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Englisches Material zu Guatemala

[Die folgenden Texte, Lieder und Interviews sind einem Buch des Fotografen und Schriftstellers Larry Towell entnommen: House on Ninth Street, interviews and photographs from Guatemala, Cormorant Books 1994]


Guatemala City (Fakten über Menschenrechtsverletzungen in Guatemala)

Disappeared (die Mutter eines Verschwundenen erzählt von ihrer Suche)

Cecilia (Interview mit einer Indianerin, die in die Hauptstadt geflohen ist)

Oscar Peréz (Interview mit dem Dichter, dessen Tochter entführt wurde)


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Guatemala City

The palace police change shifts. "Get out of the way, old woman!" A peasant from El Quiché, her eyes rubbed dry with grief, faces a line of black revolvers. A yellow balloon rises over the palace, escaped from a child being rushed onward by her mother. Illiterate, shoeless Indians throw white carnations on the steps, demanding to know the whereabouts of their "disappeared" loved ones. Their children paste Father´s Day letters onto a banner and begin to chant through megaphones.

Guatemala has experienced more death-squad killings than El Salvador, more "disappearances" than Chile and Argentina, more regular use of torture, more murder of priests, more burning of villages, more massacres, more overall genocide than any other country in Latin America. Yet Guatemala has not received the international attention its neighbours have. Between 1978 and 1985, forty-eight journalists were murdered (one local journalist in twenty). Others continue to receive death threats, forcing them to flee the country. The silence within Guatemala echoes without.

Because it has been too dangerous for human-rights monitors to function there, few statistics exist on the political violence. lt is, however, widely accepted by human-rights organizations that since 1966, some 40.000 souls have vanished into the bowels of the state security apparatus. Forty-six percent of all "disappearances" in Latin America occurred here, where the method of eliminating persons, leaving no trace behind, was invented and refined.

To live with the reality of "disappeared" loved ones is to live in the permanent presence of an absence. The neighbours speak of the house or the street-corner where they were taken. Everyone remembers them. Everyone waits for them. Everyone recalls the last words they spoke. Socks are still knit in anticipation of their return. The campesino´s only pair of shoes sits under his wife´s half-empty bed. A child still sets a plate at the vacant spot for her father. Guatemala is a country of 9.1 million people. Comparatively, its 40.000 "disappeared" would be equivalent to 1.120.000 U.S. citizens disappearing, or 110.000 Canadians.

Trade unionists, students, professionals from all disciplines, slum workers, politicians, and peasants suspected of guerrilla sympathies have vanished. Although "disappearances" have subsided dramatically of late, the phenomenon continues today. The location of some clandestine detention centres has been verified and the exhumation of secret cemeteries has slowly begun.

[entnommen aus: Larry Towell, House on Ninth Street. Interviews and photographs from Guatemala, Dunvegan/Ontario 1994]

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"Every day for nine months I searched the hospitals and morgues, and I would say as I was on rny way, ‚I hope I find him. I hope I find him.' Then, as I arrived, I would look at those mutilated bodies and ask God that it not be him.... I saw almost a thousand cadavers taken out of those bags. The pieces of meat would still be inside and the worms would be on them and they would still have the police handcuffs on. They would be shot and burned like charcoal. Sometimes you could only see the stomach. How can you identify someone who is burnt so terribly? I remember looking at six bodies at once: four men and two women. They had chopped up their faces and heads, nothing but a mass of worms. They cut off their hands and the bones were sticking out. They had mutilated them alive. When you're looking at all that, you begin to think you´re going crazy. You´re thinking, ,Is this my son?' and somehow you don´t want it to be, and you don´t want to see thern any more, but you keep looking for him because you love him, but still you think you´re going crazy... and all because he thought the price of beans was too high, all because he said children should have access to schools."

