Shedding Light/La Claridad de la Luz

A decades-old photo of townspeople in the Guatemalan village of  Dos Erres watching their children at play.

En ésta foto vieja, la gente del pueblo guatemalteca de Dos Erres mira como los niños juegan.

 

This post is not in my usual line of wry or lightweight observations. I’ve been thinking about writing this entry for some time now, ever since I heard the account of “What Happened at Dos Erres” on the radio program This American Life. Here’s the synopsis: “In 1982, the Guatemalan military massacred the villagers of Dos Erres, killing more than 200 people. Thirty years later, a Guatemalan living in the US got a phone call from a woman who told him that two boys had been abducted during the massacre—and he was one of them.”

The program was not easy to listen to. I had the podcast on as I exercised at the rec center and gradually had to stop what I was doing. At one point in the program, the interviewer is talking with Tranquilino Castañeda, an elderly villager who happened to be away on the day of the massacre and returned to find his pregnant wife and nine children slaughtered. Don Tranquilino suddenly interrupts the interviewer to ask if he can tell him the names of his dead children. And then he begins listing name after name (minute 38:00 in the program).

As much as “What Happened at Dos Erres” is a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man (and woman), it is also a remarkable story of the perseverance and courage of a few Guatemalans to bring the crime to light and the cooperation of several journalistic organizations (ProPublica, This American Life, and Fundación MEPI in Mexico City) to piece together the events that took place and help bring about a kind of resolution. Because the story does end on a hopeful note. One of the two abducted boys— Oscar, who was raised by the family of the lieutenant who oversaw the massacre—is reunited with his father Don Tranquilino (see video below).

For those who prefer to read rather than listen to the story, here are links to the This American Life transcript of the program as well as the ProPublica article “Finding Oscar” and its wealth of resources. For Spanish learners, these materials are also available en español via the links in the next half of this post. The MEPI website also includes an interview with Don Tranquilino in Spanish.

In the Dos Erres massacre, many of the victims—women and children—were dumped alive into a well.
En la masacre en Dos Erres, muchas de las víctimas—madres y niños—fueron arrojados vivos en un pozo.

Una historia de inhumanidad, justicia y esperanza. En Guatemala en 1982, durante una época de insurgencia y contrainsurgencia, los Kabiles, un grupo de comandos especiales, mataron a más de 200 personas en el pueblo de Dos Erres. Por muchos años, este crimen estaba escondido y olvidado, pero gracias a la determinación de investigadores guatemaltecos y la cooperación de organizaciones periodísticos en México y EEUU, la historia ha salido a la luz.

Me enteré de la masacre en un programa del radio This American Life (una transcripción en español es disponible aquí). Era difícil escuchar los detalles espantosos de lo pasó en Dos Erres y yo tuve que dejar de escuchar en un momento emocional. Ocurrió durante una entrevista con Don Tranquilino Castañeda, un anciano que por suerte había estado fuera del pueblo el día del masacre para visitar a sus parientes. Don Tranquilino hizo una petición repentina al entrevistador. “¿Puedo dar los nombres de mis hijos?”, preguntó. Y entonces recitó la lista: Esther, Etelvina, Enma, Maribel, Luz Antonio, César, Odilia, Rosalba y Alfredo, el menor.

La investigación de Dos Erres encontró prueba viviente de los crímenes terribles que ocurrieron en el pueblo. El menor de los hijos de Don Tranquilino había sido secuestrado por un teniente y fue criado por la familia del soldado. Alfredo, ahora conocido como Óscar, vive actualmente con su familia en Massachusetts en EEUU. Los investigadores guatemaltecos ocasionaron la reunión familiar entre Don Tranquilino y su hijo menor (ve el video mas abajo). Puedes leer el artículo “Buscando a Óscar: Masacre, Memoria y Justicia en Guatemala” en el sitio de Fundación MEPI donde puedes escuchar una entrevista con Don Tranquilino también.

Debatí con mi mismo sí o no escribir una entrada sobre Dos Erres. Pero al fin y al cabo decidí que sí, vale la pena llamar la atención a la dedicación de los investigadores y los periodistas y también el rayo de esperanza con que termina la historia. Una cosa más. No es mi intención señalar Guatemala como un ejemplo de un país cuyos funcionarios cometen crímenes. Reconozco que los funcionarios de mi país han cometido atrocidades también. De hecho, apenas mi propia estado de Colorado tiene dos memoriales que conmemoran masacres—la de los indígenas americanos en Sand Creek y otra de los mineros en huelga y sus familias en Ludlow.

Evidencia de la falta de humanidad es alrededor de nosotros cada día. Pero si buscamos, podemos encontrar evidencia también de humanidad y coraje y perseverancia y quizás al final justicia.

One response to “Shedding Light/La Claridad de la Luz

  1. What do I think? I think nearly every day I am reminded of man’s inhumanity to man (and woman). I find the reminders painful and disspiriting. I also think the lack of outrage, particularly when innocents are slaughtered as part of an ideologically or politically driven crusade, corrodes the morality of a culture. Killings for profit or even caused by some twisted psychological abberation are condemned by everyone, but not massacres with a “purpose.” These crimes always have cheerleaders.

    When I walked around Hiroshima, I found myself thinking that in one sense the “victors” of that slaughter lost while the victims “won.” Japan’s military culture became a source of shame, while military culture in the U.S. blossomed. We developed a reverence for those who could ignore the abominable results of their actions, praising those with the “guts” to sacrifice innocents for “larger” aims. This sort of willingness to kill innocents has become a prerequisite for national office.

    Implicitly, I believe, you are saying that these sorts of crimes are part of human nature: man’s inhumanity to man is a part of being human. We are reminded of that quality but can’t eliminate it. Even if I am mistaken in attributing that view to you, I think it is accurate.. We can resist these things, eliminate our support for them, and reduce our complicity, but as long as humans are stirred by ideas, the routine slaughter of sons, daughters, parents, friends, spouses, and neighbors will continue.

Whadya think? ¿Qué pienses?

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