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, near some burnaby condos that were for sale.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
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.


When I was a year old, my dad died – I never knew him – because of the war that happened there in my village, in Chajul, in Quiché. My mom was left a widow. There’s four of us in my family. A sister and two brothers, I make four, my mom makes five. We lived in one house but my mom never, never got married when my dad died and this was a hard thing for me because I never knew my father.

Thus it was horrible, it was terrible, I didn’t know my dad, only in photos, there were photos of him. It was really terrible and it affected me psychologically. So sometimes the kids would look at their dads, my friends, the neighbors, when their dads came home and they’d all run out, “Dad, Dad!” and hug him… I asked my mother why I didn’t have a dad and little by little my mother began to explain because I wanted to have a dad.
Sometimes when I’d ask her about it she’d start to cry. I had my uncle, I called him dad, and he also, thanks to him he helped me get beyond it, what I was missing, what was empty inside me and that’s why.

Then, my dad was a patrolman because back then everyone had to go patrolling, they had to travel a lot. So it was because of how they terrorized my dad that he died. Little by little, according to my mom, he was really, really thin and he was frightened and afraid. It killed him. My dad died. Of fear.

I have an uncle that the soldiers took him away and also my other uncle, the guerrillas took him away. Like that, he disappeared, we never saw him anymore. And I don’t know if he’s alive, still alive, or if he’s already dead. Two uncles. One they took to the soldiers, the other they took to the guerrillas.

I even have a friend that can’t forget where his father died. We were around eight years old already (or he was eight, and he’s older than me) and his father, the soldiers grabbed his father in an apple tree and burned him, still alive, in front of him. So then he also, psychologically… it’s affected people there, they’re very scared because of the war that happened. But little by little they’re moving on, moving on.

It was terrible because my mom’s told me that sometimes people were just thrown in the streets, with no head. And the soldiers even also sometimes the guerillas arrived in the village and if you had… if someone had contact with the soldiers, they’d kill him, just as the soldiers would kill if someone had contact with the guerrillas. The soldiers were killing people in the village, sometimes with machetes. There were people, already dead, but with no head, no arms, no legs. The soldiers damaged my family because it was very hard and still sometimes people today don’t forget– at least I don’t forget either, really– because the war marked me with that memory. There are still people in my village that when someone, when a person comes to the village they hide because they’re still afraid because of the war.

There is still a great deal of pain… when someone sees that something happened and hides. At least in my town that still exists. If you travel, you arrive in my town, in a village, the children sometimes now they don’t do it but the old people: “Who is he?” They hide. They’re afraid, because of the war. Maybe it was because Chajul isn’t developed economically and intellectually because… they couldn’t study, there weren’t schools there, there weren’t classes, they didn’t have classes and the soldiers came but they burned the schools even in the church as well. There’s a movie called Cuando las montañas tiemblan (When the Mountains Tremble) I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but this is very interesting.

The memories are still there and there are even men who, whether they were guerrillas or soldiers, they… they hit hard. That is, they’re hard, they don’t think that there’s a person there, and I’ll leave it at that. There are still people like that, hardened. Because of the same thing, from the war that caused everything.

When the war ended other problems came too, like the gangs, the people who assault, and here in Guatemala there’s a lot of that. That is, there in my village the war is all calmed down. Well, thank God the children now are being educated, there’s a difference from before. Before we couldn’t study, at least for me when I grew up. I only spoke my language and the classes they gave us were in Spanish and I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t learn Spanish until I was 12 or 14. I only spoke Ixil. But later I learned Spanish, I spoke Spanish, but very little. I understood it but I couldn’t express myself. I still – exactly – I still have a hard time now as well.

When I grew up I knew how to understand (what had happened) and now thank God I have struggled to surpass it. I work, I work and study, I work to pay my school fees. I study on weekends and sometimes at night, though it’s also thanks to many projects just like what you’ve done. And well, thank God, really, that there was the peace signing. Now… we are… maybe we’re not at peace because there are always wars, there are always thieves. In reality Guatemala sometimes needs help, just like other countries.

I’m studying business administration. My vision is to give my people jobs, people in my village, to start a business. They grow coffee, cardamom, green beans, so I want to make an association to be able to export coffees and have a business in the village to give people there jobs, because we are farmers. I am a farmer, I work the earth and I know how to work well. That’s my vision. I… God willing, I graduate this year.

When I have children I will tell them how I lived. That is… tell them something about my father and have them understand that you have to appreciate yourself. But I won’t go into great depth because maybe, from my point of view, it would hurt them, maybe, their minds. But yes, I’d tell them what I went through and what happened: just like my mother told me, I also have to tell my children.

Miguel, Brenda, Maria, Manuel C, Johanna, A.G.

We’re going to talk about Cual Guerra? If you have a personal experience you want to tell us, you can do that. It does not necessarily have to be your own personal experience. It can be the experience that your family told you about or that has been a consequence for the society. And if you want to make comments about the book you can also do that.

Student: I read the part about Víctor. And it is very interesting to be living with B., because he is someone who lived the experience first  hand. And when I see him I think about all the things happened to him.

Well, with B, it is evident that he bears the scars that make him the person he is today. That is, he is obviously a person who suffers from something we were discussing the other day: post-traumatic stress disorder.. I don’t know… traumas. About the mind. But, in spite of that, it is really gratifying to see him in his daily life, trying to enjoy life after what happened. For me, that is one of the nicest things in the book.

Have you talked about your experiences with anyone before today?

Miguel:  I have a comment about what I think about you as an author who writes in English. I think the book would be different if it were written by a Guatemalan author. For example, the book by Father Falla, Masacres en la selvaTibukEl verde púrpuraEn Guatemala los héroes tienen quince añosLa hija del pumaResarcimiento y pazLos héroes están bajo la tierra. These six books is very important. These Guatemalan authors of these six books have changed my life already.

 That was one of the reasons that I was not sure that I was the right person to writes this book.  Cual Guerra? not about me, it is the words of the people about their own experiences, in their own words. So it was more that I was a conduit for the stories. But read the book and see if you agree. 

Miguel:  I have more to say. Congratulations on your book. I hope that it will travel to many other countries, for example, the United States, Europe, the other countries, and the world, for this is a history of Guatemala, one history of my people, my country. I think it is very important for this is the consequence of this war that continues to effect Guatemalan society. These consequences of the war, the past, continue today. I think  your book is very important, one more book, for us and our friends.

I see this book as the first step, and the next step is for you to write your own book if you want to.

Brenda:  I agree, the best would be that the indigenous people themselves who lived this experience first-hand are the ones who do the writing… I include myself. I don’t know much because of my age, I’m too young and didn’t live that, but I really agree that it should be the real population, the ones who did live it, who write it, because in all this I understand two parts were involved, the people were divided in two groups. Now books are being written, but some leave things out, and don’t write what really happened. And I’m telling you this because this last semester I did my field practice at the Military Hospital and what they tell about what happened is different. They live in their own world and see things differently.

Maria:  Regarding writing our own book, I think that… well, at least on my family’s part, I had the personal experience I told Laurie about. But my family barely touches the subject. Well, in the past many women got involved, cousins, uncles, aunts. Maybe now writing a book can be considered because I know many people who have that intention. For example, Eliseo; for example, B. When they have the capability to write a book, I’m sure they will. The problem in the past is that we were afraid of saying things. And, in the case of my family, they are still afraid. For example, my mother doesn’t talk about these things, my aunts don’t talk about these things. In fact, they don’t know I told part of the story of my family, but it was my story, it is personal, then I told what I lived, but they don’t say anything.

Then we also need to consider that in my family some people didn’t go to school, some started school, but schools were burned down, they didn’t attend anymore. Thus it is very difficult for many people to even participate in writing a book or give us their testimonies. But I trust that now our generation, I really think so, many things are being said, people are less afraid. One feels more freedom to tell what they went through. Then, in the future there will surely be more books.

And Laurie, many thanks, really, because seriously I only spoke about all this with my mother when I was 11 years old and after that I never said anything again. Actually, I did write about it. In fact, in my computer I have the approximately 5,000 pages but, really, I had never thought about it. I think it’s the same for all of us. Then, Laurie, many thanks, really. I think this was a motivation for us to say “some day I will write my story”.

How do you think your families would feel if they read these stories in the book? Many people’s names are not the real names in the book. Most people’s names are changed. But some of yours were not changed if you wanted to use your real name.

Maria: Well, the only person that I’ve talked about this with is my sister. My sister is two years younger than me, and she remembers fewer things. She has not faced the context that indigenous people live here in Guatemala City and the environment, the social pressure there is in university, because she lives in Quiché. In a way, she is indifferent to this but, if my mother finds out, she will get scared. She would really get scared. I have aunts that even talk in hushed voices when we are in our own houses, as if suddenly we could be overheard.

But, I don’t think I will have a problem because of this. That’s why I didn’t want to give my full name, but only used “María” instead because, well, the experience is personal anyway, so I didn’t involve my family much, so I don’t think it would affect them much.

Just one more thing. When I gave my testimony, there were like three or four people… I hadn’t heard the testimony of the others until now. Then, this experience was traumatic for me. In fact, it didn’t let me fully live my childhood. That is, I was always affected by this psychological damage. Well, as a matter of fact, I needed psychological help when I was a teenager, I was young and all that. I never imagined that several people in the Fundación had stories even more traumatic than mine. I felt really bad, really, and I remembered all that, right? It hurts a lot. [Sobbing] But learning about the stories of the others made me feel better. Now I feel better. It made me feel better, it made me feel like a complete person because I realized many people had suffered much more than I did. It made me stronger, it encouraged me to go on, because I really felt bad, sometimes I even went through something like an existential crisis, because this was always on my mind. That is, they are things that are really hard to assimilate, even when you are a child or a teenager, but learning about the stories of the others made me feel, not good, but comfortable with my life and gave me the desire to go on.

Student:  I want to add something. What Maria says is indeed true. In the towns fear to talk still persists and talking in hushed voices about those things still exists. For example, in my town, because as a child I didn’t know anything about it neither did our parents tell us about it, until we started studying and they talked about it. Currently it still brings consequences, because I remember about four years ago two boys were killed over there in my town. They were hung and their bodies turned up in the shore of the lake, but they were the grandsons of those who supposedly joined the military, they were their accomplices. And people are still angry, what happened still hurts them, and they still think about revenge. This still persists. And when they speak, when these boys died, they said “what happens is…”, in a hushed voice as if whispering or gossiping, almost like hiding, they said it, “what happens is that those people deserves that because they did such and such in the past”, but they didn’t say it out in public, but rather… I was among the adults and they talked like this among themselves, but very softly. So, it is true that fear still exists and consequences and pain still exist and they still think about taking revenge regarding that situation. That is, nothing has been forgotten, because it was really painful.

