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On Tue, Nov 15, 2022 at 8:20 AM The New York Review of Books <newsletters@...
Peter Canby on justice in Guatemala
Since Alejandro Giammattei became president of Guatemala in 2020, dozens of journalists, judges, and prosecutors have been forced to flee the country. The latest is Miguel Ángel Gálvez, a judge who presides over one of the country’s imperiled High Risk Courts, which try human rights violations, human trafficking, and other violent crimes. In May this year he ordered trials for the perpetrators of a host of horrific crimes that were committed during the country’s thirty-six-year-long civil war and brought to light in 1999 with the publication of the so-called Death Squad Dossier, which records in excruciating detail the mass
“disappearance”—or state-sanctioned murder—of nearly two hundred Guatemalans. Since then Gálvez has faced death threats, stalking, and incessant harassment by members of the country’s ascendant right wing.
“The fact that it is only now, twenty-three years after it became public, resulting in the prosecution of over a dozen military and police officials reflects the country’s long struggle to come to grips with its past and transform itself into a law-abiding democracy,” writes Peter Canby in the December 8, 2022, issue of the Review. The subsequent vilification of Gálvez, Canby elaborates, has
revealed the vulnerability of judges who dare to hold corrupt officials—especially those in Giammattei’s circle—to account. “Gálvez has left the country,” Canby signed off when he filed his report at the end of last week, and it is still unknown whether he’ll return. If he does, he could very well be stripped of judicial immunity and imprisoned.
Below we have collected, alongside Canby’s article, five essays from the Review’s archives about the history and legacy of the Guatemalan civil war.
Decades after Guatemala's long civil war, a chronicle of government kidnapping and disappearance is bringing former officials to trial. Will there be justice for the victims?
“This report contains information, published for the first time, which shows how the selection of targets for detention and murder, and the deployment of official forces for extra-legal operations, can be pinpointed to secret offices in an annex of Guatemala’s National Palace, under the direct control of the president of the republic.”
“As one of the few Indians willing to recount firsthand experience of the violence, Rigoberta, then twenty-three, suddenly became the spokesperson for its victims.”
Eduardo Halfon, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2008; photograph by Vasco Szinetar
“Eduadrdo Halfon left Guatemala with his family in 1981 as a boy of ten, fleeing the long civil war that resulted in the genocidal massacre of indigenous Guatemalans.... When his first novel was published in Guatemala in 2003, he received a threatening phone call and a disturbing visit; the Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya advised him to leave the country. Halfon currently lives in Nebraska.”
A boy playing near Lake Atitlán, in the highlands of Sierra Madre, Guatemala, 1975; photograph by David Alan Harvey/Magnum Photos
“One day, in the summer of 1981, the military fought a faction of guerrillas just outside my school, in the Vista Hermosa neighborhood of Guatemala City. The teachers hid all of the children inside the old gym, and we stayed there for hours, listening to the rattle of machine guns, and the earth-trembling explosions of tank shells.... That same night, as my brother and I were getting ready for bed, our parents told us they were selling the house, and we’d soon be leaving the country.”
“Historians have long argued that the standards of brutality against Guatemala’s Indians were set 450 years ago by Hernán Cortés’s fair-haired captain, Pedro de Alvarado, who plundered and slaughtered hundreds of Indian communities during the early years of the conquest.”