Guatemala's Malediction

by Raquel Pacheco | 10/31/00 6:00am

As oppressive readings and problem sets begin to absorb our focus, the academic pressures of Dartmouth become slightly like an enslaving yoke, which, if we are not watchful, can uproot us from the cosmos of an interrelated world into an intellectual vacuum. It appears that there is no time to ponder the rest of the world, the world without midterms, study groups and all the other woes of an Ivy League college. And progressively the "college on the hill" becomes the "college of the abyss." Dartmouth, there are events in other countries that are weaving a painful, marred and even sanguinary history, to which we owe acknowledgement, if not activism.

Plagued with the poverty almost endemic to Latin American countries, Guatemala's myriad conflicts stem from the incompetence of the government. Its inability to allocate resources to its population and generate a sound economy has prevented the uniform betterment of the standard of living. To battle this insufficiency, a number of activist groups have sprung up. FREPOGUA, Frente de Pobladores deGuatemala, is an association that campaigns for the right to decent housing for more than 5,800 families. In protest, FREPOGUA has been on a hunger strike since Sept. 25 outside the president's official residence. Intimidation to the cause has come in the form of shootings at dawn and attacks by a large group of ex-civil patrollers at the godly hour of 1 p.m.

The unchecked attack that took place at 1 p.m. indicates that the ex-civil patrollers had no fear of opposition, but only the subtle approval of the government. Indeed, some individuals find certain actions of the government indicative of its culpability in the attack. The ex-civil patrollers that attacked FREPOGUA were the right hand of the army during Guatemala's civil conflict. During the 36-year war that began in 1960 and whose putative denouement was signed by both indigenous insurgents and the government on December 1996, 200,000 people were killed, most (93 percent) to whom the unredeemable army and state security agents are indebted. These groups, some of which were trained by the U.S. Army School of the Americas, were responsible for massacres of 626 entire villages. Disbanded after the end of the civil conflict by the Peace Accords, these groups are still illegally active in some parts of the country, secretly operated by the government. Also, in recent public forums the government has vocalized statements claiming that human right activist groups intend to instigate unrest and instability. Furthermore, analysts in Guatemala believe that the government implied, unintentionally or not, that violence against human right activists is justified by stating that human right activists may be capable of attacking the government officials.

An iota of censorship invoked, Guatemala's press is ranked highly by international standards: thereby, journalists are the main watchmen of injustice and the main target of silencing forces. The government's poor vision of its own accountability for criminal procedures maximizes impunity, the final enraging root of justification for the formation of human right activists groups.

Carlos Ignacio Orellana, the son of one of FREPOGUA's leaders, Albertina Castillo Perez, was kidnapped Sept. 18th. The captors continue to inform Albertina of the torture inflicted on her son via her son's mobile telephone. In spite of these grave unresolved trespasses and the continued disappearance of Carlos, the hunger strike continues.

However, one factor has changed upon your reading of this article. The potential strength of this and other human rights activists' goals is increased by the mere possibility that any one reader might resolve to take action. Supporting U.S. legislation appropriating aid to Guatemala, denouncing U.S. intervention in the training of counter-insurgency corps and advocating for Guatemala's actual enforcement of criminal procedures by writing to Guatemala's government officials are some ways to strengthen a nation that is far from enshrining its citizens' dignity.

Amnesty International supplies fax numbers, email, and actual addresses of Guatemala's political officials.

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