Student:  Yes, the thing is, I was telling Laurie that something particular had happened in my family. In my mother’s case, she was with the guerrilla; and in my father’s case, he was with the army. And, well, in fact, some were known, but…

Student:  Then… in fact, some of us were… my grandmother lived one block away and my aunt one block away. My aunt’s house served as a buzón {mailbox}. That is, a mailbox is where people leave food and later the guerrilla comes and takes it to the camp. And my uncles were aware of that, but never said a thing, and they were military. One of my father’s nephews was also a soldier. Then, well, I didn’t have… it was the normal relationship between uncle and nephew, but after the incident when those men were assassinated, of what I saw, I could see them wearing uniforms. I was a child, six, seven, eight years old. I was a child, but I hated them, then, the same with my cousin and, in fact, when they were killed , because one of them was killed. I don’t know in what zone here in the city, but I was glad when he was killed. Then, one realizes of what kind of feelings one is dealing with, that is, being glad because someone was killed, because I had it in my mind, I remembered it all and, in fact, until today, this cousin who was part of the army also lives in the US for the past six or seven years, but I could not stand him. I could not stand him. He came on one occasion and, in fact, I don’t like him. But it is not him, it’s his past. Then, one lives with those inner resentments that are difficult to handle.

So, even in the same family, people are divided against each other?

Student:  But, to clarify. Before, for example, my uncles, they were part of the army because they were first snatched when they were young. They were snatched, they were taken away…

And in the end they got used to it. In the end they got used to it and in a way they made a career in the army, because one of my uncles achieved a high rank, I don’t remember, but it was a high rank. But in the beginning, he was snatched and taken away. Some managed to escape.  And since they were well paid, supposedly, in those times. They snatched the boys at a young age.

How old were they when they were snatched?

Student:  When they were snatched they were around 17 to 20 years old.

There is a story in the book called “Porfirio’s war”. Porfirio told me a story about boys being snatched from his school when they were 14 and 15 years old. They were teenagers and they were forced into the military. And then forced to do terrible things as soldiers.  And once they were in the military, they had to do what they were ordered to do or they’d be killed. Is that true? 

Student:  Yes. That’s true. They were victims, too.

Manuel C.: I wanted to say something. When you first asked what are we going to do with our book, in my case, my book is a gift for my father, because my father is the only person in my family who told me about that. And I think that, as Maria said, her sister is just two years younger then her. That is my case too. I am the youngest of my family and I don’t know what was happening and nobody say, nobody tell and I don’t know.

But my parents immigrated to Guatemala City, because Quiché is not a good place to live, and they took us to Guatemala City. I was born in Guatemala City. In fact, when I was two years old, we came back to Chichicastenango. That’s my case. One more thing, I think that the youngest generation don’t know about this. And in my case too. When I was younger, my mother said… my mother is the person in the family, maybe, who is more affected by this… now she discriminate against the ladinos because she thinks that all the people are the same. She thinks they are all bad.

That’s one of the reasons that she discriminates against other people, because discrimination has many aspects. Ladinos can discriminate against Maya, and Maya can discriminate against other people. So, when I was younger, I said: “Hey, but all of us are the same.” My little friends were Maya, ladinos, whatever. And then I said: “No, all of us are the same”, but reading about the history, listening a little bit of what they said, now I can understand why they feel that way. The young people who say the same that I did  when I was young, it’s is because they don’t know. They simply don’t know what happened. That’s the reason.

Student:  And, I think that really, I want to communicate this to you, that we have to be aware that this is happening to us. Most of the people who are here, most of us who are here, live in Guatemala City and it would be like living a fantasy if we believe that this didn’t affect us and there are no consequences. I personally think that there are also problems, that is, walking in the city is not the same as walking in our towns, with a majority of indigenous people, one can feel awkward. One feels discriminated against. In Guatemala City it is even worse. I really believe that it would be a real pity if young people do not understand that what happened is not in the past, we still have consequences and discrimination is the most evident. I think this is what happens. We have to open our eyes and realize it. I say that things are still real today.

Until 1996, with the signing of the Peace Accords and, well, since then we are noticing that small changes are really taking place. There are little changes. In fact, we are living one of those changes.

Brenda:  What could we do so that these changes that have occurred, the small changes that have occurred regarding discrimination keep getting better. That is, the further eradication of discrimination.

Johanna:  First, to comment about the book. I read a little and it was a good idea, a very good idea, to not change anything and to have written exactly what people said and then to make your comments, because it captures what they really experienced. And there are books that.–Miguel mentioned some–that tell the truth. I didn’t live any of it, but my parents did tell me some things, but not much because they don’t want to remember and because they know there is not as much problem as there used to be. It was worse in Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz, the most affected was Baja Verapaz, in Rabinal, .. most people from Rabinal moved to the US, because there was a lot of trouble there. In my case, in San Cristóbal, the most affected were those living in the villages. All the boys were recruited. They didn’t ask them, they only looked to see if there was a boy or a man and they took them. They didn’t ask them if they wanted to be with the military or with the guerrilla, they were forced to join. They didn’t have any intention of killing. Their intention was not to harm, but they were forced, many of them, and seeing that, other people also decided to join the guerrilla because they had no other choice, they had to defend themselves from so much harm. The way they tell it, it was difficult. And it is a very good idea to write a book about the people who did live it or ask older people to tell their experiences, because there are some who are willing to tell their stories and they are the ones who lived it more intensely. And about how to stop, or diminish discrimination, I think the fact of not feeling bad about wearing the traje with which we represent our town. In University, there in Cobán, very few women wear the traje and everybody seems surprised to see someone wearing it and I think we shouldn’t be… we should be proud of what we are and we shouldn’t discriminate  against others either, because then we would be contributing to…maintaining a vicious cycle.

Yes, because the fact that we only think of ourselves means that we are also discriminating. That’s all.

A.G.: I didn’t live any personal experience, because I think I was not born yet back then, but what Brenda and Maria said about our grandparents still not wanting to talk about it is true, because in my family my two uncles were recruited by the army, my mother’s brothers, but they escaped. The thing is that, when they went to the villages, I think they killed people, but… well, in fact, one of my uncles seems to hate all the soldiers, although he was part of it. I think they still keep silent about it and, in fact, in my house, although my uncles and my grandfather, my mother’s father, lived it, they never talked with us about it. Now, I had the opportunity to meet in a boarding school in Chimaltenango several compañeros who were Mexican repatriates after the Peace Accords. There is something very important is to realize that, like in the case of my friends, I know these have been or were very difficult experiences because many of them were orphans and lived these experiences first hand when they were kids. Some were saved by their grandmothers or by people who knew them.

Then, something very important is that, in spite of the scars they have and in spite of how hard their lives have been, having to leave their country or living in fear, they have been really strong people and worthy of admiration because, like Maria, they have made the best of themselves. Perhaps it has been difficult, emotionally and in other ways, but they go on with their lives and I think they are incredible people, not only young people, but also people who lived in those times, like our grandparents or the parents of some of us. Then, I think it is worthy of admiration the fact that they managed to overcome the barriers and have studied and have developed personally regardless of their experiences and the conditions of some families in their towns after all that happened. And I think that yes, the consequences of what happened are evident in the fear some people experience or in the feelings they keep inside that may well be resentments, feelings that are hurting these people because of the unpleasant, really painful experiences they have gone through. That’s all.

Manuel C.: I am looking for my spiritual guide. Because I know that I need some help, maybe not directly, but I am a consequence too…

When do the consequences end? And how does one stop it?

Manuel C.: I think never. We have to work to stop that and to do the right things at the right time.

Brenda: But I think that there will always be some resentments because, whether we want or not, those who talk tell about it to their children, to their grandchildren, then there are others who do not talk. And, for example, in my case, although I didn’t live it, but they did tell me and, when I listen, I feel that people, our people, suffered a lot. So, I don’t know, this resentment comes to me from nowhere, even though I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but what my people went through hurts me and yes, really, and I’m being honest, I don’t like soldiers, even when I work there. Yes, I still work with them.

Miguel:  I have an antimilitary mentality. That is, I could never be part or vote for a military person. I couldn’t.

The experience of the community, the experience of the guerrilla and the experience of the army one way or the other, they are three totally different points of view. Totally different. And if you realize, the military movement originated from the guerrilla movement. If you take a look at history, compare books and documents, the guerrilla movement is clearly military. And comparing military life with community life, you reach a point where you say, in my case, now Maria closed a circle that I had almost forgotten about, because sometimes it is hard to acknowledge that one, due to some particular things in my life I decided to study nutrition, because I felt “well, either I do something or die trying”, for my society, for my town. But let’s leave it at that, because there are things in your past that you need to erase, you need to say… well, to replace what one way or the other your past did to your own town.

Then, sometimes it is different, right this would take all night to tell. Because you and your family could have lived with a military mind, you could have lived in the community environment or you could have lived the case of the guerrilla… or like some particular families who lived the three cases, who participated in both. Then, it depends, it depends on where did you live and how have you cleaned your thoughts and… well, those are the three points of view. Now, what can I do for myself,  because in my case, I love my grandmother because I know why she is here, I know why she has me, which sometimes is part of talking with your family, talking with your family is knowing your past, because you know why you are here at this moment, why you are studying, where you live, why you are here, why not from there, what is your last name, what your last name means, what your second last name means,why you were called like that. You know all your past when you talk with your family. It is very complex, but it is part of our history, part of what we will live with all our lives and it is your decision what you will do next: either be a better person and contribute to make a better society or to go backwards. It is a point where you decide to move forward or to go backwards or stay where you are and do nothing. That is, totally different directions and you have to make a decision of which one to take.

And congratulations, Maria. In A.G.s words: “not just anybody would do it, not just anybody has the guts, there are people who have died because they spoke.” And it should be acknowledged, you and everybody else who are in the book. I’m interested in learning about the ideas of other people, I like knowing their ideas. Laurie, That’s why I asked you about Guatemalan authors and US authors, because they see us in a different way and we see ourselves in a different way.

Just a comment about what Miguel said about there being three points of view: the community, the military and the guerrilla. I think that we should understand the three points of view,  because I think that throughout history people in our towns have always faced difficulties, opportunities have been denied to them. Supposedly, the guerrilla originated from a quest for equal rights and opportunities. But, as usual, people in power don’t allow others to live in a human condition, like in many communities, so it is difficult because, even when things change, they have to change much more in their roots. It is not impossible, but we have to see not only what is going on now, but also why this issue of violence came into being. Because in our towns our history has always been difficult.

Student:  Since 500 years ago. Since the invasion.

Miguel:  That is, our origin itself was perfect, because it was only us. The problem was Spain intruding. Because Spain brought the… That is, our origin was ideal, but Spain came and the problem started there. We were better off.

AG: We think about how how the the Maya people have suffered a lot of things, things like that problem that we lived and you are writing about.

Brenda: What opportunities or what ways or how easy it would be for us to get information about the three groups. So, I think that only through books because people don’t…

Miguel: Testimonies, but it’s not easy to have people speak that much… our people, the military and other people.

Well, that is complex, because… you know I had a friend, his name is Pichia the other was Mateo L. and they both can tell you the three points of view, because they have lived the three points of view. But it is in rare occasions that people have had the opportunity, that is, not the opportunity but that terrible experience. And talking with them… they tell you about it.

