Rubén

My name is Rubén. I’m originally from the town of Nebaj, Quiche, located in the Ixil triangle in northern Guatemala.

I’m going to tell a little of what my parents passed on to me when I was a child, as I was growing up, living in my village all my life: the story of what happened in the conflict, in the war, that deeply affected the people and my family in particular. Mostly, I’m going to focus on what I’ve gone through, how I’ve been personally affected along with my family, brothers, and neighbors there in Nebaj.

I was born in the year 1984, during the period when the conflict was still underway. There were killings, there were kidnappings, there were many violations of people’s rights. People were not well respected during that time, due to many situations that arose in that area mostly, in rural areas, in villages rather than the center of town; that’s where a lot of the damage happened.

My parents tell me the history, and they say that 1970, ‘75, the ‘80s – those were the most difficult years– when many people had to abandon their homes, and go to the city, mostly. But my parents… they mostly talk about my grandparents because they were the most affected. The story that moves me most that I recall hearing from my parents was from the year 1981, because that was the year my grandfather was killed by the army. My parents tell that story because that was the year they were married. They had to get married because all my older aunts and uncles didn’t live nearby anymore, they were leaving already and three had already come to Guatemala City because it was very difficult to live there. My mother and father were 18 years old then, and since the family was already disintegrating and their older siblings were leaving, well, they decided the best thing was to get married and come to the city to live. The problem was that they got married and exactly four days into their marriage the military came to the house to get my grandfather. The military thought that my grandfather was a guerrilla because their house was located near the military outpost. Since my grandfather had to go and bring back firewood on horseback for my aunt, they thought from his coming and going that he was part of the guerrillas. This is what my aunt says, since she was there: she witnessed the act, when they came and took him behind the house, hid him, and killed him. This was four days after my parents got married
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Then, the only thing left to do was to leave. They left the village. They left the village and had to come and live in the capital. They couldn’t stay in the capital for very long because there weren’t many opportunities; it was difficult to find work. Yes, they were able to find a little work and survive, but it was hard, they say it was hard, so they decided to come back to the village the following year, although that was also hard since the violence continued. And when they returned, what was going on before hadn’t stopped and my father and grandfather were kidnapped. For four days, they were kidnapped, they were tortured, they were beaten. The military said that they were with the enemy, or the guerillas, that they had a list; but the military had invented the list. My grandfather and father’s names appeared on it since the names were all made up; they looked to see who the people were living in the village, made some guesses, and made a list. Then they went to take people from their homes, showing them the list: according to them, such and such people were the people who were part of the guerrillas, and that’s how they took them. And that wasn’t all, because after the four days, after letting them go, they still threatened them, telling them that this hasn’t ended, that it’s going to continue. That at any moment, the army will return to their house, to take them away again until they could kill them flat out.

Above all, that’s the story my parents tell me. As I was saying, when I grew up… this was in the years ‘81-’83 or so, and I was born in ‘84, but I still saw some of the effects of the war although there weren’t any more kidnappings of people walking down the street, or killings in the street. But still, since we lived near the military outpost there were always soldiers passing by our house and there were always gunshots. We’d hear that in a certain place they’d gone and killed certain people or certain families. They’d go and kill, and there were always still reprisals between the guerrillas and the army. The people who were part of the guerrilla would arrive, they’d come and wait for the soldiers who’d always come by to fight them. I remember that they blew up a truck around there, an army truck, and it burned there in front of us. They had placed the connecting cable to activate the bomb through the land where we were living.

And it’s very painful, it’s very, very painful, the fact that this could happen within our community, this violence, that they’d come and trap the soldiers and shoot and kill each other. But what hurts me most is the impact, the impact of the violence: besides the psychological impact one feels, the frustration and fear of what has happened. Also, the story that my parents tell about how painful it is to lose somebody, a member of the family killed in front of another, one of his own children, without having anything to do with it, no, not having done anything to deserve the act, truly.

In my way of thinking, I imagine that the military reprisals against the people continued after the ‘80s. When my grandfather was killed, one of my uncles tried to find a way to denounce the acts of violence, the military genocide. He denounced the military and I believe that after all this, when it was already peacetime, after the signing of the peace accords, there were still military reprisals against people because recently, in 2002, my uncle was killed. He had taken action condemning the violent acts that happened during the civil war, mostly against the military leaders who had led the war in the Ixil triangle. During the time when the peace accords were signed, during the peacetime, he was always very careful because the military was still going after him. They made attempts on his life and chased him several times. Unfortunately, he was killed, and his death has never been brought to justice because the facts of the crime remain unknown; he didn’t have any other problems with anyone, and it wasn’t just part of an everyday crime. His death is very complicated. I believe that the violence didn’t end when the peace accords were signed; it continues, perpetuated by the military leaders who take power in Guatemala today. In their defense, they continue to attack and kill people because they know many people are witnesses, many people know that they have made violent decisions and violated people’s rights. Many leaders, mostly indigenous or community leaders, have been killed after the war period ended, since the military knows that all the things that happened during the war period cannot be uncovered, cannot be uncovered, and that they can be punished for making those atrocious decisions.

So this is what I can tell you about my family, and, well, the message that I could leave would be to get back on track and continue fighting, and to be able to avoid all that has been done to us. That yes, it hurt us greatly, but it also helps us recognize all that our grandfathers fought for, all our parents did so that we could live and continue fighting and working so that this can never happen again. Instead, we can avoid it and work for the benefit of all.

As I was saying, I didn’t live through the war personally, but the psychological damage persists, the damage inflicted on all of us. Yes, it’s there, yes, we feel it, yes, it hurts, but with effort one can find a way to avoid it, preparing oneself, making plans for the future. It will always be there within the framework of our identity, our persona, always avoiding another fall, another setback like this one that deeply affected not only me but all of Guatemala.

Well, as I was telling you, I would tell people that we can fight, we can fight and make the military take responsibility. For example, bring to justice all the things that have been left behind out of fear. There has always been fear in our communities, but it’s important to go back to the past, to look at what has passed in our lives and truly impacted the lives of every one of us, to recognize that, to recognize the effort many people have made in defense of everyone’s rights and make it possible for there to be justice and to judge the people who have committed these acts of violence against our people.

Right now I’m studying at university, studying law, and my goal is to graduate next year and be able to give a better life to my people, to help, to defend the rights of people who have been victims of violent acts, who have been marginalized in their personal rights, to help them not be so limited. There are many situations that hold them back, and my objective is to help them and have a better life for my people.

For the children God may give me, I will give them the education they deserve and give them a better life, always improving with what my parents have given me. Although I haven’t had everything one could ever want, thanks to my parents I have received a lot of help to continue studying and I will graduate soon, God willing. Well, that’s my goal, my wish: to be able to continue onwards, to work hard and help the next generation to have a better life with our people who today are moving forward and developing greatly.

Do you speak with your friends about this subject? Does Guatemala today have a culture of silence about these things?

Well, there have always been initiatives to be able to debate the subject, to be able to talk about it, to discuss Guatemala’s history and violent past, but many times they’re very brief, they haven’t gotten very far. They haven’t really accomplished anything to resolve the conflict. To me, it’s very difficult, because it’s not really that people are silent, that they can’t act; instead it’s that they are afraid. The people who can make claims, can discuss and debate the past: they’re all afraid. Sometimes I think that they’re so brief because of the reprisals; in Guatemala there are still reprisals and it’s very difficult to discuss this subject and have much continuity.

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