El Movimiento

Photo Essay by Klaus Schoenwiese

Picking up the Pieces

The interviews you are about to read are the voices of only a handful: Hundreds of thousands Guatemalan Indigenous People were victimized during 36 years of a bloody Civil war. Operating extensively in isolated and remote areas of the Guatemalan highlands, the Guatemalan army went practically unchecked by a polarized public and its invariably corrupt governments.

While presumably going after leftist rebel forces who were challenging the government over the grave social injustices suffered by a dispossessed rural population, the army inflicted atrocities onto vast numbers of Mayan civilians.

Finally - bowing to the rising International pressure and the withdrawal of US-military aid to the government, a peace accord was signed on the 29th of December 1996, in wich both parties committied themselves to work together towards peace and economic reconcilliation in Guatemala.

Addressing the needs and losses of those who suffered most should have been the clear priority of any peace agreement. Only that - the same political forces responsible for atrocities of the past continue to shape the present political landscape of Guatemala. Once again the Indigenous population find themselves sidelined, with little help given in picking up the pieces of their shattered past...

From early on Mayans have been victimized by ever encroaching Non-Indian ruling classes. From the early European conquest to the rise of the mixed heritage Ladino culture of Central America and the modern effects of globalization, Mayans always paid the price - a price for peace as well as a price for war.

This is not to say there is no hope for areas like Nebaj, Quichè - one of the areas that have been hit hardest by the civil war.

One of many local and international organizations who are trying to tackle the practical challenges on the long way to recovery is called 'El Movimiento' - a welcome abbreviation for its official title: " El Movimiento de los Desarraigados del Norte del Quichè y su Asociación Movimiento Comunitario en el Norte del Quichè"...

Part of the grievances that grew out of the civil war are land rights conflicts between countless individuals, communities, corporations and the Guatemalan state - they urgently need to be addressed. Wrongful death, dispossession, displacement and the subsequent forced re-assignments of land are issues the 'Movimiento' as a community self help group is particularly involved in.

The nine individuals we spoke with are all part of the 'Movimiento' in one way or another: Volunteers, beneficiaries, functionaries, claimants - often with no one to claim from in the absence of funds or government acknowledgment. They live in different villages surrounding Nebaj. Some were extremely poor by any standard. Many don't express their individuality the way outsiders do: Readily.

What they would not express seemed equally revealing: Personal goals. Plans. Hobbies. Diversion. Dreams...all concepts most of us can't imagine doing without.

Let us be clear: 'Having a Dream' may be 'Priceless' in our Credit Cards world. In the world of Nebaj however, there is a price to be paid for everything. Even dreaming - may be all but unaffordable.

Read the fine print: "Not everybody qualifies"