FOUND WORDS

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Beauty that Hurts: Life and Death in Guatemala by W. George Lovell

An excerpt on a massacre by the civil defense patrol of San Jose in 1982:

Dona Magdalena got in touch with CONAVIGUA through her church. CONAVIGUA, in turn, engaged the interest of the forensic scientist Clyde Snow, whose research team took the case on as part of an attempt to come to terms with Guatemala's unwholesome past.

People in San Jose knew where to look. At the bottom of a ravine not far from Dona Magdalena's home only a thin layer of soil covered her son and five other victims. She watched with members of her family as the bones were unearthed. A dozon or so locals also looked on. Exhumation allowed positive identification and the opportunity to allay grief with a decent burial. The remains of Dona Magdalena's son now rest in peace. The remains of her husband have yet to be found.

"Es raro," [her grandson] Paulino says. "It's strange. We know who killed my father. They are our neighbours. One lives right over there and two others just up there." He gestures with his arms this way and that, aware that his grandmother is listening.

"When we meet them out walking, we still say hello," he says. "We talk with them, but not about my father. He's never mentioned. We talk about other things: animals, the price of food, how the corn is doing. They know we know. But they never have been brought to trial. I don't know why."

Dona Magdalena sighs, then picks up her trenza and starts to weave.

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