[spacer height=”20px”]The families that Nicolás Fund for Education serves all have one Spanish word in common: superado. This word means that they have overcome or improved their condition in life. It is easy to forget that their lives were in peril only a few decades ago.
From 1960 to 1996, the Ixil people were targeted for genocide by the Guatemalan Army. Leftist guerillas fighting the Guatemalan Army also targeted the Ixil for supposedly siding with the enemy. The Ixil were caught in between and suffered mightily.
Those of you who have traveled to the Ixil with an Impact Team have probably noticed that there are almost no old men to be seen, as most of them were killed during the war years. How and why did this happen?
According to the Holocaust Museum Houston, Guatemala, “…was once at the heart of the remarkable Mayan civilization, which flourished until the 10th century AD. When Spanish explorers conquered this region in the 16th century, the Mayans became slaves in their own homeland. They are still the underprivileged majority of Guatemala’s population.
Civil war existed in Guatemala since the early 1960s due to inequalities existing in the economic and political life. In the 1970s, the Maya began participating in protests against the repressive government, demanding greater equality and inclusion of the Mayan language and culture.
In 1980, the Guatemalan army instituted “Operation Sophia” which aimed at ending insurgent guerrilla warfare by destroying the civilian base in which they hid. This program specifically targeted the Mayan population who were believed to be supporting the guerilla movement.
Over the next three years, the army destroyed 626 villages, killed or “disappeared” more than 200,000 people and displaced an additional 1.5 million while more than 150,000 were driven to seek refuge in Mexico.
Forced disappearance policies included secretly arresting or abducting people who were often killed and buried in unmarked graves.
In addition, the government instituted a scorched earth policy destroying and burning buildings and crops, slaughtering livestock, fouling water supplies and violating sacred places and cultural symbols. Many of these actions were undertaken by the army specifically through special units known as the Kaibiles (commandos specializing in jungle warfare and counter-insurgency specials ops) in addition to private death squads who often acted on the advice of the army.
The U.S. government often supported the repressive regimes as a part of its anti-Communist policies during the Cold War. The violence faced by the Mayan people peaked between 1978 and 1986. Catholic priests and nuns also often faced violence as they supported the rights of the Mayan people.
[spacer height=”20px”]After 36 years, the Guatemalan armed conflict ended in 1996 when the government signed a peace accord (the Oslo Accords) with the insurgent group, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG).
Part of the accords directed the United Nations to organize a Commission of Historical Clarification (CEH). It began work in July 1997, funded by a number of countries including the United States.
In February 1999, it released its report “Guatemala: Memory of Silence” which stated that a governmental policy of genocide was carried out against the Mayan Indians. The CEH concluded the army committed genocide against four specific groups: the Ixil Mayas; the Q’anjob’al and Chuj Mayas; the K’iche’ Mayas of Joyabaj, Zacualpa and Chiché; and the Achi Mayas.” Prosecution of people involved in this genocide is still being litigated today.”
Despite the danger, our church teams began traveling to this region of Guatemala to support the Ixil people towards the end of the war. Mercer Island Covenant made its first trip in 1991 and Bellevue Presbyterian in 1995.
The Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust remembering the 6 million Jews as well as other victims of genocides and honoring the survivors’ legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, their mission is to teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy. This is a prescient message for the world we live in today in 2017. Visit the Holocaust Museum Houston’s website. Read the entire document “GUATEMALA: MEMORY OF SILENCE” prepared by the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) established through the Peace Accord of Oslo.