This is my opinion from the reading that I’ve done about this time. The thing is that this is a responsibility, but since Laurie is open minded, I feel that there is a kind of responsibility that also falls on the US because of the invasion, because if it weren’t for the United Fruit Company they would be fighting the guerrilla movement demands with the coffee plantations, the guerrilla movement would have never happened.

The United States, the CIA. That is, I’m telling you, it’s a subject that we as Guatemalans blame each other, but what did the foreigners do? It was part of what set it off.

Brenda: And that is precisely what Laurie was talking about yesterday, she said that the US really financed…

Yes, the Guatemalan military was trained and supported by the United States. And Israel provided the weapons like helicopters. And this is why I feel so strongly that I want this book published in the United States, because Americans don’t know about the US involvement.

One of the other volunteers is a professor at a college in the US. She has a video camera and wants to ask if you would like to give a testimonio on video, because it’s very powerful to have a face along with a story.  Maybe we could take some video back to the States and develop an educational program for high school or college students to help them understand your experiences. 

Miguel: It’s like, for example, the war to Iraq, which is what is currently going on is a country they are invading because of their oil. What consequences will there be in Iraq 25 or 30 years from now after the US invasion?

I want to tell you something. We are talking about this thing as this thing were in the past. This thing is not in the past. In these days, we can’t talk about openly, freely because I don’t know if they are just worries that people have, but people think yet that there are spies. That there are spies in Guatemala.

Manuel C: Yes, yes. When you invited us to participate in this, I felt a little bit of fear. Yes, I was a little scared, because I think, ok, I will do… maybe tomorrow.

Maria:  I understand that this weekend you are thinking of filming everything for educational purposes, that is, testimonies of my case and the case of other students. Well, personally, honestly I’m still afraid, so I’m not sure about what I want to do, I am sure about many of my purposes, of my goals, but I wouldn’t like a video because I think that… I’m afraid of involving my family in the future, because you never know. Things are getting worse all the time all around the world, so I understand their good intention of taking it to another country and letting them know about the history, our history, our cases and all that, but I think that… well, I don’t know, I’m still afraid. I’m still afraid. I participated in the book and I’m very grateful to Laurie. Well, in fact, I only appear as María, but for reasons of security. I think we are all different, and I wouldn’t like to participate in the video.

For your family or for yourself?

Maria:  Myself and my family.

Well, I think that… I’d have to think about it. That is, I’ll think about it because I need to analyze this. Why? Because I can’t involve other people. Then, well, one thing is me and another thing is my family. I don’t want to affect my family. So, you love your dear ones, some day I will have a family of my own… so…I’ll think about it.

Thank you all for your openness and honesty.  I am very touched .

Miguel: And congratulations to you.


I didn’t understand it, I only saw they were crying. Well, my grandfather had been murdered. He went out to buy something early in the morning, it was 4:00 in the morning, and it was at this hour that the army killed him. I was aware that during this time in my house we could not speak loudly or like we are speaking now, we laughed, but back then when I said something my mother would say: “Be quiet, don’t speak,” and I never understood why. And we were talking, and we learned to talk so slowly with my mother, with my father. And my little sister, the one that was born after me, she was so young and sometimes she didn’t obey. And sometimes we didn’t stay home during the night, we slept behind the macollos de banano, the banana trees that grow several trunks at the same time. Sometimes we had a good time because my mother would bring clothes, although in the south coast it isn’t cold, so we enjoyed the moment, but they told us “not to speak”. I didn’t understand. I remember that the other issue that surprised me a little bit because I was very young, was the time when my mother told me: “grab a tanate”– tanate is a piece of cloth like a shawl that you extend, put clothes on it and then wrap the clothes with it– “grab a tanate with your clothes because we’re leaving”. “Where to?”, I asked. “We are leaving because there are bad people here.” So we started walking. It was still dark. I don’t remember if it was dark because it was dawn or because it was late in the afternoon, and we went to live at the house of one of my mother’s aunts, but a distant aunt with whom we didn’t stay in touch. Now I understand we went there because the army would never know we would hide in that house. We stayed in that house for three days, shut in, nobody went out. Nobody went out. Food was brought to us, everything was brought to us. And we didn’t understand what was going on. Well, sometimes it wasn’t fun to be shut in, but my father used to tell great jokes, he also told tales and stories about the Llorona and so they entertained us. I really did not understand what was happening.

Another situation that made me very angry was when on one occasion I saw my mother take off running and crying, and I said “and where did she go?” My mother has a rather strong character, that is, sometimes if we were shouting, she would yell “don’t shout!” and so, but in that moment I saw her so weak, crying. And what happened? And I took off, too. She changed my sister’s clothes and we went out. And she said: “We are going to your grandmother’s house”. With the parents of my father. We got there and my aunt was crying. I thought, but what happened? Then I heard my mother as she told my father’s aunt: “Take Leiria, don’t let her go.” And I heard that, then I said, “no, I have to know what is going on”. Right. But I was so young, I was four years old. Then, my father’s aunt grabbed my sister and she told me: “Stay with me, sweetheart,” and I said “Ok,” and stayed there, but I saw my mother as she headed towards the cacaoatal, the cacao plantation, because there used to be a big cacao production, and I followed her. When I got there, some friends of my father’s and my mother were there, and they were looking inside a hole in the ground. I came closer and saw my father buried there. Well, not really buried, because he was wounded by the army on that day when he went fishing and his friends with whom he went fishing dug a hole in the ground, a hole like a tomb, and put him inside it and covered it with a piece of nylon and then they put a board on top and covered it with leaves of the cacao trees, as if there was nothing there, and they threw the dirt to the river close by, so nobody could tell what was there. If you looked at the ground, you couldn’t see that there was a person hiding. But my father was bleeding a lot. When I got there and saw my father, I jumped into the hole and hurt him because I landed on top of him and he had a wound in his chest, another in his leg and another in his arm, here, a bullet grazed his arm. But the one killing him was the one in his chest. And I saw him vomiting blood.

And my mother was so upset because my father’s aunt hadn’t watched me properly, so they didn’t do anything to me. My mother scolded me, she scolded me, she hugged me and all that, but she didn’t say a thing. After that, I stayed there. After a while one of my aunts came, in those days she worked as a nurse at the hospital. But she was carrying some chickens. And I thought “why the chickens?” But I didn’t understand. Back then I didn’t understand why she was carrying the chickens. But then she pulled out some syringes, injected my father, she gave him a lot of remedies. My father was then covered with dirt again and my mother walked away. They said: “Try not to cry” and she told me: “Don’t say a word about this” and we walked away. Now I understand my aunt carried the chickens because, when she left that place, she took the chickens pretending she was shopping for meat to make some kind of party at the house, so nobody would notice she was going to cure my father instead. Fortunately, my father endured the wounds. After that, he was taken someplace, I didn’t know where. Now my father tells me he was taken to a hospital, well, not really a hospital, but to a doctor who cured him, not in a hospital, but in his own house, because the wounds had caused him to lose a lot of blood and also some kind of infection because he didn’t receive the proper treatment from the beginning.

Well, and so everything started and I say now: “Why did they follow my father, why?” And according to my father, back in the ‘80s he and the CUC (Peasant Unity Committee) started to get organized because they harvested sugar cane for a living in the South Coast and they were paid only Q1.25 or Q1.50 per ton and they felt the money they earned was not enough. So they organized a strike in the South Coast, they told all the workers to stop working until they raised the pay. And they managed to go to all the farms and organize the people. They held a meeting, I don’t know exactly where, they only told me it was close to the coast plains. So, another compañero, who is now a friend of my father’s, and my father left.

The army came and followed them in a helicopter, but they could not be found because they were hiding under the leaves. It was after this event that they started to follow my father. It was a long time before I saw my father again. When I saw him again, he was healthy again. However, the situation of not speaking persisted in the house. We lived in a house that belonged to my mother, she inherited it from her father, my grandfather, because my mother’s family didn’t have a lot of money, but more or less enough to pass it on. My father’s family was extremely poor. So, we lived there.

But we lived there sometimes, and sometimes not. We used to go away and… One night, or late in the afternoon, my mother said, “We have to go because I have a very strong hunch. Something bad is going to happen here.” And my father said: “Well, you are always like that, having bad premonitions, you should better go to your mother’s place because something might happen.” But it was getting dark and my mother said: “We don’t have time to do anything.” She only grabbed my little sister and myself and we took off to my grandmother’s house. The next day, well, I only saw that my father showed up, but it was not dawn yet, it was still dark. My mother said that it was 5:00 in the morning and my father had said we should not go back to the house. That night, the army had come to the house, forced the doors open and took everything, everything, everything, everything we had in the house. They left us without clothes, we only had what we had on. They left some letters saying that we were in the list and they would kill us and they were bound to find us. So, we left my grandmother’s house and headed again towards the house of the lady where we spent those nights shut in. We spent that night there.

The next day a car came very early in the morning and we got in the car and left. During the journey, I only saw my mother praying for the army not to show up and, every time there was a policeman or someone, even us kids had a very strong fear that we didn’t even move. Then we were left in some kind of pasture and we walked and we walked and we walked. Finally we made it to a house, a champita as we call it, made out only of palm and nothing else inside. It was on a little mountain or hill and there were my grandfather and my grandmother, my father’s parents. They were happy to see us. We got there and we stayed for almost two years. My little brother was born there. We were so isolated from everything, family, people. We only ate shrimp, fish, crabs, iguanas that my father caught and other wild things, herbs, beans. And we never communicated with anyone.

For me and my sister it was kind of fun. It was fun, but sometimes it wasn’t, we only talked. Actually, I don’t complain, it was a nice life. We were all together. My father worked. But we were so isolated, so isolated. My mother taught us how to catch crabs or shrimp in the river. I still like doing that now, I still use my free time to do that, even though there is nothing to catch anymore. And my brother was born, and I was already seven years old. My father said: “Leiria has to go to school and read, because I can’t.” Only my mother knew how to read and write. My father was learning. Then he said: “Well, since the army is looking for me, I will apply for amnesty,” and he went to apply for amnesty. And my mother thought he would never come back, but he did. We went back to Santo Domingo and I started school.

However, until this day, it affects me a lot when they say “No, don’t talk”. I want to change and I think I have changed a lot. For example, when speaking for an audience or speaking with people, some say to me: “Ah, Leiria, you are so stuck-up” and it’s not that I’m stuck-up, it’s just that it is very hard for me to speak. Way too hard. I make my best effort and now that I have had, thank God, a lot of opportunities, I got the scholarship to attend university and the chance in the institution where I work, I have participated in young people’s movements.

I think it’s been good because I have learned to speak, because before my whole body would shake when I stood in front of an audience, and I couldn’t manage to talk. And it was hard for me to speak loudly. Sometimes, my teacher would say: “Speak louder because we can’t hear you.” I can’t speak. And it happens to me even today, I’m standing before an audience and… It’s not that now they ask me to shut up, sometimes I talk too much at home, I joke, but I can feel how the impact of not letting a person speak not only for one year, but for three years seriously affects the life of this person. I say, I would like to be able to express myself or to speak like this, without a problem. I can’t. And sometimes I talk about this with my friends, with my compañeros in the project and they tell me “Leiria you are stuck-up.” I am not stuck-up, I can speak, but it is difficult for me to express myself. That’s why I think this situation affects people’s lives.

