Helping to keep the Historical Memory
By: Jason Klarl
Can you give us your name and the title of your position and the duties you perform?
I am Diego de la Santidad, founder of ASOMOVIDINQ Association of Victims’ Movement for the Integrated Development of northern. My position is director of the same organization.
Our mission is to accompany victims who survived the Internal Armed Conflict (a.k.a. The Thirty-Six Year War)*. Because there were many people of the region here who were massacred, we do investigations of human rights violations. Currently we are carrying out exhumations and at the same time promoting a process of development for communities affected by the Conflict.
The majority of work is not only focused on the idea of historic memory based in truth and justice, but also in reparations and no repetition. Our work consists of four principal core ideas which we carry out as an organization to satisfy demands of people who are from affected communities in this area. We also organize marches in the municipality. We cover thirteen areas where the Guatemalan military operated. And we accompany visitors from the region, and the municipality and also, their families in order to elucidate the truth and provide some justice regarding what happened in the 1980’s up to the signing of the Peace Accords.
We also focus our efforts on searching for alternatives to satisfy the regional victims’ needs. We look for ways to manage productive projects and infrastructure projects, because in the 1960’s family housing was burned, families’ agricultural production was destroyed, and they lost their assets such as livestock and crops. The military’s leveling of the area harmed families and the region.
We are fighting against poverty and hunger. That is why arranging for development is necessary in each community. As a result of this, we have a cultivation project of Hass avocado and peach seedlings. We receive cooperation and international assistance because the state has not provided any reparation for the devastation during the Conflict as was set forth in the Peace Accords. If we were to do an evaluation of that, the result would show that its implementation is very behind schedule and has not been completed. We have basically been doing this work since people were first affected 23 years ago.
I am very pleased because families have responded positively in their struggle, demanding justice and finding solutions. It is not only the problems coming out of the Conflict that have affected people. Currently, the region has been damaged by indiscriminate logging which is authorized for the power generated from waterways for national companies. Another problem regarding water are the riverways and springs which transnational companies want to control for themselves. For example, hydroelectrics is a business for entrepreneurs because they sell the energy to other countries and the community receives almost nothing — or absolutely nothing.
People are not in agreement with what’s going on, for example with mining and the destruction of forests . . . our wealth from natural resources is being stolen. Another problem is that there are many victims who survived and have migrated to the U.S. because they are looking for a way to meet their individual basic needs. And the most worrisome is that the government of Guatemala does not resolve anything and does not heed what was set out as requirements in the Peace Accords. That is a long-standing problem.
Activities that we do are directed at groups, our goal being to distribute ourselves among five communities. During a year and a half, we have provided training workshops in truth (and reconciliation)* which are about relying on memory . . . . People have not forgotten what they suffered during the Thirty-Six Year War. There were massacres, forced displacement of people, disappearances of children. So for this reason we are putting out all this information. The United Nations has been very helpful in speaking with the families to establish evidence of what occurred. Historic memories are never forgotten. We witnessed it and we live with it.
Our economic, social and cultural fabric were affected but we continue in the struggle. Yesterday we participated in an international forum on climate. It focused on the territory and on the earth as a whole. I realized that not only Guatemala suffers from social and environmental problems, but that all countries are faced with these problems too. And they present insecurity, poverty, lack of land, and exploitation for mining and hydroelectrics, and similarly, devastating deforestations. Currently, we have a new UN program (FAO) which deals with family health. It’s a program which coordinates with many other organizations, community leaders and authorities regarding hereditary issues. Also, in the village of Pal, for example, work is already starting up on a small housing project.
I think most families value the work we are doing with them, especially because they were the ones affected by the Conflict. Others who supported the army and repressed the people during that time are against the work we do, but still we are united and ready to continue working in the communities.
Why do you think so many people deny there was genocide in Guatemala? And whar do you think can be done to not only educate about genocide but also break down the argument against its occurrence?
We have argued with many people and many of them deny genocide because they are relatives of members of the military. There exists an ideology about militarism. The paramilitary never acknowledges it, but certainly, the truth has come out. It has been demonstrated by a number of important victims. For us, justice exists, Rios Montt was sentenced for committing genocide and that was an important achievement. Even though he is already dead, for us the sentence lives on in Guatemalan history. Many people are pleased with the achievements made, especially the victims, because a just result has been reached, and the positive for us is to let them know we can defend human rights.
What vision do you have for the future, not only for the organization but also for the population it serves?
We want to continue finding out about historic memory, although there are already books and memoirs, we have now decided we can compile histories that go farther beyond these, especially at a nationally-wide level. For that reason we need human rights organizations to get involved, uncover information and make an impact in these areas. Unfortunately, we do not have enough resources for wide range mobilization to reach the distant corners where there are towns that lack infrastructure. But we can make alliances with donors and with the media so that they expose the facts. At the same time we continue to prepare community leaders to orient the people and advise them so that the truth reaches isolated populations.
What we want is peace for our peoples, that people fight for their rights, that they have access to housing and where to plant crops . . . . Children are the ones most affected now because their future land was taken from them. I want to send a shout out and an expression of gratitude in the name of the survivors of the Internal Armed Conflict in the region and the municipality of Gaspar Chajul; and request that this information be made public, and that you assist us in maintaining memory of the truth, and that there is justice and reparation so that real development will come to the communities.
Cover photo: Women in a march demanding justice for the internal armed conflict.