Monday, November 21, 2005

A Documentary Record of Horror

In 1954, the U.S. helped depose the democratically elected regime of Arbenz in Guatamala. The National Security Archive summed up the history neatly:
Although Arbenz and his top aides were able to flee the country, after the CIA installed Castillo Armas in power, hundreds of Guatemalans were rounded up and killed. Between 1954 and 1990, human rights groups estimate, the repressive operatives of sucessive military regimes murdered more than 100,000 civilians.
Guatamala was in a sense a giant torture house where leftists, Communist sympathizers, and peasants were tortured, murdered, or "disappeared." While there is no doubt all this occurred, the NYTs reports today that finally we might know the extent of the atrocities.
The reams and reams of mildewed police documents, tied in messy bundles and stacked from floor to ceiling, look on first sight like a giant trash heap. But human rights investigators are calling it a treasure hidden in plain sight.

In Guatemala, a nation still groping for the whole truth about decades of state-sponsored kidnapping and killing, the documents promise a trove of new evidence for the victims, and perhaps the last best hope for some degree of justice.
Yet there is much to be cynical about, despite recent history of grave human rights abusers -- Milosevic, Pinochet, Hussein and hopefully one day Kissinger -- being held responsible for their crimes against humanity. As Guatmalan historian Heriberto Cifuentes sardonically put it:
"Impunity reigns in Guatemala," he said. "So whether there are documents or not, people responsible for crimes do not expect to pay for them. They have always enjoyed blanket immunity."
And so as the old saying goes, "No Justice, No Peace." Yet as I grow older and learn more, I look pitifully at such sayings, because for far too many vicitms and their families, there is never justice, only perpetual peace through death.