We returned, when we went back home we didn’t have to hide anymore; however, the situation was very difficult. My mother was very sick. I always thought she was going to die. The same with my father. My other siblings were born. I used to go with my father to the field, we planted corn, we planted sesame. And my father used to tell me: “Leiria, study. I don’t want you to be like me.” And I did, I liked studying, but after a while he said: “Look Leiria, I don’t have any money to pay for your high school.” My mother cried that day and said: “Most likely not, because your siblings have to attend school, too.” There was nothing I could do to earn some money, I was only 13 years old. Then, my aunt who used to be a nurse, she was a seamstress, she made clothes, but my family was very conservative, they didn’t let me go out very often. So my father said: “If you wish, you can go with your aunt and learn how to sew and maybe you can make some money.”

And I went to learn how to sew. I more or less learned, but not very well. Since I live in the country, I still live far away, there are not many people around, so I sew one or two blouses now and then, but it was not enough. Then we thought with my mother about starting a business of selling, for example, meat, beets, cabbages, to other places where they didn’t have these things. And my mother said: “With this you can go to high school.” This is how I went to high school and diversificado (where you become a teacher, a secretary, an accountant, etc.); however, I didn’t go to school for two years because I didn’t have the money to pay for it.

When I finished, I decided I wanted to continue and go to San Carlos University, because you don’t pay if you go there. When I went to the San Carlos University to find out about the schedule, it turned out the courses were only at night and I lived far away, so it was impossible for me to attend classes during the night, every day, that required traveling, but I also had to walk long distances and needed the money for transportation. Later I was able to establish contact for the scholarship and, thank God, I could maintain it and completed university.

I can’t complain, thank God I have a job, I like what I do and I have enough to pursue my studies. After that I told the people from the scholarship project that I no longer required the total support the scholarship offered, because I had a paid job that helped me cover the costs of my studies, because I’m sure there are other people who, like me, need it and don’t have the support. But, actually, Santo Domingo, where I live, was seriously struck by war. There were whole communities massacred. In the organization where I work now, and I forgot to bring it, but I want to share with you a document similar to yours; we made one to compile the experiences of the families, of how they suffered because of the war, because we made two exhumations of clandestine cemeteries.

In the first one, it was located where the military detachment once was, and we only found 18 bodies. There were remains of women wearing their trajeand of men tied with wire from here to their feet who evidently had been tortured, and of children. And the other was a well where only four bodies were found, I don’t remember exactly. Well, there are other likely places, what happens is that, to make an exhumation, a long legal procedure is required and also funding to move, coordinate, but we are still working on that plan of how to exhume the other cemeteries, because there are a lot of people that are still missing.

There are other stories more dramatic of people who have seen their families die, who have seen… not die, but how they were tortured, how their children are killed. Thank God, nothing happened to my father, only to my grandfather, and uncles of my father. We had to flee, to stay a little isolated. They were experiences that I remember now and we remember with my family with a little sadness, but they have also been moments of life together, of unity, of enjoying nature, something not very common these days, of having a picnic by the side of a river.

When I have some spare time, which is rare, being close to a river brings me pleasant memories. A lot of memories come to my mind, when I was four, five years old. Those are some of the few things I remember, I can’t remember other nice things. A lot of women, now in university, school, a lot of girls remember how they played with their dolls, how they celebrated piñata parties. I say, I don’t remember any of that, I never had those things, because I always lived in isolation. I remember things of war, of my grandfather’s death.

For example, I remember many things that are a disturbing for me. However, such is life and what one also learns is how experience makes one more sensitive to the situation you are living. And, I wanted to share with you this experience, which I think it could help you add a little to your documents so that people know a little of the different situations, the different places, because I live in the South Coast, and how the armed conflict was lived there.

It was a rather complicated situation for the families due to the nature of the region, its characteristics and everything started because of that situation… that is, my father was accused of being a member of the guerrilla because he helped organized the strike almost all over the South Coast, which I know had a great impact in the sugar cane economy, but back then they were not being paid fair salaries and they went on strike. And that made them so upset and made them chase us so much. However, it didn’t go beyond that for us. Today, my father bears the scars of the wounds and my younger siblings ask: “Hey, Dad, and what is this?” My father only smiles, but I tell my older siblings about it. For the small ones it is like…

 Student: As if nothing ever happened…

Yes, as if the scars were like moles or something like that. It is important to share sometimes. It helps a little and you think, you have to share your experiences. Sometimes you have certain traits and it is not because you are like that, but because sometimes things happen that leave a mark in your history, your life, but everything passes and, thank God, today we are…

I can’t say that there is peace in Guatemala, because there is no peace; poverty and hunger are problems that never give peace to the families. Currently, it is said that Guatemala is a country with peace, or in peace, or postwar, or whatever. Nevertheless, if we look at each family, there is unemployment, there is the never-ending search for food, because there is nothing. So, we are living a postwar when everybody killed each other with weapons, but now the people are dying not because they are being killed with weapons but because they don’t have food, because of some simple sickness, they are dying because they can’t go to the doctor.

Another serious problem resulting from all of this is the non-participation, the ignorance. I had the opportunity to go to school. A lot of people spent more time shut in and could not attend school. Today, they are illiterate, they don’t have i.d. documents. We are working in a documentation program for women because, in this case, when their houses were burned down, when a lot of terrible things took place, their clothes were taken away along with everything else and they were left without personal identifications. People, women in particular, didn’t get interested in starting a process to obtain their new documents mostly because of their poverty.

Now, if a woman gets paid with a check, she says: “Ah, I can’t go to the bank. I’ll ask my husband to cash it” and this generates a situation of dependency. And I don’t think I’m extremely feminist, but I believe that women have to be self-sufficient, but why is it that we don’t do it. It is not only because of the historical existence of male chauvinism, but also because war affected greatly women’s participation in things. There were some families that said: “No, men should go to school.” My grandparents, for example, always thought that way. When I started high school, they told my father: “The only thing Leiria will learn in school is to write letters to her boyfriends.” My father said: “Well, she is my daughter and I will decide what I will do about it, because I don’t want her to be like me.”

And so, these are the things that little by little effect us and now we see a problem of total dependency. Why are we caught in this dependency? For the same reason. Why are we caught in this poverty? For the same reason. War not only took lives, because the dead are dead, I don’t know if they are in heaven or in hell or wherever, but they are resting. Everyone is entitled to their own belief. However, it has generated several effects, negative effects for us still alive. Thank God, my only issue is not being able to speak, but I am overcoming it, I feel that I am overcoming it greatly. Nevertheless, there are people who live in extreme poverty because of that, because they didn’t have any opportunities, because they could not go to school, because today they are depending on someone to take care of them because they are now handicapped and can’t work, they are dependent, but it’s due to the same reason. And sometimes, I don’t know, a lot is said about orphans and widows, but not about other effects that war is still causing today and will continue to cause for some years in the future generations.

That’s all. I don’t know if you have any questions, because sometimes I forget to mention things.



In school, the history that we study is about Christopher Columbus, or other histories that happened in nearby countries, but a real history of our community or of our country we never learned in school…Even though I didn’t know anything about the history, in my work I learned what really happened.There are many versions, because some say:‘It’s because of the army,’ others say,‘It’s because of the guerrillas.’What that helps me to understand is that, despite the fact that the people lived the conflict directly, they don’t know the root of the conflict. So many parents don’t know how to tell the history because if there is no root, then you don’t know how to begin to tell it.Then there are many young people who don’t know the history.”

What is the consequence for a community, for a nation, when people do not know their history? No one taught Porfirio, Elías or Laura the true history of their country.There was no national narrative, no agreed-upon and accepted version of historical events. Rather they pieced together the past from various sources:“A guy in a bar told me…”; “I heard a rumor that…”;“You never knew who you were talking to…”They had to gather information themselves to try to create a coherent story of what had happened. Today they are committed to making sure that the younger generation learns the truth—an accurate version of the past—which has everything to do with the present and the future of Guatemala.

One story that is always with me is a woman who told me, ‘It’s Rios Montt’s fault that I killed my son. I am a murderer!’ Because she was pregnant when they had to escape to the mountains. The baby was born in the mountains…it’s normal for a baby to cry a lot. But the group she was with told her, ‘Quiet that baby! They are going to hear us.You have to quiet him!’ So she covered his mouth and nose.The baby got sick. He didn’t die right away, he died five days later. She remembers this all the time. She says,‘I am a murderer. I killed my son. If I hadn’t killed him, he would be twenty years old.’

Hearing these stories, trying to tell her she is not a murderer, that it’s not her fault, is very difficult. Because when the people have suffered a lot, they see everything in black and white.They can only see the black and not the strengths that they have. It’s like that for this mother who survived, and was able to take care of her smaller children after she became a widow. She was left with four little children, and the fact that she managed to take care of them means that she is a strong woman. But she isn’t able to see that light in her life.

Antonio, Ana, Maria


My name is Antonio. I am 24, I was born in 1981 at the time of the worse crisis in Guatemala. I was about 1 year old when Rios Montt became president, and he was the one that created the civil war and had many people massacred in different parts of the country. When I was born, my father had just graduated as a teacher and he knew that it was very dangerous to work in the west, where I’m from. Since the young teachers were sent to faraway places and there was fear of losing your life, my father decided that we should go to Huehuetenango when I was about one year old, while we waited to see if the situation got better or worse. We knew that Huehuetenango was a little less dangerous than other places towards the north of the Department. I was about 3 and one of my uncles, my mother’s brother, had also just finished his teaching degree and was working in a community in the Ixcan . He had just started to work there and he was going from the capital to his job and disappeared.

We don’t know how, or when, and I think that left a mark forever, mainly on my grandmother, his mother. They were looking for him for a long time, but there are no record of what happened to him. At that time, transportation was very limited, and my uncle had to walk for a couple of days to get to his job, he would stay there for a long time, a month, 2 months, and he would come for a week or two. One of those times was when he disappeared. My mother tells me that during his last trip, he came to see my mother to visit, and that was the last time they heard from him. They don’t know anything else. That’s what I could say about what my family, mostly on my mother’s side, suffered with my uncle’s  disappearance. Just that.

Have you told other people about these experiences?


I think it’s important because I didn’t tell my mother what I saw (a young mother and her baby shot by soldiers). And during those years, 6 or 7, I was always afraid, frightened. I grew up very different than my brothers. I could see that they were different than me because they hadn’t seen what I saw. Then, after I talked to my mother, I felt much better and I feel that talking to people about what one experiences is very important because it’s a way to vent your feelings. It’s a way of saying that another person feels what I felt, not just me, and it makes you feel understood. And yes, I think it’s very important to talk about what happened, that people know what others have suffered, because many people don’t know about it and many have suffered even more than us.


