Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Martyrs are Home

Xaxmoxan Hamlet. Chajul, Quiché, Guatemala.
January 25-6, 2007.
Issue: Post-War / Reparations / Justice

Tucked in high among the cloudy summits which slash in half the Department of Quiché, lays the municipality of Chajul. Northeastern corner of the so-called Ixil Triangle, the region’s name derives from the main ethnic group which has populated the region for centuries: the Ixil Maya. During the internal conflict which brutally pounded Guatemala for 36 years, the population from the Department of Quiché suffered perhaps the roughest punishment. According to the Recuperation of Historic Memory report (known as REMHI in Spanish and titled Guatemala: Never Again), 263 massacres were perpetrated against residents of Quiché during the conflict.

Starting on November 2004, the National Coordination of Widows in Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) began compiling witness testimonies from the villages of Juá, Chel and Xaxmoxan, within the Municipality of Chajul, in order to begin the process of recovering the remains of war victims who were buried in clandestine graves. The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) carried out successful exhumations in the region through most of 2005 which rendered the remains of 14 identified victims.

On January 25th, 2007, families of the identified victims congregated in Xaxmoxan’s church so as to receive the remains of their deceased relatives. The victims perished as a result of the State’s brutal genocidal policy which came to be known as the Scorched Earth campaign, carried mostly during the first half of the 1980’s.

Feliciana Macario (left), director of CONAVIGUA, addresses the victims’ family members previous to handing over of the remains of the deceased. Entire families from Xaxmoxan, as well as from the neighboring settlements of Juá and Chel, attended the event. The three rural communities are barely divided by a couple of kilometers in between each.

Joseph Fuentes, forensic anthropologist from FAFG, displays some of the clothing found in the clandestine mass graves in hope living family members will help identify the remains of other victims found.

A traditional hair-dress ribbon, used by local women, is still found intertwined among human hair. The report from the Historic Clarification Commission (CEH) states that “on March 24, 1982... Soldiers brought residents from Caracolito ranch and Xaxmoxan village [to La Perla ranch, in Juá]. 175 men were executed... Some women and children were also killed, youths in particular. Out of the 250 people who managed to escape from the community [into the wilderness], 25 died due to sickness or malnourishment” (CEH, Chapter II, Part II, pp. 340-1). Such event is known as the La Perla ranch massacre.

The process of handing over the remains to the appropriate family members lasted a few hours. Nevertheless, the delay was short compared to the years many of them waited to bury their family members appropriately. It is estimated all 14 victims perished between 1980 and 1983. Congruently, the REMHI report identifies five massacres in the vicinity between such time frame, four in Chel and the La Perla Ranch incident (REMHI, Volume II, p. 42).

The coffin with the remains of Genara López López is arranged by forensic anthropologist Alejandro Urízar while family members observe.

Beltran López (front), son of Genara López López, indicated his mother perished in the nearby town of Chel during the massacre of March 1982. “Thank God she has arrived” uttered Mr. López.

Family members prepare to transport the remains of a victim to a site where a mourning ceremony will take place in the evening.

Most of the coffins were decorated with shawls exhibiting patterns similar to the ones worn by the local Ixil women.

During the evening, several households in the communities of Juá, Chel, and Xaxmoxan held individual mourning ceremonies in memory of the deceased.

Those who speak another tongue, give them love,
Those who think differently, give them love.
Do not differentiate between race or skin color,
Love everyone like kin and do what’s right.
To eternal friends, give them love,
And to those who don’t bother greeting you, give them love.

Lyrics sung at one of the mourning ceremonies.

Family members watch and listen from the other side of the room.

During the early hours of January 26th, residents of Xaxmoxan headed towards the community cemetery where, after more than 20 years in waiting, a dignified burial ceremony awaited the war victims.

The remains of one of the more than 200,000 victims claimed by Guatemala’s internal conflict are lowered into a final resting place.

The grounding of a plant named Rooster’s Tail on top of the gravesite follows in accordance with Ixil Mayan traditions.

Juan Francisco Pedro’s father, Ramon Francisco Bautista, is documented as victim case number 3284 in the CEH report. Such text states that “in 1983, amongst the mountains nearby the Los Encuentros comunity, Amachel hamlet, municipality of Chajul, Ramon Francisco Bautista died of starvation. The victim fled the scene of the La Perla massacre carried out by the Guatemalan Army, in the hamlet of Juá, where the victim was from, and sought refuge in the mountains.”

Finally being able to properly bury his father, Mr. Juan Francisco Pedro manifested his feelings: “This is a great moment. My father has arrived. The martyrs are home.”

Versión en Español aquí.
In Japanese: 日本語で


scott said...

This account moves me to the point of tears. Thanks for that. The world needs to know.

Ryan said...

Thank you for sharing this with me, I hope you manage to share it with the rest of the world!

Frances said...

These images are so completely moving, as is your compassionate account.

Henrik said...

a deeply moving text. the pictures are just wunderful ... close yet with shot with decency.

Anonymous said...

The wounds of guatemala and el salvador will flood this in earth in blood vengeance one of these days..

Tim said...

Good Job! :)

tolpinsk said...

There may be a legal remedy to the current situation. Perhaps the community can start a electrical co-op pulling their collective claim to the resources under the land and over the land. Thereby being able to charge the mining company rent for electrical power that crosses the Co-op's air space

Jason said...

Hi there.

I've read through various postings, very interesting. I have a simple question - Where do you draw your facts from for the text? I just ask because I am going to be studying Guatemalan history here from June at Del Valle, and wondered if maybe our paths will cross.

If you want to answer privately - pinhut@gmail.com

All the best

Anonymous said...

For the team.Thanks for your time and the great job.
I am a Guatemalan,and those are my people;anybody from the ex-president Rios Mont to a simple soldier that had Odio in their heart must be put in JAIL.
They are going to pay it soon.