February 10, 2011.
The discovery of a vast hidden archive may finally bring closure to those whose relatives 'disappeared' after being detained by the police or military
Alejandra Garcia's most treasured memento of her father is a faded, black-and-white photo from 1984. A handsome 27-year-old, in jeans and a check shirt, he grins contentedly while holding his wife, Nineth, who in turn is cradling their newly born first child.
Not long after the portrait was taken, Alejandra's father, Fernando, disappeared. On 18 February, he failed to turn up to a celebration at the family home in Guatemala City. Nineth spent days frantically searching the local streets. But he was never seen again.
At the time, Guatemala was in the throes of a 36-year civil war which ranks as one of the most brutal conflicts of the 20th century. More than 200,000 people died, from a population which at the start of hostilities was about four million. Roughly 80 per cent of the casualties were suspected left-wing dissidents. Many were executed, without trial, by soldiers or police officers loyal to the country's ruling military junta.
Fernando Garcia, a student activist whose only crime was taking part in several demonstrations against the government, was one such victim. In the days after his disappearance, witnesses came forward to claim he had been snatched off the streets by men who appeared to be out-of-uniform police officers. Then he was bundled into an unmarked pick-up truck and driven away.
It has been 28 years since Fernando went missing, and almost 16 years since peace accords which turned Guatemala into a functioning, if somewhat troubled, democracy. But Alejandra and her family are only now on the verge of nailing those responsible. Hector Bol de la Cruz, the country's former police chief, is about to face a belated trial for ordering his detention and apparent killing.
The charges against Bol de la Cruz, now 71, represents a landmark moment in Guatemala's long-running effort to draw a line under its past. In a country which remains hobbled by corruption, with a track record of treating dishonest officials with impunity, he becomes the first police chief to ever be prosecuted for his actions.
Read the rest here.
Comment: The ugly past cannot simply be made to disappear even where the process of confrontation is arduous and clouded by political interference and corruption.
The truth will be known in life's balance because those who were made to disappear in Guatemala continue to resist in deed and in memory.