In Santa María where I live, we didn’t hear about all this, and some people even today don’t know if there was war or not. Perhaps recently they have heard that there was fighting between guerillas and the army, but really what happened they have never found out. In 1992 there was a massacre in El Aguacate of San Andrés Itzapa, because they showed it on the TV news, but not too many people from our village saw it because not everyone had a television.

But it was always said that there were guerrillas and the army, but really what was going on the people didn’t know, I am including myself. I only learned this a long time later from what was reported in the newspapers, even though not everything that was happening was told there. I became more aware of all of this where I was studying (later) because there they did tell what was really happening and it wasn’t until then that I became more interested in what was going on in Guatemala.

What I did know about was what they called ‘forced recruitment.’ The military made two attempts to take me away, but I was only 13 years old. My father came and talked to them so that they wouldn’t take me, but, yes, at that time in Santa María and Santiago, the two towns were competing for who hadthemostyoungmeninthearmy.Infact,Santiagoistheone that has more men, they even didn’t have to recruit them, they just showed up on their own because they had that much desire to belong to the Guatemalan army. But they didn’t really know what they were headed to. It wasn’t until they were already in the army that they realized what the reality was. Much later they repented having joined up, but they couldn’t get out at that time. Because if you left they killed you, they searched for you, and they killed you because you were a defector from the army.

One of the things that went on in Santa María were the civilian self-defense patrols. But really they didn’t do anything, they just presented themselves on Sunday, they marched all day, they were trained in all kinds of combat, and then they made rounds of the town at night.There were two shifts, they started from 6:00 to midnight, and then another group came at midnight until 6:00 in the morning.The army came once a month and stayed for a week. Seeing all this, the people did not know what was happening, as I have told you, and let me say again, many people from my village really did not know what happened in Guatemala.

I myself did not have the experience of something like a family member who disappeared, but you heard about these things and dead bodies appeared on the outskirts of the village. Three or four tied up or thrown in the tall grasses, but they were not people from our village, they were people from other places. And the violence and the bodies that appeared at that time were people who had been kidnapped, or people that they said belonged to the guerrillas, this is what you heard, and later no one said anything.

The most I ever heard directly about the violence was from a guy I’d gone to school with. He joined the army and became a Kaibil, one of the special commando forces, you know, they’re the ones who wear maroon berets? They have a patch on their uniform that’s a blazing sword.A lot of the boys wanted to join because those uniforms are really nice, and they thought they’d look really handsome and the girls would like them.Also, I think they got paid a little more.

I ran into this guy in a bar in the City several years later. I almost didn’t recognize him, his eyes were bloodshot, he was so drunk he was falling down. He grabbed hold of me, and started talking. He told me things he’d done, that are so terrible, so disgusting and degrading, I’ve never told anyone.  You wouldn’t believe the things he told me. He’d been a nice guy, a little wild, but still a good person, when we were in school. Now he was a crazy man. He said he’d done things that made him hate himself. He hated himself so much, all he wanted to do was drink.  No one in our town would talk to him. He was a young guy, too. Now it seemed like his life was over.

I believe that one of the objectives of the civil war was to exterminate the poor people, or exterminate the indigenous people, because the majority of those that were in the army were indigenous, and those that made up the guerrillas were also indigenous, and they were the ones killing each other. One of the objectives of the people in power in Guatemala was to finish off the indigenous people, so that they could remain in power, and maybe they partially achieved it. But the majority of the country is still indigenous; they are the people who are still struggling to survive and to get ahead. Guatemala is the only country in Central America that still has lots of indigenous people. So I think the people in power believe that the only way to maintain control is to keep repressing them, abusing them, in different ways that still exist in Guatemala.

I think that there are many consequences that are a result of the war, there are still problems that exist and this has made the country very unstable. In reality, I think that signing of the peace accords has not really changed much, because the same social problems that existed even before the war exploded still exist. Maybe what has changed is that now you don’t hear of the guerillas, but the army is still in power. Here in Guatemala the military is who is in charge, not the government.