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20:56, 21 December 2017

Santa Avelina Journal: Victims of Guatemala’s Civil War Are Laid to Rest, three Decades Later

Santa Avelina Journal: Victims of Guatemala’s Civil War Are Laid to Rest, 3 Decades Later


Relatives carrying coffins with the remains of 172 individuals who died for the duration of the Guatemalan civil war and have been exhumed in 2014. The remains are becoming interred in a cemetery in Santa Avelina, Cotzal, Guatemala.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

SANTA AVELINA, Guatemala — Juana García Gómez, 75, wept more than two coffins placed side by side in the sports hall of the Santa Avelina school in the western highlands of Guatemala.

Inside one particular lay the remains of her brother Juan, who had been abducted at age 50 far more than three decades earlier. He had been located days after on the side of a rural highway, killed by a firearm.

The second coffin bore the name of her mother, María, who, at 90, had demanded the release of her son from a nearby military detachment. Rather, the soldiers beat her.

Her most significant injury was a broken femur she died shortly soon after studying the fate of Juan, with gangrene in her leg.

The two coffins had been amongst 172 containing exhumed remains of people who had died as a result of a military approach carried out by the government in the Maya highlands throughout the bloodiest period of the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.

Juana García Gómez, 75, mourning over the remains of her mother and brother.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Instances

The remains have been recovered from the countryside in August 2014, and the forensic analysis has finally been completed. In November, the folks of Santa Avelina, a modest village close to San Juan Cotzal, were preparing to inter their loved ones.

They had been awaiting a dignified interment for more than 30 years.

Relatives and youngsters watching as a forensic anthropologist arranged the bones of Francisco Cordoba, who died, for lack of health-related care, in 1982 at age 80.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

In the course of the war, 70 to 90 percent of the villages in this region have been destroyed, and 60 percent of the population was displaced, forced to flee and seek refuge in the neighboring mountains, according to a United Nations truth commission. The United Nations investigation estimated that about 7,000 of the Ixil, a Maya group, had been killed.

Just before 1982, Santa Avelina didn’t exist on the map. In its spot, several tiny villages surrounded a land sown with sugar cane. The region was known as Kabnó, “the place of honey” in Ixil, a Mayan language.

Musicians playing at the wake of Juan Medina Poma, 24, who was killed by the army in 1982.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Instances

As leftist guerrillas moved their organizing away from cities and into the Maya highlands in the late 1970s, the army identified the Ixil as a base of support for the rebels, even even though the insurgents never established a powerful presence in the countryside.

The dictator Gen. Romeo Lucas García ordered the very first military sweep into the highlands, in late 1981, attacking villages in a approach created to terrorize the civilian population and destroy any attainable support for the guerrillas.

The so-named scorched-earth policy against the Ixil intensified below Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, who took control of the government in March 1982. The army massacred entire villages, razing buildings and destroying livestock.

Basic Ríos Montt, who was convicted of genocide in 2013 for the Ixil massacres, described the slaughter as “draining the sea the fish swim in.” His genocide conviction was thrown out on a technicality 10 days following the trial, but a new trial is underway. At 91, he is also ill to attend.

General Ríos Montt also broadened the counterinsurgency policy to establish control more than the survivors. He forced them into what were referred to as “model villages,” requiring them to perform for meals and pressing them into civil defense patrols, paramilitary groups that had been typically ordered to support the military massacres.

He was deposed in August 1983, and though the pace of the massacres slowed under his successor, Gen. Óscar Mejía Victores, the model villages persisted under military manage.

Relatives searching at victims’ clothes and personal objects.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times
Juana Sambrano Perez, 63, searched for the clothes of her brother, Antonio, who died in 1978 at age 26.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times
The personal objects discovered in graves have been laid out with the hope that relatives could recognize them and the owners’ remains could be buried with a name.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

Santa Avelina bears deep marks from this era. The 172 recovered remains have been these of individuals who died between 1978, early in the army’s incursions into the area, and 1986. Of them, 15 suffered a violent death, killed by firearm or machete.

More than half of the victims have been young children — 14 newborns, 66 toddlers and 28 children between the ages of four and 12 — who died of hunger and illness. They had been most vulnerable to the harsh conditions of the mountains and of the model villages, exactly where access to meals and medicine was restricted.

Magdalena Perez, 45, watching a forensic anthropologist lay out the bones of her sister, Ana Perez Alonso, who died in 1983 at age 13 for lack of medical care.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

DNA evaluation was employed to match the genetic profiles of 41 victims with their families. Anthropologists also showed the clothes of the deceased to the residents of Santa Avelina with the hope that they would be in a position to recognize their loved ones the families of 67 victims identified them that way.

Though there was no guarantee that the remains had been those of their relatives, the families have been in a position to close the circle of grief in some measure, and inter the remains with 1st and last names.

The remaining have been interred as “XX,” not identified. There is still hope of identifying them via future DNA analysis of living relatives, so each and every burial niche in the cemetery bears a code for the remains and their genetic profiles.

The remains of 84 other victims have also been located in large frequent graves in the old military installation of Xolosinay — victims of torture who have been executed by soldiers. Among them was Ms. García Gómez’s husband, Juan Lopéz, who was 60 when he was abducted by the army.

She was lastly able to bury him final year.

The accords ending the civil war in 1996 laid out different reparation measures for the victims, but advocacy groups say these are not being put into spot.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is covering the charges of coffins and the burial niches because “a dignified burial is a humanitarian priority,” said Francesco Panetta, a spokesman for the Red Cross mission in Guatemala.

Interring remains at the public cemetery in Santa Avelina.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

Regardless of its tiny size, Guatemala has the second-highest quantity of disappearances from war in Latin America, soon after Colombia. It is estimated that 45,000 folks have vanished the remains of just more than 6,000 have been found and exhumed.

Guatemala is a nation where the wounds stay open.

Relatives spent time with the remains of their loved ones just before the interment.CreditDaniele Volpe for The New York Times

Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting from Mexico City.


Published at Thu, 21 Dec 2017 17:37:19 +0000

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