This morning we returned to Jilotepeque to meet Don Andres and assist the exhumation process. Previously, we had planned to spend the entire day at an indigenous rights festival in Comalapa. However, the class decided it was more important to return to visit don Andres and show our support for him.
When we arrived, he greeted us with tears in his eyes. Giving each of us a big hug, he told us that he had been unable to sleep the night before. Throughout the morning, we learned more about the lives of the daughters and grandchild of Don Andres that were ended abruptly by the uniformed perpetrators.
One night, over 20 years ago, members of the Guatemalan army intruded into the house of Don Andres’s oldest daughter. She was 26 back then and had been married for a year and a half and had an 8 month old baby. On that night, her 13 year old sister had visited and was staying overnight as well. The intruders killed the two daughters and the grandchild by choking them with a rope.
Their bodies were found and buried by the husband. Since then, her husband has disappeared and Don Andres strongly believes that it was the army that kidnapped and murdered him as well.
This was not the end of Don Andres’s misery. Two of his sons were later kidnapped and are now presumably dead. Don Andres’s youngest daughter does not even remember what her two older sisters and brothers looked like.
Although Don Andres was able to find the remains of his two daughters, the fate and whereabouts of his two kidnapped sons are yet unknown and this continues to hurt this 82 year old man everyday. Our class decided to donate portion of the fund we have raised from the Haverford community to assist Don Andres.
On our way to festival site in Comalapa, we passed by a cemetery. The wall of the cemetery was decorated with murals depicting the hardships that the Guatemalan indigenous population had to endure; ranging from the “internal armed conflict” to the recent earthquake.
We arrived at the gathering site for the indigenous rights/commemoration festival. The gathering site was a former military base in which 216 bodies were exhumed. This site was where the largest number of bodies was found and because many of the victims were from other parts of the country, it was very difficult to identify them through traditional methods which relied solely on personal testaments. As a result, DNA testing has been incorporated into the exhumation process and today, it has become far easier to identify the victims.
At our arrival, we were welcomed by both the Comalapa town council and CONAVIGUA, the widows association of Guatemala. Despite the horrific tragedy that struck them, the widows of Comalapa organized themselves into a support group and provided both moral and physical support to its members. They have also actively engaged the national government to recognize and compensate for the atrocities that were committed during the “internal armed conflict”
After members of CONAVIGUA sang us songs dedicated to their loved ones lost during the “internal armed conflict” we were presented with T-shirts by Heidi Jutson HC’06 and workers of “Just Apparel” a project dedicated to changing the labor conditions of Guatemala by providing fair wages to its workers.
The final segment of the day was the musical and artistic performance by the indigenous community. Artists from various communities both celebrated the rights of the indigenous population as well as commemorated the appalling losses they suffered during the period of the armed conflict.
March 13, 2008
Andy and Kate