‘Päivän otsikko: Guatemala’ (Headline Today: Guatemala) is a documentary from Finnish television from 1983 presenting events taking place in 1982 in Guatemala through the eyes of a US reporter and photographer.The reporter and journalist happen to be Allan Nairn and Jean-Marie Simon. The former is well known for his work in Indonesia and Guatemala, and the latter is well known for her book ‘Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny’, recently published in Spanish in Guatemala. Anyone familiar with the book can recognise some of the settings that she is photographing in the film.
‘They interview Western relief workers, officers of the army that supports the right-wing government, as well as ordinary Guatemalans. Gradually we begin to see how much of the war remains untold and to what extent Americans are kept in the dark about their country’s military involvement: a representative of the U.S. State Department, for instance, denies the role of the U.S. as supporter of the Guatemalan Government.’
‘The film also presents an interesting and surprising take on a reporter’s work in a war zone. It shows how hard it is to find the truth in a torn country.’
The film is 58 minutes long but only 48 minutes is posted here (it looks like part 5 is missing). However, it is still full of startling images and interviews. It is extraordinary to think of the access that these two were given and the openness of the military, not least current Presidential favourite, Otto Pérez Molina. This is probably more down to an arrogance that pervades Guatemalan power rather than anything else.
It is interesting to hear Pérez Molina talking about, what was the military strategy in the Ixil at this time – Quitando el agua al pez (removing the water from the fish). He states, “La población civil es a la guerrilla lo que el agua es al pez” – ‘the civilian population is to the guerrilla as water is to the fish’. This encapsulated the military strategy contained in Operation Sofia. Earlier this year, the Madrid based Fundación Madrid Paz y Solidaridad de CCOO, presented a document titled Quitando el agua al Pez – Plan de Operaciones ‘Sofia’. This document is a fascinating, and sometimes brutal, examination of the forces at play at this time in Guatemala. The document also includes many of Jean-Marie Simon’s photographs from her book.
In the film, a journalist in the US let it be known that if a massacre happened 2-3 months ago, it lacked sufficient drama to be of interest to US audiences, hence why the situation in Guatemala lacked a news outlet. This is why uncovering the truth about massacres that happened thirty years ago and holding the perpetrators, both material and intellectual, to account is of such vital importance today.