In Guatemala, truthtellers and preservers of the past face renewed hostility. Digitization projects help safeguard the archives of state violence.
Daniel Alvarado, Carlos Juárez, and Brie Gettleson write in NACLA about the importance of technology in the preservation of historical memory in Guatemala, and the importance of Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) in this endeavour.
On February 18, 1984, Guatemalan police abducted Edgar Fernando García near his home in the capital city. His family, including his 18-month-old daughter Alejandra, never saw him again. Documents later revealed that state security forces, acting on orders from top government officials and in collaboration with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, targeted García as an alleged communist threat. García, a 26-year-old engineering student and organizer at the public Universidad de San Carlos, was one of the 45,000 disappeared during the 36-year-long internal armed conflict.
In 2010, two former police officers were found guilty of forcibly disappearing and murdering García. But responsibility went higher up the chain of command, and in 2013, the former police chief and his subordinate were also convicted and sentenced for their roles in García’s disappearance. Archives were key in the prosecution.
Montenegro cofounded the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) in Guatemala City the year of her husband’s disappearance. Back in 1984, García’s wife, Nineth Montenegro, searched doggedly for her husband. “I wanted him back alive,” she testified during the 2010 trial. Together with other relatives of the disappeared, including García’s mother, Emilia García, Montenegro cofounded the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) in Guatemala City the year of her husband’s disappearance. The organization served as a support group and a source of legal aid for families victimized by political violence and widespread forced disappearances amid the country’s brutal armed conflict, then in its third decade.
Twenty-five years after the official end of the 1960-1996 conflict, efforts to establish peace and seek truth and justice for the more than 200,000 victims are still stalled and violently attacked. Guatemala’s archives contain evidence of state terror, including forced disappearance, systematic sexual violence, and genocide. As such, they are subject to repeated attempts to silence the voices within them. Archives not only play an important role in criminal trials in the aftermath of conflict, but they are also significant in continued efforts to dignify victims through affirming the truth of what happened to them. Edgar Fernando García’s case is one among approximately 3,300 documented incidents of forced disappearance in the GAM Historical Archive, and his story is an example of the ongoing need for truth and justice in Guatemala.
You can read the full article, including links and photos here, ‘Historical Memory in the Digital Age’.