As I was leaving the office at ADIVIMA on my first day of work, forensic anthropologists were bringing small coffins filled with the remains of those indigenous Mayans killed by the army in the “internal conflict” and buried in clandestine mass graves. The relatives of the deceased were gathered around the coffins placing flowers, burning incense, and holding pictures of their loved ones.
This scene is not uncommon here in Rabinal, Guatemala, and the massacres occurred over twenty years ago, in 1982. So many years later the residents of Rabinal are still experiencing the horrors of the violence and the loss that the internal conflict produced. The numerous orphans, widows, and incomplete families that the internal conflict produced are those that ADIVIMA supports and wants to advocate for.
“Nunca Mas.” It is a common phrase used by politicians, journalists, activists, as well as survivors of violence and acts of genocide. The phrase, “nunca mas,” or “never again” was uttered after the Jewish Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and is the title of an official investigation into the violence of the internal conflict here in Guatemala.*
It seems so ironic that each time that we, as humanity, are confronted with extreme violence we are outraged and vow that of course, “we will never allow this to happen again.” And yet, so easily our memory is erased, and how quickly our attention is diverted.
The peace accords enacted to end the internal conflict in Guatemala were signed in 1996, however the people here are still suffering innumerable acts of everyday violence. An anthropologist that I truly admire, Nancy Scheper Hughes, has a theory that large acts of violence are simply a grander manifestation of the structural violence of everyday inequality and injustice.**
The small everyday violences of hunger, lack of education, poor healthcare, and oppression are, unfortunately, alive and well here today in Guatemala. While these have always been problems in Guatemala, I have no doubt that they were exacerbated and worsened by the internal conflict.
We as an international audience have to remember our promise of “never again” and begin to expand our definition of the experience of violence as daily and ongoing, despite peace accords or treaties. Peace is not simply the lack of violence, it is the presence of social justice. This is what ADIVIMA is working towards, and I hope that working with them I will be able to move beyond the “nunca mas,” to a more productive attitude of “que mas” or, what more can I do?
*Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of
Guatemala. Guatemala. Never again! REHMI:
Recovery of Historical Memory Project. The
official report of the Human Rights Office,
Archdiocese of Guatemala. Maryknoll: Orbis
**Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois. (2004) Violence in War and Peace. An Anthology.
Posted By Abby Weil
Posted Jun 7th, 2007