20 years after peace accords, Guatemalans resist remilitarization of everyday life

Activists march holding a sign asking where are the disappeared during the anti-military march on June 30. (WNV/Jeff Abbott)

On the Waging NonViolence website, Jeff Abbott writes about HIJOS and the right to remember and resist in Guatemala, especially the remilitarisation of Guatemala.

Nearly every corner of Guatemala City tells the story of tragedy from 36 years of internal armed conflict that gripped the country from 1960-1996. The entrance to the Portalito Bar in the historic center, where Enersto “Ché” Guavera used to drink during his time in Guatemala, contains a plaque denoting the spot where student leader Oliverio Castañeda de Leon was assassinated by the Guatemalan military. Another plaque further up the street demarks where Myrna Mack, a Guatemalan anthropologist, was assassinated near San Sebastian Park. Eight years later, Archbishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in the church that sits in front of the park.

These spots are reminders of the violence that fell upon Guatemala during the long dark days of the war. But these markers of historical memory have not stopped the oligarchy and military elite from trying to rewrite the history of the war.

December 29, 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace accords that brought an end to the fighting. These 20 years are marked by historic revision, and the remilitarization of Guatemalan society. But a small group of activists organized under the umbrella group Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Oblivion and Silence, or HIJOS in the Spanish acronym, has sought to retain the historic memory, push back against the post-war militarization, and challenge the neoliberal project that has accelerated since the war.

“There was never a full recognition of what was done by the military [during the war] in the last 20 years,” said Francisco Sanchez, one of the founding members of HIJOS. “We began to question the discourse of reconciliation that [foreigners and non-governmental organizations] were trying to impose. We began to generate a space for people to rediscover their history, and to create our own agenda.”

He added, “At that time it cost us a lot to talk about what happened during the war. Many responded that we couldn’t talk about what was done during the war, and that ‘we have to continue constructing the peace.’ But today, 20 years after the end of the war, the topic is a much more active debate.”

The group has received numerous threats and attacks for their activism. In 2004, the group suffered from a series of attacks on their collective housing that stole musical and sound equipment, and computers. There have also been threats made against the lives of members.

These threats increased during the trial against former dictator Efrain Ríos Montt, who stood trial for the genocide against the indigenous Ixil people. HIJOS stood with the Ixiles in demanding that the former dictator be found guilty for the violence of the counterinsurgency.

In 2013, Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide. But a week later the charge was overturned, and the Guatemalan congress declared, “there was no genocide.” HIJOS in response began painting “Si Hubo Genicido,” or “There was Genocide,” across Guatemala City.

HIJOS’ work today is especially important, as the Guatemala military has slowly creeped back into everyday life, and as former military officials have found their way back into government, and work for the transnational companies that are evicting the communities from their land.

You can read the full article here on the Waging NonViolence website.

Categories: Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Solidarity in Action/Guatemala


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