RABINAL, Guatemala – Ramona Lajuj, eight months pregnant, and her 5-year-old son disappeared on May 14, 1982, when the Guatemalan army put them into a helicopter with an unknown destination.
Their images are displayed in a museum seeking to weave together memories of the history of the country’s bloody internal conflict.
In Rabinal, a small town in Guatemala’s Baja Verapaz province, the traces of the lengthy civil war have not yet been erased. The majority of the residents, from the Maya-Achi tribe, cannot forget. The wounds are too recent. They have not yet scarred over.
In just four years – between 1980 and 1984 – the army and paramilitaries massacred 20 percent of the town’s inhabitants, killing more than 5,000 people, most of them Indians.
Many of the bodies were never found and their loved ones have been unable to hold funerals, although these many decades later they still thirst for justice and for reconciliation with the past.
To calm that anxiety, the Association for the Maya Achi Victims of Violence founded the Community Museum of Historical Memory, the first such museum in the country where members of the community are active participants.
In one of the museum’s rooms, the victims of the civil war are remembered along with the “brothers” from different communities who, between 1980-1984, became the victims of genocide in the Rabinal area.
The faces of community and religious leaders, Maya priests, midwives, artisans, adults, pregnant women and the elderly are found on the four walls of the space.
The eyes of Marta Julia, who was on the verge of giving birth; Laureano Lorenzo, a local priest; Mateo and Magdalena – the latter a housewife – gaze out from the wall at the museumgoers. In the middle of the room, there is also a long list bearing the names of all the children and teenagers who went missing.
The whereabouts of most of them are “unknown.”
Guatemala is the Latin American country with the greatest number of people who were forcibly “disappeared” during its internal conflict: some 45,000.
Julio Chen Chen’s relatives are here. His nephew Emilio Osorio, age 9, is “disappeared.” Another 19 relatives, including brothers, uncles and others, lost their lives in various massacres. Years later, he cannot find peace. There is no justice for him.
“While military commanders, commissioners and policemen are walking around free, our relatives are dead,” he said, adding that “The government has not paid for the blood of the dead.”
The museum, which promotes local and national reconciliation to raise awareness among future generations so that such violence does not recur, also promotes the cultural identity of the Maya Achi and dignifies the war victims, denouncing the hidden mass graves and calling for the identification of skeletal remains and their dignified burial.