I think it’s important to talk about it, mainly with young people because the ones that are 14, 15, 16, they know that there was a difficult time for the country, but very superficially. They don’t try to find out whether their families were involved or not. In my case, I know that what happened with my family was painful, but, as our classmate was saying, they suffer even more in other places. I remember my father telling me that there were times when the Army would get to the houses and they would take anybody in the house that had books from their “red list” of books. When my father was studying he had good books, works of literature that he used while studying. But my grandfather got scared and burned them. Maybe for lack of knowledge since my grandpa didn’t know how to read, but also because he was afraid that the Army would accuse him of being involved in something which he didn’t even know about. I realize that sometimes when I go to my town, the young people now are very different, they have other ideas, and don’t know what happened. I think it’s good that they know the history so when they are electing Representatives, they choose them well so that they know how to work for the whole country, and to avoid a repeat of what happened.


My name is Ana. I really didn’t suffer anything during the civil war, but my parents did. My mother tells me that when she was young, she was 18 then, they were always afraid and I think they still feel it, because she told me that even seeing the Army made them afraid. What they did to the young women then was to rape them, so my mother would hide so that she wasn’t raped. At that time, my father had just graduated and he was working at a school. He had to hide because they had the list of teachers, parents, and everybody who knew how to read and write. And so my father went to the mountains to hide from the Army. My grandfather did, too. Even if I didn’t live through it, just by knowing so many stories, I feel hurt.

And so I wonder why these things happened since we are not animals. And I wonder why those problems still happen when supposedly there is now the Peace Agreement. I think that’s why it’s good to have these talks, that the people who suffered talk to the younger ones so that they can understand because the younger ones are not aware of what happened. Many young people do not think about what they do. And I think that us, the indigenous, have to get ahead, look for other opportunities, and going to university is one of the ways, but very few have access to it. The younger ones have to be pushed to go forward, especially the indigenous.

I have another question. Sometimes people feel that talking about difficult and painful things is too hard and not a good thing to do. And sometimes people feel that talking together in a group where other people understand your experience makes you feel less alone.  Do you think that it will be helpful if the program offered an opportunity to talk together about your experiences?


In my case, for instance, I don’t think it’s so much help in sharing with others, but helping us look further, to have ambition for something better for us, for our culture. We don’t talk much about this in the program, like the others classmates pointed out, unless you make good friends with someone to share these things. I didn’t want to talk about it for some time. I wanted to forget, to have a new life, but there are moments in which I needed to talk, to share with someone else and feel that I wasn’t alone.


I’m not very old. I’m 19, but I lived the war directly. The war is not very much heard of in San Marcos because its impact was mostly in places like Huehuetenango and Quiche. But it happened there. My father was a teacher at a town in San Marcos, in the municipality of Comitancillo and we were with him, of course. But this town was very attacked by the Army. They would come and take the rural school, the elementary school and they stayed there and controlled the whole community. Nobody could leave their houses and if they didn’t have food or water, that was their problem. You had to stay in your house because we knew that the guerrilla would go by and our families had to provide them with food, tamales and whatever they needed. So, they (the Army) found out about it and that’s why they took control of the town. And precisely in 1992, both groups got together in the same place, in the same town, and there was a conflict in the center of town and it lasted 3 days and a half, day and night, and we could only take our corn crop, put it together, and we got under the beds. The corn was just to prevent the bullets from going through because our houses had very thin walls. What really had an impact on me at that moment was that my father took out the propane tank that we had because he knew that if there was a bullet it could cause an explosion. He took the tank and went out running in the middle of the shooting to throw it far away. At that moment, we could only wait for him to be shot. Thank God it didn’t happen. We had only water for 3 days because we didn’t have enough food.

This is not that my parents have told me, it is something I remember, so it is my own experience. Some of my uncles were injured, but nobody in my family was killed, but others that we knew were killed and many disappeared. There were people from our own town that would tell the Army who they thought was helping the guerrilla and they would disappear and we wouldn’t hear about them again.

What I saw is what I just told you. The bombs were exploding near the house because we could hear it. Some of them injured some people badly. My parents were not killed. My father took part in several protests in the capital. He studied at San Carlos University and it was very damaged by the Army, so that was a constant fear we had. He fought in favor of the university.

Has this affected me or my family? Of course. I still suffer from insomnia, I can’t sleep well. It’s had a psychological impact because we were constantly expecting the Army attacks which happened several times at night, so there was constant activity at night that wouldn’t let us sleep well, and even now I can’t sleep well.

I’m studying Law at the university and what happened influenced me to study this, because I know that the politics, the laws were the cause of the conflict. The law was unfair, it still is now, but then it was even worse. The politicians used their power to repress the town and control the whole country. That was what motivated me to choose a career that was related to society. My society, the one in which I live, and the people who have many sequelae from the war as we can see now in the violence that happens in our cities, mainly in the capital which is where many people join maras (gangs). That delinquency was caused because of the violence that the people suffered because many of the young people that live in the maras actually are orphans from the war.

I can tell this story and I hope that it will help other people to understand. The constant fear has affected us directly, but indirectly too, since there wasn’t a lot of commerce between the towns because it was very dangerous to go from one town to another since the Army was on the road and they would take people or torture them. It was really hard because several of my neighbors were tortured or mutilated.

When I have children, because I don’t have them yet, I will tell them the history of how things happened because they will be the ones, when we die, that will continue in this country and it depends on them that this country changes. So, if they have a knowledge of what happened in our country, they’ll have a social conscience to change that history, to prevent it from happening again and to put an end to the sequelae. And mostly, in regards to the children that my friends have or that I’ll have someday, the main thing is to educate them without violence because when a parent is violent with their kids, he’s teaching them about violence and placing the seeds for violence again in them. This is all I have to say. Thanks for this time.

Ikal, Pancho, Maria


My name is Ikal. Now I am 32 years old. In 1982 when the war was at its height, I was 9 years old. One of the things that we have to say about the war, that some called the Conflicto Armado, is that it is a historical event in Guatemala. It’s not only that someone decided to take up arms in the ‘60’s and that after that the contra-insurgents came, it has its historical reasons. In Guatemala during the war, one of the things I see is that racism against the indigenous was present, against us. It’s something that I’d say some got more affected than others, like us, in the north of the country. There are some communities more affected than others. In my community what happened was that several people disappeared. A peasant leader disappeared because at that time our communitarian land wasn’t recognized by INTA (National Institute for Agrarian Transformation), which was the entity that had to provide the titles to the communities so that they could have the support for their land. So, he was in the process of getting a title when he was killed, for obvious reasons, because the interest behind the land were very tied to the politics of the government. There were also some catequists (lay religious leaders) in my community, and 2 or 3 people in charge of community co-ops.

I didn’t understand a lot at the moment because I was 8, 9, 10 years old and it wasn’t until later that I got interested in learning more, I mean the history, by reading reports that have been published like Guatemala Never Again and the Report from the Commission for Historic Clarification. Likewise, I have asked my father what happened and it hasn’t been until now that he’s more open to talk about it since it seems that this history was prohibited because if you talked about it, you were considered to be a guerrilla, an insurgent.

We weren’t directly affected, but indirectly we were because people are afraid to become organized. But not to do bad things, but for their own well being, like to have their public rights protected by the State, which is what all citizens should have. That’s a situation that calls my attention every time I am with my people, in the communities, since there is a lot of fear of getting organized, so we don’t face the State since we still have the fear that they keep repressing us with soldiers. Because during that time the State became the source of repression to its own people. That’s one of the things that the armed conflict has left us and we don’t become organized as citizens and it’s still present (the fear) in this new generation that were very young then and are now 40, 45, or even 35. Very young people, but they are apathetic about giving their opinion.
What I studied at the university, Political Science, I think is very relevant. Because if we don’t understand politics, it’s very easy for us to be manipulated in different ways. They can tell us that the State is this or that and we don’t understand its true dimension, what it is, and what our role as citizens is, as well as the forms of organization that we should have. That’s what has called my attention. Initially, I was going to study Communication Sciences, but I realized that Political Science was more important because of these reasons.

In regards to our children, what my wife and I have thought for our family is to tell them the truth about what happened. This happened for such and such things. I think we shouldn’t be like some Guatemalans that want to hide that history. We don’t want to just tell them that it happened because the guerrilla manipulated the indigenous people and they killed them saying that they were all guerrillas, etc. Things were not that simple. There are more profound things to tell our children so that it doesn’t happen again and that they can, in the future, prevent it from happening again. My idea is to tell them the truth, its causes, not that it was just something simple, and I think that is what will help them in the future and we are committed to do that. That’s my personal idea.


My name is Pancho. I study Communication Sciences. The moment in which the war started for me is at the age of 5. Let’s say the story of life and war for me is from age 5, and it’s not that I knew it at that moment, but through recollections from my parents and grandparents is how I have recovered a little of that story. When I was a child, I didn’t know what was happening.

However, when I was 5, I have a memory that has made me difficult to understand, has made me vulnerable with ups and downs. I didn’t grow up in the same place where I was born and it is very difficult when you’re trying to go back to that place. I didn’t live the war directly, fortunately I was a very young child. But I lost one of my grandparents to the war. The rest is what my parents have told us.

I was a refugee in Mexico for 20 years. All my cultural identity, my basic knowledge, are not Guatemalan, and it’s been very difficult to come to face again my identity, my customs, etc. And that has also fragmented my family. Some, or most of my brothers don’t recognize in Guatemala any other reality besides the one they learned in Mexico; they consider themselves Mexican citizens. Even though they are my brothers, there are still those differences between them and I. I am involved in working with the indigenous people, with that ideology and the Maya way of thinking and culture. However, they ( my brothers) are not. I wouldn’t say that they think like ladinos, but still, they don’t have a knowledge of the Maya culture. Even though it’s sad, they are not guilty of that, as I tell them. They were born and raised with another point of view. They probably never imagined what happened and that’s sad.

What happened at home the day they went to get my grandfather, it’s been told to me by his sons, my uncles, that it was very hard, and that it set a mark also in the whole town because my grandfather was a catequist, a leader, and maybe that was the motive to kidnap him. I recognize, for instance, that in my family all my uncles, my parents, understood it from a different perspective. They were guerrillas up until the moment of peace signing. They always were, but now they don’t even know what they are, they have many problems understanding what they did before, their ideas just block them. For instance, we, the whole family, cannot return to the community, because in that town they see us as guilty for the violence. It has been very difficult.

At the university I’m studying Communication Sciences, and that’s what I like, but I also think it’s important because the media has great capacity to transform realities, or to build them up, and many young people have need to express ourselves, we need to be known. For example, our culture doesn’t make itself known, even though some say we do. But I feel that we need to make ourselves known, so that others learn about us, which is one of the purposes of intercultural exchange that we haven’t been able to achieve.

I have a son, Fernando, and I don’t talk to him about the war yet. However, I think that that reality is going to be chasing him when he goes to the old house, the first house, where I was born and raised. I think he will perceive it there. The conditions in that house are not like the ones we have here, these better ones. Instead, that’s another reality and I think he notices. I think that he can still live or learn it in the reality that we live now, that we are preserving. That’s mostly what I have to tell. Thank you for the opportunity.