(Blanca Rosa Quiroa de Hernandez, mother of Oscar David, "disappeared" on February 2, 1984)

[entnommen aus: Larry Towell, House on Ninth Street. Interviews and photographs from Guatemala, Dunvegan/Ontario 1994]

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Cecilia is a Quiché Indian born in Santa Cruz, departmental capital of El Quiché. She moved as a young bride to a smaller village farther in, and many years later, fled that village with her family to join the thousands of displaced persons in the shantytowns of the capital. Like most, she could not speak Spanish when she arrived, and like the others in this section, her husband was a former catechist and village leader. In just nine months she lost four family members. Cecilia supports her children by selling boiled corn on the street. She lives in a house constructed of cardboard.


I don´t recognize your huipil.

I change it so the orejas won´t know.


Where I´m from.

The orejas... ?

They killed my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my father-in-Iaw. In January 1983, the Civil Patrol came — a truckload of people who had hoods over their heads. The army told the patrol to kill them and bury them behind the kitchen. So they did.
Then five rnonths later, on June 29, we and the children were eating when there was a knock on the door. We had no idea it was going to be bad people. They asked for my husband. I said, "Why?" The jefe [leader] said, "I have to talk to him." They pushed the door open, grabbed him by the arms, and dragged him into the car. lt was dark...7:00 p.m. and raining heavily. lt was so dark I couldn´t see anything. Our youngest was one month old. Our children, they just saw him go out the door....
We couldn´t even speak Spanish so we spoke to no one. A week later the Iandlord said we´d better get out.

What was your husband´s work?

He had been an organizer in the village, the head of Catholic Action, a preacher preaching the truth, telling people not to leave their village for the coast. He told them to find work at home, that it was better at home than going to work on the fincas.

Why did he tell them not to go to the coast?

On the coast women had to carry children on their backs, pick the coffee, and carry the coffee on their heads all at the same time. That´s why some people didn´t like him. He saw how people suffered on the fincas. He would call people together and preach the gospel, then tell them how to care for and feed their children better.
When we got together to preach the Word of God, the army would come. Maybe they thought we were preaching something different, l don´t know. But we had to teach the children to love one another as themselves.

Our problems really started when we were talking about the rich and the poor. That´s why I can´t live in Quiché any more. I wouldn´t be alive if I´d stayed. They killed pregnant women, old people in their beds, and babies still at the breast. The people who stayed suffered because they stayed. They sprayed the people with airplanes and sprayed things on the houses.


They shot them with machine-guns and then destroyed the cornfields and the fruit trees. Then they brought all the men together in front of the church, tied them up, put them into an oven, and burned them.

Whom did they burn?

All the Catholic catechists.

Did you try to find your husband?

What could I do?

How did the guerrillas treat you?

I´ve never seen any.

How have you benefited from participating in GAM?

(Long pause)... Just that people will no longer kill other people....

What do you dream of at night?

I don´t, but I think a lot. The orejas say that once the government changes, they´re going to kill all of us in GAM.

Are you afraid to participate?

If we have fear, then we teach our children poorly, because our children must learn to walk beside us. And if we die, it should be in the struggle for life. This is what Jesus Christ did when He died for us on the cross.

[entnommen aus: Larry Towell, House on Ninth Street. Interviews and photographs from Guatemala, Dunvegan/Ontario 1994]

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Oscar Peréz

Oscar Peréz was born in 1917. He is the oldest member and the resident poet of GAM. His daughter was thirty-one years old when she was kidnapped on May 3, 1983. She was single, a devout Catholic, and worked as a commercial secretary for the Centre for Folkloric Studies at San Carlos University. She was the union´s president.
Rosa Estela Villasenor was on her way to a baby shower when she was abducted by four heavily armed men in Zone 10 of the capital. At 4:30 p.m., the streets were full of pedestrians and traffic. The kidnappers threatened to ,machine-gun the witnesses as they dragged her into one of two waiting vehicles.
I knock at an imposing portal on Avenue Seven, house number seventy-two. Oscar´s ninety-year-old mother answers the door and shuffles me into the den where he has been reading the paper. Family portraits that go back three generations to Spain, crowd Rosa Estela´s portrait, which is centrally placed on the mahogany cabinet.
Oscar´s long white hair and yellowing beard frame his gaunt aspects. Faded blue eyes are bloodshot at their extremities and his fingernails curl from white-haired hands. He reminds me of the biblical Nazarene, Samson or John the Baptist, called by God to remain unkempt as a sign of faith.

