Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Guatemala: Reparations

Reparations are being made to families of victims of Guatemala's civil war. Francisco Velasco lost his parents and 14 other relatives: now the State has officially accepted responsibility. He received $5,400. That might sound a pitiful amount for such a crime - but as the people interview for this article in the Washington Post emphasise repeatedly, it isn't just about the money.
"You can't pay for a life," Velasco said. "But it is a gesture of support."

Plus, the President himself says sorry:
Survivors also get a letter from Colom asking for forgiveness for the losses they suffered as a result of the abuses committed by the state during the war, which ended in 1996. "The fact that the president signs it is very important," said Orlando Blanco, Guatemala's secretary of peace. "It is an official document that says, 'Here is the truth: My son was not a subversive or a delinquent. It was the state that killed him.' "

Compare that with Peru, where Garcia and his government tried to avoid discussion of a representative museum dealing with political violence, and where major politicians regularly issue threats against human activists and truth commissioners.
Lucia Quila, another of the recipients in Guatemala, confirms,
"It meant a lot to hear that yes, the state accepted responsibility," she said. "It wasn't just the money. No money can pay for my lost husband and the chaos we suffered. I won't forget that until I die. But at that moment, the government finally acknowledged the damage done to us."

The President also recently attended the exhumation of bodies of some victims of the civil war in person.

The number of dead in Guatemala, a small country, was huge - around 200,000. There isn't enough money to give all of their relatives a decent sum. But that display of humility by a President to his, mostly Mayan, citizens who have suffered this gravest injury by state forces: well, that's how you start healing.

Payments and Apologies for Victims of Guatemala's Civil War (Washington Post)

Thanks to Lauren for sending the article!

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