Charles Wright (Guatemala)

Charles Wright (Rights Action and ADIVIMA, Guatemala): Charles completed his undergraduate degree in international affairs at Georgia Tech and taught English at an elementary school in Puebla, Mexico. At the time of his fellowship, Charles was receiving his Masters of Science in Foreign Service student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he studied foreign policy and development with a regional focus on Latin America. During his time in Washington, DC, he also interned in the US Senate and with the Cuban-American National Council.

The Real Guatemala Survivor

22 Jun

Every Monday night at 9 PM, my host family stops to catch the newest installment of CBS´s Survivor. In its latest season, Survivor took its show to Guatemala, more specifically to Tikal, home to ancient Mayan pyramids in the northern state of Péten. CBS, using its tried-and-true formula, dramatized the 40-day contest in which the participants had to ¨brave¨ the challenges of environment, hunger, and themselves to “outwit and outlast” the others for the million dollar prize. At the season´s finale, the contestants commented on their “unforgettable” and “life-changing” experiences. As these descriptions were thrown about, it made me wonder how Guatemalans would describe a dark period in their history less than 30 years ago.

Guatemalan History Lite*

It is hard to admit that as early as six months ago, I really had no clue as to the turbulence and violence that had occurred in this Central American country, but working with ADIVIMA has helped open my eyes to an integral part of its history. In the following I will try to give a brief description of the internal armed conflict during the years 1978-1984, which resulted in over 1500 separate massacres. However, please know that this summary can´t do justice to the events that occurred and is only a starter resource.

As with so many conflicts, the causes can be traced to struggles over land and power. Guatemala, even since inception in 1821, had struggled with the problems of human exploitation, government corruption, uprisings, and struggles over land ownership. However in the 1963, the Guatemalan Army threw itself into the political mix – overthrowing the government, suspending constitutional guarantees, and dissolving congress. In opposition, a guerilla movement began, but was temporarily suppressed.

In 1978, there was a surge of unrest from campesinos (field workers), who were demanding better work conditions and property rights. The situation crescendoed till the summer of 1980, when the Guatemalan Army massacred community leaders and figureheads in an area called Quiche. Again opposition groups surfaced; some were guerrilla groups that advocated violence while others were community groups that wanted to petition the government.

An internal armed conflict ensued – Army versus guerrillas – with Guatemalans caught between a scorched-earth policy and guerrilla warfare. Thus, thousands had to choose either to flee from their homes or to choosing a side, neither of which guaranteed personal safety. This vicious cycle of violence and political unrest continued throughout the 80´s, but the worst years of damages were 1980 to 1984, in which an estimated 52,000 were affected.

The effect of thousands being displaced, widowed, and orphaned has left an indelible mark on Guatemala (especially in small towns and villages). If a 40-day game show experience is described as life-changing and unforgettable, then one can only imagine the extent of the damage that years of turmoil brought to the people of Guatemala, which brings us to the work of ADIVIMA.


ADIVIMA, la Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de las Victimas de la Violencia en las Verpaces, Maya Achi (The Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces, Maya Achi), was founded by Carlos Chen, survivor of the Río Negro massacres. It is a human rights organization that works to repair the social fabric of communities affected by the internal armed conflict in the Verapaces (two states in central Guatemala). With the goal of achieving reconciliation for those affected, ADIVIMA facilitates reflection for survivors, the giving of testimonials, proper burial for those buried in mass graves, construction of monuments, and other services. It also works to empower indigenous communities in the area so that they can ensure their own human rights, thus fulfilling its namesake.

So when the next season of Survivor rolls around and the contestants start talking about unforgettable, life-changing experiences, remember it is groups like ADIVIMA that are working with the true survivors.

*Information from *Memoria, Verdad, y Esperanza*: Versión popularizada del Informe *Guatemala: Nunca Más* by REMHI (Recuperación de la MemoriaHistórica

Posted By Charles Wright (Guatemala)

Posted Jun 22nd, 2006

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