Oscar Perez


Why do you have long hair?

I´ve not cut my hair or my nails since the day Rosita "disappeared". In my beard and in my hair I wear, outwardly, all of my suffering. This was my promise — to leave it as a sign.


As a sign of protest, a sign of my outrage for what had happened to me. I have a thought in respect to violence in Central America — a poem which goes like this


Bittersweet, this life.
Bittersweet, I watch it pass.
And seeing the life of our brothers,
So much injustice, I start to cry.
Seeing the life of our brothers,
With tears of blood, I start to cry.

Bittersweet, this life.
Bittersweet, I watch it pass, wishing
That brother Pedro would work us a miracle,
Would save Central America from so much misery,
So much injustice.

Oh brothers, that there were
No more blood, no more violence, no more pain.
that there were peace and understanding.
That we all loved one another in our hearts,
All loved one another in our hearts.

This I dedicate to all my brothers and sisters in Guatemala, in Central America, and in the world, so that there will be peace, peace and understanding, no more blood, no more violence.

Do you have any more?

Yes. Oh yes yes ... [singing]:

Life has its moments,
Its moments have life,
As the flowers have butterflies.

Life, flowers, and butterflies
All three, beautiful.
Life, the life of flowers and butterflies,
FIowers, all of them, precious
And beautiful the butterflies for the colours they wear.

Life has its moments and its moments have life,
But not all are beautiful.
Some are ugly, because the world we live in
Proliferates with rats.

Life has its moments,
Its moments have life,
And I would be that life
For my brothers.
For to give them life is to love life,
Loving our brothers.

And you! You must not kill them
Because we are all human beings.

A lot of my friends have gone. One time a friend of mine died. Someone I appreciated so much, I thought and said, "My friends have gone from me like a procession of funerals." And this was a thought... [recites]:

My friends go from me
And I remain alone.
My friend Juanito went,
My friend Bartolo,
And every day that passes
Is a funeral procession
As my friends leave for that other world.

Some leave in the night,
Others at dawn,
Without time to say goodbye.
They leave never to return.
So Anita left,
And Esther.
One went in the night,
The other at dawn.
And so my friend Ricardo
Received his crown of flowers.

Many are those who have gone,
And I have Iearned to attend funerals.
But who will be there for me when my turn comes to die?
Only God knows.
I cannot say.
And perhaps my day of leaving is now close.
And when it comes and I have to die,
I hope they will be there for me
As I have been there for others.

One Friday we went to our protest in front of the National PaIace. We were asking the government for a Iot: peace, justice, and freedom. Once that mission was over, and it was a heroic mission, we left as usual. I accompanied my friend Pedro to our office. I said good-bye to him on Friday. On Saturday he went to his house. On Sunday, I don´t know what happened but he died. He was investigating the "disappearance" of his son and it seems he was threatened. It´s strange how he died. He was drinking a beverage. and died instantly. Pedro Juarez, whom we have missed — well — he is another companero gone. As you see, for me it has been a procession of funerals.
I feel like I´m lost in space, lost in oblivion, like I´ve gone to another world, a world of the dead. Rosita. lt is destiny´s fault. My friend Pedro. lt is the same.

Do you think there could be a revolutionary change in Guatemala?

Could it happen here? Could what happen here? Oh no no. We don´t want war. We want peace. That there would be love and respect. No no no. The world must humanize itself. Oh no no. I don´t know why there´s so much war. So much violence. lt's outrageous. Inhumane. We want peace. Love. Beautiful things. There will not be any development. We will not overcome anything with war. There will be misery. More misery. Hunger. Much hunger. Blood. Oh no no, we don´t want more blood.

(Three months after this interview, Oscar died of a coronary in his Guatemala City home)

[entnommen aus: Larry Towell, House on Ninth Street. Interviews and photographs from Guatemala, Dunvegan/Ontario 1994]

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