Today marks the 15th anniversary of Bishop Juan Gerardi’s assassination in Guatemala City. He was killed two days after the release of Guatemala, Nunca Más (Guatemala Never Again), a report on the victims and effect of the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. He referred to the report as a “collective memory,” an account of the conflict through the stories of those who suffered.
Gerardi sought to tell the story of the least and the lost, the hurt and forgotten. He paid for it. Not many people want to hear that story – not here, not anywhere.
During Semana Santa we had the opportunity to watch a procession from the cathedral where Gerardi served. We stood a mere 5 meters from the site where he was brutally murdered, and we watched an image of Christ pass by, bloodied and carrying his cross. It was somber. We couldn’t help but feel the blood of the martyrs calling out, “don’t let my death be in vain.”
I’m beginning to read Guatemala, Never Again (the abridged English translation), and it’s tough. I have to stop after each victim account just to process, to imagine the pain, the fear, the uncertainty, the trauma. But the story needs to be told, and I want to honor the martyr who gave his life to tell it.
I find it ironic that this 15 year anniversary falls during the trial of Rios-Montt, the man who was leader during the bloodiest time of the conflict. For the past month, victim after victim has been giving testimony – and two days ago all that testimony was discredited as the trial was set back 5 months – and all that’s unfolded in that time is scratched from the record. Some claim that Rios-Montt can’t be tried for genocide because genocide never occurred. Reading just a page of Guatemala, Nunca Mas refutes that argument. Google Rios-Montt and you’ll find that the issues surrounding the tril are complicated, complex, confusing.
That doesn’t change the fact that we need to seek justice, seek peace, and listen to the voices of the victims.
If you’re interested in learning more about different aspects of Guatemala’s story, here are some excellent options:
1. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala – Based on unclassified CIA documents, this book outlines the history of the US’s involvement in Guatemala – overthrowing the government and installing the dictator who threw the country into its 36 year internal armed conflict (all over the price of fruit).
2. The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? – Gerardi’s investigation of the violence that occurred during the armed conflict led to his death. Francisco Goldman follows the twists and turns of the investigation of Gerardi’s death (at one point the main suspect was a…..dog) that leads to a monumental conviction of the intellectual authors of the crime.
3. Guatemala, Never Again – the REHMI report, abridged and in English