Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In the spring of 1983, Guatemala was entering the 29th year of a war with itself. Beginning in 1954, after the CIA engineered overthrow of their democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, several Maya groups organized to fight the large landowners. Guzman, who was known as the "soldier of the people", had been elected in 1950 on a platform of social reform, but was ousted for trying to carry out a land redistribution that would have infringed on U.S. business interests, particuarly those of the United Fruit Company. Washington's chosen successor, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas, was assassinated three years later. When I made these pictures in 1983, the military had remained in power since the 1950's and was engaged in a war of genocide against the Maya people, who they feared supported the guerrilla forces in the jungles outside the metropolitan areas of the country. In the area of the country known as El Peten we visited an abandoned village, Dos Eres, where we found the skeleton remains of the men and boys who had been taken out in to the jungle by the army and murdered. The women and girls had been executed and then their bodies were thrown down the village well which was then filled in with dirt. The landscape and people of Guatemala presented an almost surreal quality to my camera. We were there during the celebration of Easter and the religious celebrations around the country provided an incongruous backdrop to our search for proof that the government was murdering its own people. Rios Montt, the then current president , was a retired career soldier and born again Christian who had been placed in power by a group of young army officers. Three months after our visit, Montt was overthrown by yet another military coup. Thirteen years later the war finally ended and Guatemala is a more or less peaceful country. The people who suffered during all those years of war are currently trying to find out what happened to their friends and relatives who disappeared during that terrible time.