This dialog was held in Spanish. A lot of the feeling, the pain and sorrow is lost in my translation.
The first time I saw my distant cousin was more than 16 years ago. They lived on a remote, poor farmers community in the province of Huehuetenango, their settlement was very near the Mexican border.
When I met them, we were looking for my aunt. She, at the moment, was not living with them. She was living in Sayaxche Peten. After a couple of days at this humble community, one of my distant cousins volunteers to take us to my aunt’s place in Sayaxche. Getting there on the Guatemala side was very difficult. My cousin tells us is better to cross to the Mexican side (illegally of course) and move faster by bus there. And then, cross back to the Guatemalan side.
16 years later I get to see my cousin once again. Now he lives in Sayaxche, Peten.
After a couple of days of staying at his house, I took him for some beers at a local Tienda (small convenience store).
He did not drink much. I remember him having a glass or two.
Eli of course will have this classic Guatemalan pairing: Cerveza, Limon, Chicharrones (beer, lime and fried porkskins).
We spend the entire evening talking and talking. He tells me about his time living in Huehuetenango. Some of that misery I did witness when we visited them there.
My cousins were children when the war reached their community. We used to crawl under the tables when we were bombed by the army, he tells me. His eyes are watering.
We were not guerrillas, we had nothing to do with the war, but they were just bombing all the time.
One day we could see smoke coming from a neighboring village. The next day another village was up in flames. Some had survived the slaughter and came to our village seeking refuge. He told us the army was burning everything. “Hicieron matazones” They killed many he tells them.
People at my cousin’s village were not afraid. We had nothing to do with the war, so nothing should happen to us they believed.
A couple of days later another village close by was massacred and burnt to the ground, erase from this Earth.
We are next we were thinking. Horrible accounts were coming from these scorched villages.
A military vanguard arrives and the elders of the village are quick to go meet them and talk to them.
My cousin goes with the group and listens to the conversation. My cousin almost chokes when he telling me this: “They told us: we should not worry because we are not Indians.” People at this poor community were mestizos, a mix of European and Natives descent. The neighboring communities were mostly Mayan and being Mayan sealed their fate.
After the destruction around, patrols of guerrillas would come to our village and ask if we needed anything. They constantly asked us to join them.
I remember a beautiful guerrilla girl. She always came to me, she really wanted me to join them. She told me: come with us and I’ll be your wife. I was considering doing it but my mother would not let me.
The Pacs were a paramilitary force created by the army to “protect” villages against guerrilla incursions.
My cousins relatives were forced into joining them Pacs.
One day my cousin’s brother –just a child- was playing with another child. He takes (steals) a toy from that child and the child goes complaining to his older brother; a member of the PACS. He takes his riffle and shoots my cousin’s brother.
The entire family could not do anything because saying something about the PACS would render you a guerrilla, a communist. For many years this painful memories were kept locked down. Only told after the war, after things were safe and they had moved out of Huehuetenango.