Truth and Forgeting in Guatemala: An Examination of Memoria Del Silencio and Nunca Mas (Commission for the Clarification of History) (Recuperation of Historical Memory Project) (Report‪)‬

Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 2009, Oct, 34, 67

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Publisher Description

From the 1954 CIA-backed overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guzma'n until the army decided to allow a civilian to take office in the mid 1980s, the military controlled Guatemala, accumulating power and maintaining a vise-like hold on all seats of power, although their dominance was rarely, if ever, unchallenged. Guerrilla groups harassed the military and its proxies into the 1990s when the parties finally agreed to a negotiated peace. Neither side had been able to decisively defeat the other and in 1996, after years of discussion, the two parties laid down their arms. At the height of the war in the 1980s, the Generals Lucas Garci'a and Ri'os Montt resorted to scorched earth campaigns and genocidal warfare, constructed model villages in the highlands, and organized Civil Self-defense Patrols (PACs) in an attempt to defeat the insurgency once and for all. Though they failed to achieve this goal, they militarized the countryside to an unprecedented level and ultimately were able to impose their own interpretation of the insurgency and Guatemalan history on the population in an "Orwellian falsification of memory, a falsification of reality" (Zur 1998, 159). This falsification, however, was unable to penetrate beyond public memories; the dominated group--the indigenous population--maintained its memories in silence until these could be heard. The opening of space to remember differently than the army dictated culminated, at the governmental level, in the creation of the Commission for the Clarification of History (Comision para el Esclarecimiento Historico; CEH). As a result of both international and domestic pressure, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) and government signed, as part of the larger Peace Accords, the Agreement on the Establishment of the Commission to Clarify Past Human Rights Violations and Acts of Violence that Have Caused the Guatemalan Population to Suffer. This agreement recognized that, to strengthen democracy and to prevent a repetition of Guatemala's recent, violent past, Guatemalans were entitled to know the "whole truth" of the conflict. The CEH was established as an investigatory and analytical body, meant to objectively clarify the details of the many human rights violations "connected with the armed conflict" (Guatemala: Peace Agreements Digital Collection, 1994). The CEH was presided over by Christian Tomuschat, a German human rights expert with extensive experience in Guatemala, appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations; Otilia Lux de Coti', an indigenous educator whose participation was recommended by civil society and indigenous organizations; and Edgar Alfredo Balsells Tojo, a lawyer recommended by university rectors (CEH I, 27; Oettler 2006, 7) The CEH relied on several hundred staff members, both Guatemalans and foreigners, operating out of 14 field offices around the country (CEH I, 31-33).

1 October
Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

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