The Enormous White Elephant

Translated  by Katrina Hassan

It has been appearing on my TV now for a few weeks, but I have been avoiding it. I look for movies somewhere else but it is a documentary about the violence that affected the indigenous communities in Guatemala at the time of the dictatorship. It is easy to change the channel or pretend it is only an image on the TV screen.  More than 200,000 people disappeared, it reads in large type. I don’t want to look at it. Not now, I am watching something else, relaxing, with documentaries about culture, food, anything except the one that brings me pain. I insist, it is easy to be able to change the channel, pretend that the image doesn’t exist, at least momentarily.

I am able to say that today I do not want to watch something. What about the thousands of families that lived this violence on behalf of the Guatemalan government and had no choice? They were massacred, tortured and were disappeared. How many were there in reality? Officially it was about 200,000, but really, how many more? How many girls and women were raped? How many were impregnated because of this? What happened to them? What happened to all those families that ran away into exile? They left everything, kids, spouses, parents and siblings that were either disappeared or murdered. Many never came back and died in exile. Not only were they far from their land but far from justice. Justice is not home yet.

200,000 is written in large type and I change the channel. How did they survive all these years? I am referring to their pain, the stigma, the loss, the delirium, the wanting to shout to a racist, classist and lazy society that do not even want to pronounce the word genocide, much less recognise it. They do not admit that there were crimes against humanity committed in Guatemala. Time keeps passing and the historic memory gets dustier and dustier, abandoned, solitary, kicked out of the collective memory. We insist in speaking in the present without daring to name those who have disappeared, without speaking of justice, without reading history, without giving back what was stolen. Yes, without pretending, as a society, that those who stole land should give it back. So much was stolen from so many communities that even now they are still pilgrimaging because they are landless. Land that today has grand franchises because of the scam in collusion with the oppressing state. The very same eternal tyranny.  

How did the lives of those youths go? Now they are grandparents themselves. The emotional thread trespasses generations of kids and grandkids. It is easy to forget what questions and faces us as a society. It is as easy as changing channels on a TV. Pretending is very common, as if nothing ever happened. Others were the guilty ones and the best thing is to wipe the slate clean. What about those kids that the State disappeared in the times of dictatorship? How have they lived all these years? What happened to them? What happened to their blood relatives? Absence, emptiness, searching, frustrations, pain, insistence or resignation. 200,000 is to name a number, but, what about the clandestine burial pits? Those roaming the world somewhere about 40 years old, with a different last name and other families. Do they have nightmares? Does their subconscious speak to them about another place, other people? What about the parents that lost their kids? How were they able to live all those years? What about the torture survivors? 200,000 written on the screen again and I change the channel.

Justice is missing and impunity is perverse. We regress every time there is a presidential election. We always bet on the most vile candidate, he represents us perfectly. The most macho, the most racist, classist, pedantic, and the biggest conman, we applaud them the most. They are the mirror that reflects us. We don’t care about the rest, about what others live through. The outraged, the poor, the excluded are forced to migrate. 200,000 forty years ago. Nowadays we see armed groups that are sent by the oligarchies to steal the land completely. They take whole communities, burn their houses, their plots of land and kick them out. Just like in the times of the dictatorship. We don’t even give this a sidelong glance. It’s better to change the channel, the page, the social media. It is better to fake it, not see, than to do something about it.

This is why we drown Guatemala more each day. We allow with our passiveness and forgetfulness the vile ones to do what they wish with the most vulnerable. We could change the channel, not watch documentaries, not read books that narrate testimonials of that time. We could watch, read and wipe the slate, ignore the survivors even if they live next door or clean our houses. We could lock ourselves in our little miserable bubble of comfort, but that doesn’t eliminate the past or reality. We are walking over bones of the massacred, over the countless mass clandestine graves dotted across the country. Those bones talk. Even though we deny and try and hide them, they are the historic memory. They are much like an enormous white elephant.

Nonetheless, despite our laziness, every now and then, families who were separated by the dictatorship reunite. Many were only children. Every hug between siblings, parent and child, grandmother and grandchild, 40 years on, after thinking each other is dead, is a triumph of life against oppression. A triumph against injustice and the collective forgetfulness. Every reunification is a button of hope that tells us that no matter how powerful impunity is, the honor of life will blossom.

This was manifested recently in a reunion between sisters Teresa Pérez Ramos and Teresa Pérez Rodriguez. After 38 years separated they met again. Ms. Teresa Pérez Rodriguez disappeared during the dictatorship when she was only 9 years old. The reunion was held in the Quiché region of the municipality of Chajul on the 5th of August of 2020. The region of Quiché is one that was picked on a lot by the state in dictatorship times mainly because of its indigenous population. This reunion should have Guatemala jumping from joy.

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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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