I want to add this: My father-in-law disappeared in ’82, exactly on September 13th, when my wife was 8 years old. He was never found. He and his family lived in Comalapa, one of the most affected places. Some military people took him out of a car to some unknown place. His remains still haven’t been found, where he was, where he was killed, and what happened to him. I’m telling you this because the consequences are going to be there for a long time.

My wife suffers from nervous breakdowns because, as one of my classmates said, the Army took the school. And in front of the play space where the boys and girls played basketball, they laid the dead, so that in the town people would see how the people who they called guerrillas were killed. The reports call it “exemplary massacres”, meaning the psychological war. My wife tells me that she saw how those people were laid there as if they were chickens, in the sun, already killed. She has been very affected by it. She has had terrible insomnia and we have to treat her constantly. My mother-in-law has diabetes and sometimes her blood pressure is too high, we have to monitor her sugar levels, and it was caused by that situation. We have those cases, and also broken family relations for long periods. My wife, my mother-in-law, my brothers-in-law never went back to Comalapa because their own grandparents didn’t want to acknowledge them. They told them that they were guerrillas, and they didn’t want to see them because they (the grandparents) were not guerrillas. For about 15 years, they never went back to the town until recently because now we have children and we have been trying to get close to the family in Comalapa. It’s very difficult.

And the other case that I wanted to tell you about is that even if it didn’t affect us directly, it did affect us indirectly because there were the so-called PAC (Civil Self Defense Groups) and we had to organize in groups in the communities. It was mandatory to be on guard and there were duty times (to be on call), for instance, from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the following day. They had to be standing there, either with arms if they had them, if not with machetes, to guard against guerrillas or suspicious people going by. That affected my father so much that he suffered a partial facial stroke. His eye became very red, so we also had to treat him, and now he’s not old, he’s only 54, but it was because of that situation, the insomnia, worries because he, my uncles, and my grandfather were on a list that said they were guerrillas. There were about 7, 8, or 10 people on a list that someone from the same community had given to the Army. My father didn’t tell us about his worries, but he looked very worried, and he was sick then for a long time, his stomach, headaches, and very red eyes. I think those are some of the effects that the war caused, and many people are still suffering its consequences, the effects of this horrific conflict.

Since they began doing exhumations in Comalapa, my wife and I have been there when they ask for help, to see if we can find my father-in-law because my wife can’t leave it aside. It’s something she needs to find. She wants to find her father, where he is, and see him even if he is in his bones. This is what they call the “grieving process” in psychology. The unfinished grief, that didn’t have closure, so we have to keep searching for him. She’s now thinking about DNA exams to the bodies that have been found since they have found more than 200 graves from people in hidden graveyards. This is true. I have been there myself doing excavations and it’s horrific to see how the bodies have been thrown into the communal graves, and now they are trying to find them. What I mean to say with this is that it still continues and, unfortunately, the government is not doing any of this. It’s being done by non-governmental organizations, international ones that are helping. But the government doesn’t care about it, and according to the Peace Agreement, the government should guarantee that the victims were helped economically, materially, and psychologically. But the government is not doing it.

What you just said, had you each told each other these things before? Had you heard these stories from one another?

Only when we have opportunity to talk about issues regarding the war in Guatemala, some students comment on the experience, but not all the students, not in a specific meeting we’ve organized. I believe that in the group of students there are many experiences, sad experiences, they’ve had in the past.

Do you think that it would be helpful to have a group meeting for people to share and talk about their experiences during la violencia?

I think it’d be useful because, as I said, in this moment many students are having psychological problems, but we don’t have space to share and I believe that it’s good, it’s important, to open a space to share because the students needs to share with other and to validate each other.

Sometimes people are worried that when they talk about these things it’s very painful and they worry that it might make things worse instead of better.  Do you think that it’s better to talk about these things or not? 

As my classmate said, during the war it was prohibited, nobody could talk about it. Thanks to God we can do it now. Personally, I would dare to do it for the media because we now live in a country that is changing, improving, and it’d up to us that it continues like that. Before, nobody could talk about it.

But I think what you mean to say is if we talk in regular life. I feel that for me it’s very difficult when I remember the town or the house. My voice always becomes (crying). I travel by bus and I always remember that, I mean…

I think that’s very difficult, you’re right, it’s not easy. I don’t suffer a lot in that way because I didn’t live it directly, only in other ways. But in my wife’s case, she couldn’t talk about it for a long time. When she remembered she couldn’t talk more. Even now I realize some things. I have asked them where the house was in Comalapa, they had a big house, with animals, and I think it is still there. But since they are very sad and nostalgic, they haven’t set foot in that house again. The house is still there, someone took it and they lost everything. But now they don’t want to talk about that house, or go and see if it is there. They don’t want to, because it hurts, suddenly leaving your house, everything, on top of losing your father, or your mother, or whatever, it’s very difficult. That’s why I say that it isn’t just to tell people that they can find their things. No, it requires specialized psychological help, that really comprehends the situation and how the war happened. Because we’ve seen some organizations trying to give psychological support, but they don’t really understand our people, the dimensions of the problem that our people, very poor people, suffered and the psychological help they provide is not what people need. It’s not just to go and say “don’t cry”. It isn’t simply not to cry, but also to understand what happened and feel that pain, like we, the Mayas say, to feel the other’s pain. That’s very difficult.

It’s very difficult to try to understand someone else. I do therapy to myself. I told you about the bus because when I ride it I think of my grandfather. As Ical says, I’m thinking about the house and suddenly I’m just crying. I have gotten used to not be embarrassed of people seeing my tears on the bus because it happens a lot to me. And I may be wrong, but with everything that I do, I’m always thinking “Grandpa, help me”. It’s something that is there despite the fact that I only knew him for 5 years. Many things remind me of him, the house, my father’s house that he could never use again. Sometimes it hurts a lot because the things are still there, but we can’t use them.

There are several things. It’s not that we are making it seems bigger than it is. Like my wife’s family for the armed conflict, they still remember their dog that was very good, but they had to leave him there. And according to the Mayan history, relationships with animals, as the Popol Vuh says, are very important. I see my wife and mother-in-law crying when they mention the dog and they say that because of the armed conflict they had to leave the dog and they don’t know what happened to him. Whatever happened to those poor animals! There is much sadness for the father, but also for the house, the family, the animals. That’s what the government hasn’t even tried to rebuild. Just by trying to understand the situation, it would be a good step forward in this society that was left completely broken, without the same relationships as before. We are very hurt by it. I’m telling you about these cases because I’ve seen them in my wife’s family and I try to be strong and speak a little, but I can’t deny the things that have happened.

I’m the only one that has returned to Santa Cruz del Quiche who lives here permanently. The rest of my family lives in Esquintla . That’s why one doesn’t even know where one is from. My grandma asked me if I had ever gone back to the town, our house, because she heard that there was some furniture there. When she came back to Guatemala in 1998 after being a refugee, the first thing she looked for was her grinding stone. She found it and her burned armoire. Her house was burned, the only thing left were the walls. I think they live in the past, even at the present time, remembering many things. The stones, the pots, the sewing machines, many things that were needed at home, and they still go to look for them in the hope of finding their material things. For instance, in the case of my grandpa who disappeared, for many years his family, my uncles, my father, they never did anything, like exhumation, or research about where he was.It’s only now that they dare to do it. However, they got together to be able to ask if he could be found. I have written things and I still have the desire for revenge, not with violence, but to demonstrate that even when we had to leave, we could not be destroyed. It’s not that I want ugly revenge, but I feel the pain and that’s what the conflict has left us.

Would it be helpful to have a group?

I think that would be good. It would be a small group, not big. With psychologists, sociologists that understand the situation. In the program we have a psychologist or a sociologist. In Guatemala City there are many programs for mental health and I believe that if the program contacts them, it would be possible to organize some small meetings.

Many students, for example, Eliseo, B., they have had experiences. For example, Eliseo when he was a child in Comalapa, my wife told me that she met Eliseo’s sister and parents, who disappeared in Comalapa. But she never knew where they were until one day when she was working near here, she saw Eliseo’s sister, and now that she saw Julio at this program, she asked him if he was the brother of the woman she knew. What I mean to say is that for a long time, we didn’t know about Eliseo because they were all escaping. Eliseo didn’t want to come to Antigua. He is in San Antonio now, because he escaped from Comalapa. The same with my mother-in-law and my wife, they left and went to Villa Nueva. And they changed their traje (indigenous clothing) so that they wouldn’t be killed.

That’s why I think there are several people in the program who have had experiences in the program that need some support, and I have always recommended that we have discussions. I think there are some students that don’t do well not because they don’t want to, but because there are certain psychological issues that affect them and they need support and that should be offered to them.

Do you think that the person who facilitates the group should be a student or a psychologist? 

I think that the program should organize it but leaders of the groups should be students.

Thank you. I think that this effort to help the affected in the world is important because, as we say, the sad effects are there in this moment.

I was born in Quiche in 1980, at the worst time during the Civil War, and I didn’t understand a lot of what was happening, but I noticed certain things. In my Mom’s side of the family, many belonged to the guerrilla. They had 2 options, either to die or belong to the guerrilla. So they decided to join the guerrilla and many of them disappeared. Some were killed, others were exiled in Mexico, and others came to the capital. My family left their town, and went to Santa Cruz with my grandparents.

I was about 5 or 6 and didn’t realized everything that was happening. I understood it many years later. But I had an experience that left an impression on me, and left me with many fears. I don’t know why I didn’t tell my parents, maybe because I was afraid. We lived in a place with a lot of milpa (corn fields), houses were separated, and when I was coming back from the store, I saw about 4 military men pointing a gun at a woman who had her baby on her back, about 4 months old. They were asking her where her husband was and she didn’t want to tell them, so they were pushing her from one to the other and they were hurting her. I don’t know what she told them, but they threw her to the ground and shot her from the back, killing the baby and her. That was a horrible experience for me because I was just a little girl and was just defining my character and I grew up with a lot of fears. And these things happened every day since our house was in a main road and the military were constantly passing by, maybe to go to other towns nearby. And at a certain time, we could hear the shootings mainly in the afternoon. I was very frightened but I didn’t tell my mother until I was about 11. Maybe I hid it because I was afraid.

My family helped the guerrilla somehow and I think that was a good deed, because there were many people suffering, many people in the resistance, and that was a way to help our people. For instance, one of my uncles kept many food items that were left at the house. At night many sacks of food, sugar, coffee, corn, were left at the house, he would take them in, and out again in the morning, and it went on, and all of those items went to the guerrilla campsites. Of course, the army didn’t know about it or we would all have been killed. That’s the hardest experience that my family lived, except some others that were directly involved with the guerrilla and they didn’t come back until the peace was signed in 1996. They didn’t know a lot about their families, their children, spouses, whether they were alive or dead, until ’96 when they came back. That’s what I have to say.

Carlos’s son

I’m the son of Carlos,  I am 25 years old, and I’m from Patzun, Chimaltenango. I want to talk with you about the history of the conflict here, I know what you’re speaking of this conflict, that lasted 36 years, ending in 1996.Many people, many people were murdered, were affected by this problem. My family, but not only my family, many people from my town, have many problems about all of this even though this conflict happened many years ago.

