The Million Dollar Question: Genocide in Guatemala

by Diana Pastor

Last month, the House of Representatives of Guatemala voted on a non-binding resolution to determine whether or not genocide occurred in this country. The response was that more than 90% of congressmen and women agreed that there was not any attempt to commit genocide during the years of the armed conflict. An array of different reactions and views ensued on the radio-waves, newspapers and social networks (now the most immediate means of expression for many Guatemalans). Perhaps the most pertinent comment I heard during the debate was from a doctor, who said: “That genocide existed or not is not a matter that needs determining by the Congress, but by a court with a competent jurisdiction for the case.”

So the million dollar question is: was there or was there not a genocide in Guatemala? For some of us the answer is obvious, but nonetheless there is a divide of opinions across the country, with tempers running high and conflicting criteria at work. There´s also a great deal of lack of awareness on the subject, and a lot of manipulation by the media, the government and the powers-that-be, both against and in favour of the different arguments. Radical groups on both sides try to disprove and sabotage any argument that goes against what they believe. Meanwhile, many Guatemalans find themselves adrift, not knowing what to think.

In order for people to be able to form a substantiated opinion on the genocide in Guatemala, first of all they need to understand what this word means. Then, they need to learn about the history of the conflict or remember what happened in those years, so they can think for themselves, reflect and then form their own, logical judgments from their analysis. All of this becomes a challenge in a society that is accustomed to following the ideology of the masses, which does not have a culture of dialogue and that can quickly become discriminatory and often selfish. On occasion, I’ve heard some people say “violence today is worse than what we experienced during the war.” Many Guatemalans struggle to understand that the violence of past decades compared to what they are currently living is neither better nor worse, just different; and that the latter is the product of the former.

Whether or not there was genocide in Guatemala is a question that should be open to debate. But this debate needs to be reasoned, critical and well-informed. What is certain is that in order to be able to rebuild this country, justice must be served for past crimes. Even if the government argues that the entire war was necessary “in the name of anti-communism and national security”, they cannot ignore tangible evidence that something very serious happened here, as manifested through all of the bones of those who were killed and through the testimonies of those that survived one of the most horrific periods that this country has gone through.


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