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Thursday, June 25, 2015

April, 2016 :: Notes on Violence and Anguish :: Guatemala



After watching the documentary movie: Burden of Peace

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I use the remnants of my jet lag to record notes on possible causes of the anguish I feel when I see a movie or read a book that incorporates the tragic violence in Guatemala, historic and present. I know it stems from our Peace Corps experience there 1967-1969, and return visits in 1976, '84, '86. Yet, most of my memory and emotion is positive and peaceful. Yet again, I experience what perhaps could be post traumatic stress when forced to confront the dark sides of a place and people I love. The best I can do for now is force myself to recall events that may be root cause of the anxiety. I try not to avoid exposure to the history, because the anxiety seems to decrease with each exposure.
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The most dramatic and traumatic of the anxiety has nothing to do with Guatemala, but it was the first and most extreme. Shortly after moving to Fort Collins we walked over to Colorado State University to view the film,  Missing, which is a Hollywood drama about the effect in one family of Americans of the CIA overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile.
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Neither Marney nor I slept a wink that night, and the movie haunted my each night for weeks after--again this early morning as I think about it. Why? I hesitate to try to fully explain emotions because I think the rational sometimes lies in ignorance of the irrational. Instead, I will try to write for the first time a list of both vague and specific experiences.
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Most vague, the murders and brutalization that haunt the front pages of Guatemalan newspapers, then and now—articles full of facts but no information.
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The rare time I was in a car in Guatemala City during Peace Corps, sitting in the passenger seat as the driver misunderstood a traffic cop's hand signal and progressed part way into the intersection. The cop comes to the open window of the driver, pulls out his gun, points it at the driver's temple as he curses. I'm sure of two things had the gun fired: it would have been an accident (the cop handled the gun like he didn't know how to use it); and the bullet would have killed both driver and me.
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In the city again when fellow volunteers tell of being in the back of a shop as someone came in and shot up shop and people with a machine gun.
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The U.S. ambassador in Guatemala who had received us when we arrived became, while we were there, the first U.S. Ambassador ever assassinated.
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The fine farmer with whom we worked, an evangelico who did not drink, carrying out his volunteer “fiscal” (guardian of peace and order) duties at a wedding celebration on another farm, was murdered by a drunk wielding a 
machete .
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The conservative landowners in the area (with whom we rubbed shoulders as little as possible but who would pick us up when we missed our bus and had to walk into our site) used the then-more-peaceful El Salvador as the good example for its having killed all the peasant leaders decades earlier—"you have to cut off the head of the snake."
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Our bus driver who, when the hood of his bus opened and slammed against the windshield continued to careen at high speed before stopping.  (But then I think of him or his his colleague who saved lives by ordering everyone off the bus before descending a slippery slope onto a mud-covered bridge from which the bus slipped off, flipped over to lie suspended nose-to-tail and partially submerged across the narrow, rushing river.)
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The numerous times on an overcrowded bus that the muzzle of a sub machine gun--slung from a soldier's shoulder—pointed randomly at those of us crowded into seats nearby.
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The Nazi helmets worn by police and soldiers in Guatemala city.
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The many months of curfew when we had to find our way back to our lodging or risk being arrested by one so helmeted.
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The traumatizing days I spent in Guatemala in 1984 as part my Watershed Management team: The first morning, there is a newspaper photo and report of a woman and her children killed by a seeming random shooting through a shop window. Later, we vacate a meeting room because a booby trapped car had been found across the street—I chose not to watch as the grenade explodes and kills a policeman. The next day we take the coastal route (passing near our old PC site) to a site-visit in the highlands. I feel like a claustrophobic target in a “bullet-prove” Lincoln with two-inch thick windows. Through tropical deluge, almost running over an indigenous man, having points of recent guerrilla and army violence pointed out along the road, … ... finally the relief on leaving this country I love.
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Learning from friends who watched in 1969 as our plane took us home from Peace Corps: Multiple “bombas” of the type shot in the air at Guatemalan celebrations seemed to have targeted our airplane as it left the runway.
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It is  the hour to stop, get up, and start another good day. After thinking through and feeling the emotions of this sampled list, I know that more important to my anxiety than the items in the list are my underlying love of, connection with, and gratitude to the people and country of Guatemala. I am pleased I saw last night's movie, Burden of Peace.






(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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