I was born in 1980, and the years of 1982 – 86, maybe this is the worst part of this war. All of the country, but the most part is in the Atitlan, the K’iche, mainly Chimaltenago. The majority of the Maya communities, Maya people, these are the people affected.

I was young, I didn’t know why the war was happening. Now I still don’t understand, I know there were political problems in the country, the history, but I don’t understand why it happened so much, all that happened to the people, I don’t understand what it had to do with us. With the people. This is what I don’t understand.

Many people didn’t understand, many people can’t read or write. They didn’t learn how.  Many people are only fathers, mothers and farmers. They were very poor, these people didn’t understand about politics, and many people died, and never knew why. The problem is that Guatemala is a country with many problems, one problem is that many people, they think that the Mayan people are inferior, and the political problems are one justification to kill many Mayas. Another justification – the ending of communism, of communism that the attributed to the indigenous people. It was only a pretext to kill them.

Were the people in the mountains supporting the guerilla?

Ah, the guerilla. No, the people of the villages they are scared.

Of the guerillas?

No, of the guerrillas and the army. Many people, many people became guerillas because they saw that the army was killing the people. So, what do you do? If you see that they are killing people? And of course, the guerillas don’t do anything to you, we are like friends, the thing is, many people or, that is… that in this moment. That, in this moment, I don’t know, it’s for defense, it’s because of looking for someone to help you, but I would say that many many of the people didn’t know the difference between which were the guerillas, and which were the army. Really, I didn’t sympathize with any of them.

So they didn’t understand what was happening. So here’s the army and here’s the guerillas, and the people are in between?

Yes, and the army said, “You are guerilleros. you tell me where  the base of the guerillas is” and the people don’t know. There were many massacres. Everyone in many towns were killed. This didn’t happen in the town of Patzun but in the other villages.

I was five years old in 1985, I don’t remember much. My mother and my father never tell me about this, but I see… and in this moment, I don’t understand what was happening.

What do you remember?

I remember discussions, conversations, talk about, I don’t know… one time, my grandpa talk with my mother, father, and my uncles. And he said he had two people that worked for him and one time these two persons turned up dead. They died. He said that it was the army. I don’t …. I remember he said that the people had two knives, machetes, to work. Yes, yes, and the persons..these two people turned up dead, and they had two machetes that were for working, planting. These two machetes, they grabbed them, and when they had killed them, they had the…

Here…draw a picture.

This is machete, and and whoever killed them did this with the two machetes. They made a cross. I don’t know, to me, this is ironic, it’s like making fun of the people that died. Because they grabbed the machetes and formed a cross. I saw many troubles in Patzun. I remember my father talk about this, my grandma told me one time, that we were in the house with my grandmother, and with my two siblings, or, only one brother was there then, and she told us that we should go. And she said go away, go and hide ourselves. I hear airplanes.

Later, she told us that about two kilometers away from the house, there had been a battle between the guerillas and the army. Many people died in this time. There weren’t bombs, there were machine guns, the army of the Guatemala doesn’t have bombs, and I remember this occasion, many times.
Where did you go when you ran away with your grandmother and your sister?
With the neighbors, with other people. And many many nights the same thing happened. So then, they said, “come, let’s go sleep in other houses”.
Were they were looking for your family in particular?
Yes, my family, other families, many families. I don’t know if it’s true, but the people were saying that my father is guerillero. The people said that my father was a guerilla, the same as other uncles, but my father wasn’t. My father worked with…my father was a nurse. He worked in the health center. And later, he worked in the university of Landivar. He worked in this place, and the work is to visit the people in the communities because they gave them support from the institution. Maybe these travels to the communities was interpreted as though he was going around talking, I don’t know, about things…I didn’t see that my father was killed. My father was disappeared. I don’t have one grave to cry for him. I don’t have… I don’t know where is my father. In Patzun, you remember I told you that one month ago they started exhumations at the military base in town.  Many people think that in this place the remains of dead people exist, but one week ago, some brothers were working there, and they didn’t find anything. But they only searched small pieces of the area. They are not going to continue to work. They searched only a small part of all, of all of it, and in this place, they didn’t find anything.
But, the base of the army is bigger, and I know many many people think that yes, there are bodies there, but in the place where they searched, there aren’t.
Did people in the villages know where the graves are?
No, no, but I think they suspect. In this year, this place, there is a church, in this part, you don’t see inside this place. The people that entered, many times they never left. But, well, the people that died there, inside, or the people that entered the inside, never could tell where it was, but all the people are sure that there were acts like this there. And the work they pursued, they were there for one week, working in this small piece of the whole military base.
So when you were 5 years old one day your father just didn’t come home?
Yes, only my father disappeared. He didn’t disappear in Patzun. I told you my family was searched, persecuted. My family went into hiding, first in Patzun, in other houses, and we also went to Guatemala City, to run away for a time. My father ran there for a while, too. Sometimes for one week, sometimes a month, sometimes from moment to moment. Here in Patzun, and outside Patzun.
My father disappeared in Guatemala City. He was working when he disappeared. This day my father he was with his brother-in- law, husband of my aunt and two other people. In this occasion, the four people disappeared. One month after, another of my uncles did too. He lived in Patzun, and the army looked for him in his house, and they grabbed him. In total, in my family, two uncles and the brother-in-law disappeared, or that is, three uncles. My father, Carlos, his brother and husband of my aunt.

I have another uncle, he also is afraid that the same thing would happen to him and he went to seek refuge in Mexico. Three years, no five years ago, he came back to Guatemala. But he stayed in Mexico maybe 12 years. Now, he’s with his family. Many people went to Mexico because in Guatemala they are afraid, they thought…

When did your mother tell you and your sister and brothers about your father?

I don’t know, I have never…. My mother never tells… never speak about this. At that time. But I see, I understood what happened with my uncles, my father…My mother never told us.. I don’t know, maybe to protect us, but she didn’t ever tell us about all of this that had happened. Never. Now she says that it was so that we wouldn’t feel hate. To preserve out hearts, she never told us about this because she thought that since we were young we could have another picture, that we weren’t going to understand it. I knew that my father had disappeared, because I hear, all the people. And I understood. But my mother never spoke of this. As she said, even today she never… My mother never cried in front of us. my mother cried when she’s alone.

And now, I understand that maybe this was the best. To have told us what happened in this time, because I feel like she could have said that it was the army. If she had told us that my father was taken by the army, my siblings and I would have grown up with hate.  Many people (feel that) because obviously, they saw them when they killed their parents. When they killed all the people, they saw them. Many people. Even today, they have an attitude of hate. Yes, they have hate. But, I don’t have hate.

If she had told you what was happening when you were a little boy do you think you would have felt hate?

I don’t know, I feel, maybe, yes.  But it’s not hate, I don’t know, with all the people, I don’t know, it is a feeling, I feel hate, but I feel that obviously, one is going to feel hate, going to feel anger because of all of this. .for everything that happened. But I feel that it is a feeling, a feeling more controlled, it’s not jealous, or extreme, it’s not…Many people feel more hate, but a hate that is just so strong. Really hate, yes…With all of this, the war, the army, with this, and it’s– how should I say it, what I’m trying to say is that since I was little, when I was little my mother never say, your father was killed by the army.

She never told you that?

No, never. She believed that if she had told us, my siblings and I, we would have grown up with hate. And she don’t want this…But now is different, now is trauma, maybe… maybe I have a little trauma…Many people grew up with trauma, many people think… there are many many people that have grown up with trauma. My grandfather believes that one day my father will come back.  Yes, his son. Two sons. My grandparents believe, my grandparents look for him still. But I don’t believe my father will come back to the house. I know 20 years ago, my father probably is dead.

Your grandfather believes that his sons will come home?

Yes. What I say, is that if when  I was young,  when I was a kid, if they had told me everything? Maybe I… I don’t know… I would have thought, or it would have affected my mind…

My mother is very strong in her mind. Christian. Very, very Christian. Yes, she made a better decision. A better decision. Never she say, “I’m poor”, she never said “poor us, this happened to us”. No. She didn’t do that. No. She worked, she was go, go, go! My mother is a teacher. Teacher of elementary school, for 20 years. She is Evangelical, yes. My dad… my father is Catholic, and when I … when I was a boy my father, he brought me. Now, I don’t go to church. I respect the Maya religion, but I don’t practice religion. Because I don’t believe in all this.

Do you think that the fact that your mother was very religious helped her?

Yes, yes. She said, “God help me” and my mother searched and found and got in with a church, she looked for help, my mother searched for help. … so she wouldn’t be too affected, I don’t know, but she might think of other things. I think that yes, it helped her quite a bit. Because, I don’t know, many people believe in God. And in some manner, this gave my mother strength. This is what she says. And she says, “God helps me, if it hadn’t been for Him, anything may have happened, we even might have died”.

Have you talked about this history before with your friends, a teacher or anyone?

No, never. Because I feel with my teachers, not, but with my friends, sometimes, because there’s too many peoples who don’t understand. They don’t understand how I… maybe I am wrong, but, we have very different points of view, different points of opinion about this…I understand that this happened, and that it wasn’t just. I understand too that this is not correct. Yes, it’s wrong, terrible, but I understand it doesn’t do any good for anything. ..Many people even today, they think that… they feel a lot of hate, much hate about this…I understand that this has happened, but it doesn’t do any good to feel this hate. And I understand that to feel angry, hate, it doesn’t do any good…I think it’s better starting work or other things. Many people say, “I am poor because I suffered a lot” I don’t say this, because the best thing is to work hard to have a better life.

Yes, this is the better way. But there are many problems, many stories, stories with much hurt, very much hurt, very hard stories. People have stories much worse than mine, there are people, many students in the program whose father and mother were killed and the majority of their family. I still have a mother. But many peoples in the program don’t have – have nothing.

Have the students talked to one another about their personal stories?

Not with all of them, with some. But I haven’t spoken with everyone about this. I spoke maybe with 5 or 8 people, we’ve talked about this. And there are many stories that are much more complicated… many people cry when they tell about this. Many people cry when they talk about this.

Do you cry?

I don’t know if I… some people cried for my father. But I don’t remember doing it. I don’t remember, maybe never, cried for my father.

Do you think that talking about this is helpful for you or not? 

Yes, yes, it’s good, it’s when I talk about this, sometimes I remember other parts from this, it’s better, better. Today, I feel with my uncles, with my grandma, my grandpa, my mother, never I ask, even until today, I never asked my uncles anything.

You can’t talk to them about this?

No, never, never, but now I feel, I need ask maybe, but now, I feel that… I don’t know, I know the history, what the books say, now I know. Now I know the history,  what was the cause of it, why it started, now I feel like I am ready to ask questions. I feel now, I have different … about this, I want to talk about my father with my grandpa and ask.. I feel like now, I know some different points of view of this.

Do you think that they will be willing to talk to you, to answer your questions?

Yes, but now I need ask more. I want to ask my grandfather…I know what it is that I saw. I need to ask what he saw. I didn’t see very much when I was 5. But it’s, until, with them, I haven’t been able to talk until now, because each time that we speak of this, they cry. Many cry, and can’t speak, but I need now, I need know more. About this.

