It is a blustery Sunday in Rabinal. My last blog in January was written from Washington, DC, where I was working in the AP office for a few weeks making connections for ADIVIMA and COCAHICH on the development front. We had a few lectures and launched the Río Negro Memorial Quilt in DC and online. My biographies of victims and weavers are hopefully just the beginning of a longer series of interviews I have scheduled with massacre survivors and families affected by Chixoy. I intend to post at least one bio here every month through the spring.
In late January, I returned to Rabinal. Back at the office, ADIVIMA is faced with progress and setbacks on all fronts. The Río Negro genocide case, which was admitted to the IACHR in March 2008, is getting closer to being elevated to the court system and the legal team is waiting for an audiencia in Washington. Everyone is positive and hopeful.
However, a landslide on January 4th at Los Chorros Mountain in the department of Quiché killed 37 people, all members of COCAHICH who have been affected by Chixoy Dam. There is serious concern that the landslide is related to the dam, as access tunnels that run directly through the Los Chorros mountain and on to Chixoy were built by INDE decades ago.
Reviewing photos of the deceased is a brutal reminder of the persistent cycles of violence and devastation that these communities have endured. Sitting in the COCAHICH office, Tono told me how he felt sick to his stomach after having to wipe blood off of the identity cards he scanned last week. These identity cards are called cédulas. They were taken from the bodies that were recovered from the rubble at Los Chorros. Soon they will be in the local museum along with photos of all the other muertos from the internal conflict.
The cédulas of these community members mirror those of the Río Negro victims in a rather prophetic way. Cédulas have been used just as much, if not more, for control as for identification. Not one of the Los Chorros victims was found without their cédula. Back in 1982, the seventy-three people from Río Negro massacred in Xococ on February 13th were called by the Army to retrieve their cédulas that day as well. These tragedies past and present, they are all pieces of the same story.
I visit the Rabinal Community Museum fairly regularly. It is filled with cédula images just like these. After having researched the lives of some of the victims, I feel like I know them, and when I go there, I feel as if I am visiting new friends. For me that is the beauty and the power of that exhibit space. The images and the stories demand that you remember them.
They also make me reflect on Luis Gonzalez Palma’s photo, La Mirada Crítica, which portrays an unidentified Mayan girl with a measuring tape around her forehead. Her gaze asks some of the same question as these three photos here, “What am I to you?” “What does my life represent?” and more provocatively, “Do you even care?” If you multiplied these three images by 100,000 ( approximately the number of deaths since the beginning of the internal conflict to date) and filled a government ministry with them, then maybe someone would take note in Guatemala City.
Back in Quiché, there are three hundred people living in a refugee camp after several villages were abandoned in January for fear of more landslides. To date, the government has done nothing aside from hold a conference in Coban last week to discuss how to help, more than a month after the event. FEMA’s response in New Orleans might warrant a five-star rating in comparison.
Studies are underway by government geologists to verify the cause of the landslide, but COCAHICH wants to hire their own geologists. As a recent article in the New York Times linked last year’s devastating earthquake in China to the impact of a nearby dam reservoir, their suspicions are not unfounded.
In March, I hope to work with the landslide affected communities and relate some of their experiences. I already know there will be so much to tell.
Posted By Heidi McKinnon
Posted Feb 22nd, 2009