on me. But for about 3 years, I have been changing because I don’t want any more problems with Ladinos. I want to share, but generally, I can’t talk with a Ladino.

There are very few Maya, about 10%, who get a university education.

For example, in my field, Agronomy, generally, there are not many women, it’s mostly men. But, about 20%  of the Agronomy students are indigenous. But it’s different in other fields.

Maybe a little more, but it never reaches a 50% of indigenous people. Because, generally you need to live in the city, and the majority of the indigenous don’t live there. They live in the mountains, in the rural areas, and in order to study in the city they need a job to pay for the university, rent and food. So, one of the problems for them to study is the economic issues. Another one is the social pressure against indigenous people. It’s like it’s not possible to leave that low position. Indigenous (are believed) never have an education, they can’t work, they are not smart.

There’s the belief that the indigenous can’t do it. Then, in a rural area there is not much university culture. In a rural area, there are only teachers for secondary school, since the university is difficult for money and for the belief. There are many factors. But I think that it’s mainly the economic aspect, because there are many people that want to go to university, but can’t. But, you can see that in my university I never had an indigenous teacher. There were all ladinos. Not even in the secondary school, only in the primary or elementary school.

But now there are many indigenous teachers in elementary school and also in secondary school. But very few at the university. In my field there weren’t any, but in other fields there were some, but just a few, it hasn’t changed much.

Only in primary and secondary school, not at the university. That’s the system. In the university, if you are indigenous and want a job there, it is competiton for the intellectuals. For instance, I’m indigenous, and at the university I bring an indigenous point of view for the students. But the Ladinos don’t want that. They usually believe an indigenous that is not intelligent.

Because my ideology is peaceful there is no problem working in the university with Ladinos. But, if I am very extreme, the Ladinos don’t like me because I am competition for them.

And it is difficult to compete with Ladinos. And it is a problem for Ladinos, because the Ladinos don’t know the history, the political situation, no.

My friends are indigenous. I am toxic for Ladinos because Ladinos always talk about things that aren’t interesting, or they talk about cars or clothes, or they just talk about money. They never talk about things that are important for personal development or to develop the country.

Because in my university, in agronomy, we are drinking and discussing  political history. And always they are all against me because I know the history, I know the reality. But they are all against me. They say I am lying.

But I feel proud because I know the truth.

In my family all of my brothers are studying. My sisters not much. My first brother is very racist against Ladinos. Because of the system. And he’s studying a lot of the culture and now he has got a master in intercultural studies and he’s bilingual.

He speaks Canjobal, Espanol, but his specialty is in cultural-bilingüal in Guatemala. And he reads a lot of books about the cultural, and rascism, and he has strong ideas and in some way he taught us his ideas.

Have you talked with other people about your experiences during the violence?

In my family…well, we didn’t have direct problems with the military, with the violence… well, a little, but not as much as death. The one that died was my aunt’s husband.

But now we have the expositions to learn about and to accept that the reality we have in Guatemala is multicultural. We have Germans, hispanics, “Belgas”, different people from different countries. And the schools are bringing the children to see it.