And do you think that they will be ready to talk?

With all, all the family. Yes I think that yes…I think they…until now, I haven’t asked them… I don’t know, I feel not ready to hear all this. Ready to listen to all of this. To hear all the people. My uncle that fled to Mexico? He told me about this, and he have the history, part of history, but I want …he has his version of the story. I want all the versions to understand. Many times, when they tell you what they say is part of… is part true, but also it is, I don’t know, like modified by their feelings. So, as I said, I now feel more prepared to be able to talk with them. Because I have never spoken of this with them, I haven’t wanted to. I felt that no, because I didn’t know really, first, I didn’t understand what is what had happened, now I more or less…now I know a little more… I don’t know, I feel like if I had done it before, I wouldn’t have understood,  I wouldn’t have understood 10 years ago…and now, I feel that yes, I can talk about this, and ask about it…I don’t know, but I need ask, I need ask. I need know, what feels my mother.

What your mother felt?

No. What my mother feels now. What my uncles feel now. Many years after maybe now is deeper. Maybe it is more centered. Now my own feelings are more mature, maybe. Probably now, the stories are more mature, they don’t have so much crying. I feel that now, my uncles, my mother, my grandparents, can talk about this, they can talk about what they felt. What they were feeling 20 years ago. Now is more easy for them. Yes, it’s possible now. Many years ago…yes, it was very hard.
Do you talk to your sister and your brothers about this?
My sister and my brothers maybe they aren’t very interested.  I was 5 years old, my sister was 3 years, my other brother 1 year, and my last brother, the youngest… no. (my mother was pregnant with him). I think that the interest has to come from within them. They have to be interested. While they aren’t interested, I feel like the same thing that happened to me, maybe they won’t want to talk about this, maybe they feel like they still can’t. The same as me, they aren’t ready for this. Maybe, I don’t know, I am fearing talking with them about this. I have more memories from my father, but the memories I have are not clear.

They are very diffuse, but maybe with the fact that now there are various publications, now maybe 2 or 3 books about the history of this.

Do you have any photographs of your family?

Yes, I have two photos. Yes, my father, my mother says, “your father like the pictures and your father has many pictures of you and him, from all the family. But in the time of the violence all the pictures, my mother burned them, or buried them because she was afraid that someone would see the photos, and she had a … if something happened to us in the family, and they were to find the pictures of our relatives, they would probably go and look for them as well. I have two pictures of my father, and all the pictures, all of the photos were destroyed. I think that they were very afraid that people would recognize the members of the family.

There’s one other thing I wanted to ask you, you know the story you wrote me about how you decided to become an architect?  You said you found a sheet of paper where your father had designed a house.

I don’t know, I was maybe 8 or 10, I can’t remember, how old I was, I found one piece of paper, but I don’t know what this paper is I don’t know nothing, but I .. I see this paper, and I read: kitchen, bathroom, living room. This is a plan. This is one small page where there is a design of a house. I ask my mother,”what is this?” I didn’t know, and she tells me that my father wants one day to build this house. For the family. I’m like, this moment, maybe I… I don’t know, but I felt, in this moment, or I understood in this moment, that I wanted to study this. And now I have this design. Only in pencil… I don’t know, I think that this influenced me to study what I studied. At this time, I saw this page, when I was little. I looked at it, and said, I didn’t know, I asked myself how they had done each of the little drawings, the trees, the chairs, the tables, and I imagined this, that is, I was perhaps curious…I was 8 or 10 years old, but this time, I already could see the house. I hadn’t seen even a plan! But I feel that in this moment, I understood many things. And, I finish my elementary school, my basic education, enough to want …. I want to study this. I never veered, I knew this was what I wanted. It’s, I don’t know, it’s… to me, this house excites me very much. Now I look at the design and all, and I feel, perhaps the same as I did as a child. And just the same, the drawing is bad. The drawing is bad! (laughing) Now I know, that this is a dream of my father. I want maybe in 2 or 3 years or maybe more years, I don’t know, to build this house. His house. It’s like, each time that I remember this little page, I am going to feel the same, like when I was little and I looked at it.. It was a fascination…I don’t know, but this paper is the thing that helps me more remember my father. My father have many dreams. My father wanted this house. My father wanted to know how to be a farmer, with cows, with…My mother still tells of this, and I feel like she still would like to have it. I don’t like the cows. The cows, I don’t like…

My father had many dreams. Maybe I can make one dream from my father. One dream. Yes. That would be good…Sometimes when I remember my father, I don’t feel like crying, I feel happy. I’m don’t feel like crying, I feel happy. Yes, when I talk about my father, I feel happiness, I don’t have to cry. But I have some memories of him. One time when my father crashed on the curb, and I’m going, bang! and I got a bruise. Near the highway, there was a gas station and my father told me, “you, you get water for the car”. And he told me that I should fill the water tank. And I went with a container one, two, three, four, many times..and it never filled.  The radiator was … Have a hole! (laughing) and I hadn’t seen it. I didn’t see it. Then when I got tired, “no more no more”, I walk around the car, and saw all the water…(laughing). I was maybe 3 or years old. This is the memories that I have of my father, but I feel happiness. I never feel sadness. I feel happy…

My grandma, say, yes I look like my father, but I don’t know. It’s …it’s weird, the picture of my memory, of my father, in my head is different,  from the pictures. It’s different, the picture of my father’s face that I have in my head…
How old was your father when he died?

Maybe 28, 29? My father married with my mother when she was 25. So, maybe 29 or 30.

So he was about the age you are.

Yes, I’m 25…

Thank you so much, I really appreciate your talking with me.

Thank you because you want talk about this. This is not, this is not….You… how to say this… you didn’t have to do this. You don’t have one reason to do this, but you want to. Thank you….

In Patzun we have flowers similar to this (crying, handing me a flower), a sun flower. Patzun is the land of sun flowers.

Carlos’s widow

Carlos was thirty when he disappeared, I was twenty-eight. I had the four kids, one son was six years old, my daughter was four, the other one was two, and I had just had the baby.When the kids asked me questions I told them we couldn’t go with Dad.When they were very young I told them that. But, when they were a little older, I told them their dad wasn’t here, that we didn’t know what happened to him, that maybe he died. And if he died, we have to behave very well to go with him someday.The one who suffered and knew his dad well was our oldest son.

Carlos would take the oldest boy to his job with him. He said, “I’ll buy him toys and he’ll be with me.” And it happened like that many times. And so he felt his dad’s absence and now he says he remembers him, but his memories are vague. The others don’t remember him at all.

And one day, since I was going crazy, I said I would go and look for him because he’s not dead. Maybe I was weak or sick, and I started walking with the idea that I’d find him. My mother-in-law followed me and asked me where I was going. I told her to the store, but it was 5:00 in the morning. So she told me that nothing was open.Then I went to the doctor and he said that if I couldn’t accept what had happened, I would go crazy and there were already many at the asylum.

I got frightened because I had my kids, I had to fight, and I’d cry then at night, so that they wouldn’t see me, and I’d ask God to help me fill that emptiness I had in my heart.And then, I went to my mother and she made a ruda cup of tea (a natural antidepressant) for me. That helped me. The doctor had said that he’d give sedatives, but that I would get used to them at some point, and they wouldn’t help anymore. I decided I’d rather pray to God to help me, because it was terrible, four kids, what was I to do?

When my husband was alive there was always that help, we both worked. Carlos was a very good father. He was responsible. For instance, when the children were sick, he would make the decisions, we were two people working together. But when I was left alone, I had to figure things out on my own, and if I didn’t have the money, I had to find it.When he was here, he’d do that, so that short time was good for me.Then, it was hard because one way or the other I had to solve any health or school problems. But, after he was gone, it was terrible for me. But I really thank God because He helped me forget him since it has been already twenty years. It’s not the same as it was when it had just happened.

Later, I was working as a teacher in San José, and it was terrible there, too. There were people with covered faces arriving, taking people from their homes, killing them at the market and when I went on the bus they would look at you and at pictures they were carrying…It was terrible and many people died, even entire families, kids, parents, and I thought that we were lucky not to have been with my husband, or we would have all been caught. God knows.

Thank God that I decided that I didn’t want another man, I didn’t want to marry again, I would be with my children and I’d work for them. Because another man might love me, but not my children. So, I said no, no, no. I worked, then I went to the university, I got a scholarship, and studied for three more years to be a teacher, then two more, which means I was very busy. That helped me because before that I was like a broken record, dreaming every night about my husband.

We lived together only eight years. Carlos was very friendly, everybody said that. He always said, “Good morning, good-bye”. And he also had that desire to help. He said that he’d help whenever he could. And for instance, my daughter’s husband, he sometimes says: ‘Let’s go have fun’ and he invites us to join him. But I tell him, “No, keep your money because you may need it”. But my daughter says that he’s like that, giving, and that is good, too. And Carlos was like that; he had a big heart, he talked and laughed.That’s how he was, friendly, smiling.

And I know it’s hard alone with the kids, but they have turned out good, they don’t have bad habits, and I keep telling them that we have to believe in God because that is very important. Because there are families with the mom and dad and the children are into bad habits, so I’m thankful to my mother and everybody because they have supported us, and I’m with my children now. Many people ask me why I didn’t get married again, they said my children would get married and leave, and I’d be alone again. But I think, I don’t want another man because he’s not going to love my children. And I thank God because I was able to survive that difficult time.

When my oldest son and my daughter finished third grade, they had to go to the capital to study, and I didn’t make enough money. So, I decided to change jobs to get another one that paid a little more.At that time, teachers didn’t earn much.Well, they graduated from high school, but I told them they have to go on to the university.Then, when my son was in his third year studying architecture, I told him that I couldn’t help him anymore because I had to help his brothers, too. So, he looked for a scholarship. I talked to the people at Fundación para los Estudios y Profesionalización Maya (FEPMaya) who suggested he send his application. That’s when he started being helped,thanks to all of you. Now, my other two children are just starting at the university and I tell them to follow their brother’s example because he would stay in on Saturdays and Sundays studying, he wouldn’t sleep all night. He is very committed, and, thank God, he is almost finished.

So, I have these two other sons that I’m trying to get through the university because it’s not enough just to have a high school diploma. And I tell my children that, thank God, they graduated because there are many mothers that couldn’t afford to send their kids to school. Even though my salary was not much, I had enough to pay for education and I thank God for everything He has given us because we have gotten ahead, even though we don’t have everything. I have spent most of my money for education, even though we don’t have many clothes, because there are families with a lot of money and clothes and cars, but they don’t have an education. My daughter got married, and I’m happy with the other three.

And I tell the children that life is short, we should love each other, we are here today, but we may not be tomorrow.That’s how life is, with so many dangers, and I always tell them that we go to church and that respect for God helps us not to do bad things, mainly because we may die tomorrow, and it’s not good to die in sin.

Well, that all happened, but it was twenty years ago. Yes, it’s sad. But my children are already grown, I have grandchildren, time goes by fast. I can’t forget, but time helps to not feel the same pain.

Thank you so much, also for knowing you. And now, rest, because it’s late.