Boat TransportationThe survivors of the Rio Negro massacres probably haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy the works of Angelou or Dickens. Yet, as I sit on the banks of the Chixoy dam that covers a life unforgotten and listen to a past filled with violence and exploitation, I know they understand the profoundness of the words of these two great writers.
It´s funny how words rarely give justice to experience, and in my case, most attempts end up being a futile exercise. However, my task here in Rabinal was exactly that – work with written material to help ADIVIMA´s advocacy so it could continue to help reconstruct the social fabric of communities affected by the civil war. I threw myself into work revising a book by Carlos Chen, Rio Negro survivor and ADIVIMA founder; preparing a new website; creating a monthly newsletter; and blogging about Guatemala´s social situation all in attempts to better comprehend ADIVIMA´s work and to translate it into outreach material.
Since this was my daily routine, I fancied myself to have a solid grasp on ADIVIMA´s task and goals. But similar to what I wrote in “The Economics of 18
Inches”, there was still a gap between the knowledge of the head and the experience of heart, that is until my first trip to Pacux and Rio Negro.
Hill Top View of Rio NegroThe arrival of the American scout group from the Universalist Unitarian Service Committee (UUSC) brought about this trip and the opportunity for me to get out of the office and see what I had been writing and reading about all this time. Despite the fact I had tagged along with folk in the office to visit local communities, this was special because it meant a visit to Pacux and Rio Negro, ADIVIMA´s flagship case. The Rio Negro story had it all – World Bank sponsored dam; promises of new land and livelihoods; a repressive government and brutal army; guerrilla forces; families broken by death and destruction; years of fleeing; broken promises and forced relocation; all ending in the survivors trying to pick up the pieces.
SebastianAll this was on my mind, as we entered Pacux. There, a few minutes outside of Rabinal, lived the relocated survivors of the Rio Negro massacres and their families. Congregated in the shade of a monument commemorating a March 13 massacre, we listened to the community leaders (ADIVIMA founders and constituency) tell us their history and current situation. I knew the story well, but physical presence made it impossible to flee to the comforts of convenient detachment that distance so ever provides.
It was plain to see that the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality of the Guatemalan government had taken its toll on Pacux and had force a once self-sufficient people to now scrape by on bare essentials and the generosity of community and international groups. Despite a traumatizing past and uncertain future, the attitude of our hosts reflected thankfulness, a deep faith, and a desire to continue the healing process. As we left, there was much to ponder.
We were afforded that time to think on our way to Rio Negro. Located two hours north of Rabinal, it is now the site of the Chixoy Dam and home to thirteen families that felt that life in Pacux was no longer was a viable option. To reach the “new” Rio Negro village, we piled into a motorboat for an hour journey on the dam´s lake, crossing over what used to be a valley flourishing with people, agriculture, and animals. When we disembarked, Sebastian, the village patriarch and one of 35 Rio Negro survivors, escorted us up a hill to a weather-worn, wood school perched overlooking the lake. As we settled in, he began to recount life before the waters rose and before the soldiers came. With crooked finger, he pointed out how the soldiers appeared, how houses and land were burned and flooded, where he and his companions fled, and where those captured were taken and killed. When he finished, I was emotionally-zapped, but also in awe of the resilience of the survivors. Against the odds, they had returned to the land of their ancestors and had started to rebuild a new life like the Phoenix out of the ashes.
And then it hit me. I finally understood. The words had become an experience, and the mission  had become real. Though words do not give justice, know this – there is a need (reconciliation for communities affected by violence of the civil war); there is a will (ADIVIMA). The question that remains is who will help them
on the way.
Posted By Charles Wright (Guatemala)
Posted Jul 28th, 2006