August 22nd, 2004

raven's wing

Guatemala, ex PACs

Guatemala underwent a 36-year civil war, from 1960 to 1996, during which time, lots of people were killed, forced out of their homes, and had many other awful things happen to them. One of the most awful periods was in the early 80s, during the time that Ríos Montt (who ran for the presidency last fall, and lost) was in power, and after.

Montt wasn't elected. He took power in a military coup, and ran the country through force and fear. It was during this time that evangelical xianity really blossomed in Guatemala; every Sunday, the only program available on the radio was the country's "president", preaching his brand of small-minded religion. Needless to say, he had massive support from the Pat Robertson and other such characters here in the US, and that was bad news for Guatemala.

One of the saddest aspects of the civil war was the formation of the Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil (PAC) ((Civil Self-defense Patrols)), when the military forced men into service to "protect" their towns and villages against the guerrillas who had made impressive headway in rural areas. The military would go to a village, slaughter people, steal animals, rape women, and kidnap men to "train" them to join the PACs. When the men returned to their brutalized villages, they'd been trained in the ways of the military, and they, in turn went to other villages to "recruit" more members of the PACs.

Villages who wished to remain neutral, between the sword of the guerrillas and the wall of the army, were, as you might imagine, crushed. The PACs grew to become a massive power, especially in rural areas, where the army used them as the primary force to counter the guerrillas. They participated in genocidal massacres against indigenous villages, a horror made breathtakingly worse by the fact that the PACs were largely made up of indigenous men, brainwashed and killing their own.

The members of the PACs weren't paid, except in the currency of their life, and, of course, some degree of brutal power. When the war ended, the PACs were supposed to be disbanded, their former members were to return to their villages and "normal" life. What did this mean, but that villages, slowly being repopulated with returning refugees and the stubborn, poor people who had never left, were also being repopulated with the former members of the PACs. That is to say, my new neighbor might well be the man who killed my children and kidnapped my husband because he refused to participate. He might have been a friend once, and now... well, could he be a friend again? Whatever the case, he is now my neighbor, and I have to live with that.

The agreement between the guerrillas and the government that ended the civil war didn't make provisions for members of the PACs, many of whom were damaged mentally or physically, and who now feel disenfranchised by the current political process. During the past few years, they have not disbanded as they were expected to do. Instead, they remain a chaotic force in the political process. Their goal is to be recompensed for their involuntary "service" to the government.

While I was in Guatemala last fall, they shut down roads during the pre-election campaign, in an effort to make their grievances known. They have also caused airport shutdowns, and other massive disruptions from time to time. Last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that paying the ex-PACs would be unconstitutional. Of course, that wasn't the end of it, and a recent law passed by the congress has allocated $420 million (US) dollars to pay members of the ex-PAC.

On the one hand, this seems terrible. Guatemala is constantly short of funds, schools are in massive disrepair, homelessness is a huge problem, and here they are, paying off a group of formerly government-sanctioned thugs. On the other hand, it's clear to me that the members of the PACs were victims of a kind of crime that is unusual in its scope of brutality. First, many of these men were removed involuntarily from their homes, then they were physically brutalized, and, finally, they were mentally brainwashed until they were capable of repeating the process on other people. Their recompense for this was their lives.

Do these men deserve to get paid for their "work" in this service? No. But if the only way that they're going to be receive reparations is through this "back pay"? Perhaps.

Of course, this is all likely moot, since corruption is such a problem. If each former member is due to receive approximately $600, most likely the higher-ups (and most brutal) will receive the vast bulk of the money, the rest of which may or may not trickle down to the actual victims, who will be lucky if they see $100, or even $50.

Decir "no"

I plan on training someone the last week of October for two or three weeks. WE have a few candidates, but are wondering if you are interested as well?

¡Hola, Gabriel! ¡Saludos a todos/as!

He pensado mucho en la posibilidad de regresar a Xela para trabajar para el Proyecto. A mí me gustaría hacerlo, pero siento mucho que no sea posible ahorita. Espero regresar para visitar con mi papa, tal vez en diciembre, pero por ahora, tengo responsabilidades aquí en Boston y no puedo salir para trabajar por un año o más en este momento.

Espero tener la posibilidad en el futuro. Tal vez, después de la salida del proximo coordinador, pueda regresar para trabajar. ¡Ojalá salieras en un momento mejor para mi, Gabriel!

Por favor, da mi tristeza a la colectiva. Espero que ellos me piensen la proxima vez.

También, por favor, comparta mis saludos a todos allá. Espero que todos estén bien y que nos veamos pronto.