A Day for Remembering

Cantel, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Today, I went with my dad and K’iche’ teacher to visit his hometown, Cantel, and met his beautiful, lovely wife and daughters. He showed us around many beautiful views of the city in the hills, and in good teacher fashion told us about the history of the fabric factory, the resistance to which resulted in the government military massacring the community leaders in 1884, in front of the entire town population on a Sunday morning. The government appropriated communal land in order to build the factory and revitalize the economy. With the leaders died the resistance.

Today is “Dia del Ejercito” in Guatemala “Army Day” to celebrate the military. Many of you know that I have spent the past 10 years of my life being actively involved in human rights work regarding Guatemala, specifically around historical memory and truth and justice efforts, and U.S. Foreign policy, past and present. 

As I sit in the language school, military planes fly overhead, and cannons go off in the distance, ironically in front of the “Cristo Vive” (“Jesus Lives”) building. This day is known officially as the day to celebrate the military, and unofficially in the past 10 years by human rights and social justice groups as the day to remember the disappeared, “Dia de los Desapariciones Forzadas” (Day of the Forced Disappearances) or “Dia de las Víctimas del Conflicto Armado” (Day of the Victims of the Armed Conflict).
I am curious to see the “celebration” of the military but don’t want to be seen as showing support. I discuss with my teacher, explain my curiosity, but then we both decide that my curiosity would be interpreted as support, which is certainly something I don’t want. 

I’m thinking about the massacre of 1884, and how 150 years later, massacres against people resisting the (state or corporate) appropriation of communal land is still happening. 

I am wondering how Guatemalans feel about the “celebration” of the military. How nearly every single Guatemalan suffered at least to some degree during the conflict. The military airplane flying overhead, and the cannons going off in the distance and how those sounds must move in some people a fear, a remembrance of past violence, pain, the loss of loved ones, livelihood. How those sounds for some must offend, and terrorize. Wounds wrenched open. 

My teacher agrees that the sound of the cannons and airplanes bring memories of oppression, violence, and trauma. I suppose to others it might bring comfort and pride. I don’t know, but I suspect so. He also agrees. 

I am grateful for this opportunity to learn, to bear witness, to make new friends, and to continue to grow old friendships. I am grateful for the guiding path…

Cannons at the “Cristo Vive” building on the hill

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