Posts Tagged ‘Guatemalan civil war’

“Finding Oscar” on Amazon

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Last night, my 12-year-old son Mateo and I downloaded Finding Oscar from Amazon and watched in Antigua, Guatemala. An important, moving documentary about the 1982 massacre in Dos Erres, with period footage featuring Ronald Reagan and Efrain Rios Montt, and contemporary interviews with investigators, prosecutors, and relatives of victims.

By recounting the search for the then three-year-old boy who survived Dos Erres, Finding Oscar clearly lays out the complicated backstory of Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict. At the end of the film, my 12-year-old son said: “Now I understand more about the history of Guatemala and the United States.”

Trigger warning: The film documents exhumation of bodies, violence, and loss.



PRI on Guatemala

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Guatemala’s thirty-six-year armed conflict ended twenty years ago with the signing of the Peace Accords on December 29, 1996. This PRI segment focuses on victims of the conflict who are telling their stories. From the article: “It was especially hard on Mayan women, who lost loved ones, suffered sexual abuse and other atrocities, and have had to find new ways to survive and move forward in the ensuing years.”

Wishing continued Peace to the country we love.~



PBS NewsHour on Rios Montt trial

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

The PBS News Hour has produced a very powerful news clip about the Rios Montt trial. In case you, like me, don’t ever watch TV, or missed the broadcast for some other reason, here’s the link:

Guatemala: Why We Cannot Turn Away.

That title says it all, don’t you think?




Retired general Otto Perez wins Guatemalan election

Monday, November 7th, 2011

The subheading of an article in the Sunday, November 6, edition of the UK Guardian says it all: “Rightwinger takes victory… after promising to send army into battle against drug cartels.”

“Otto Perez, a retired rightwing general who promised a crackdown on violent crime, has won Guatemala’s presidential election, becoming the first member of the military to take power since democracy was restored in 1986.”


“It is a clear move to the right for Central America’s largest economy and came after leftist President Alvaro Colom failed to contain violent crime or protect the country from Mexican drug cartels using it as a smuggling route.

“Perez, 60, won the runoff election after promising he would apply a ‘firm hand’ by deploying troops on the streets and increasing the size of the police force.

“Guatemala’s murder rate is about eight times that of the US and many of the country’s 14.7 million people want a tougher stance on crime.”


“Human rights groups have concerns about Perez’s crime-fighting message in a country with a history of military dictatorships and killings by security forces.

“The army murdered suspected leftists and committed massacres of peasants during the 1960-1996 civil war in a which about a quarter of a million people were killed or disappeared.”


“The election campaign focused mainly on Guatemala’s battle against street gangs and Mexican drug traffickers moving South American cocaine up through the country to the  US. Military experts say cartels and gangs control around 40% of Guatemala, a huge challenge for the next president.”

With a new president, will the situation improve for the average citizen of Guatemala? When I posed this question to several Guatemalan friends, they all answered, “It can’t get worse.”

Read the entire Guardian article here:


New film about civil war in Guatemala

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

A new documentary by Pamela Yates about the civil war in Guatemala, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, is due in theaters September 14, 2011. Here is the description from the website:

GRANITO is a story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, and how a documentary film intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history emerges as an active player in the present. In GRANITO our characters sift for clues buried in archives of mind and place and historical memory, seeking to uncover a narrative that could unlock the past and settle matters of life and death in the present. Each of the five main characters whose destinies collide in GRANITO are connected by the Guatemala of 1982, then engulfed in a war where a genocidal “scorched earth” campaign by the military exterminated nearly 200,000 Maya people. Now, as if a watchful Maya god were weaving back together threads of a story unraveled by the passage of time, forgotten by most, our characters become integral to the overarching narrative of wrongs done and justice sought that they have pieced together, each adding their granito, their tiny grain of sand, to the epic tale.

The cast includes 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigobert Menchú. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator… doesn’t simply relate history; it is also part of history.” Click on the website link here to watch the film trailer.


Mamalita called a “page-turner of a memoir” by Marin Independent Journal

Monday, February 7th, 2011

A wonderful article about Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir, titled “The Power of an Adoptive Mother’s Love” and written by Paul Liberatore, appeared in the February 4, 2011 online edition of the Marin Independent Journal. I especially love that Libertore places adoption within the context of Guatemala’s history of political turmoil, alluding to the country’s 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.

O’Dwyer’s memoir is an inspiring tale of a woman’s fight for her child, but it’s also an indictment of the international adoption system. In Guatemala, a culture that was foreign to her and with only high school Spanish to rely on, she found herself up against the dark, seedy even dangerous forces that have infected adoption in a country that is still healing from decades of civil war and political unrest.

For the past few months, I’ve traveled around the country discussing Mamalita, and I’ve been struck by how many adoptive families describe an emotional roller-coaster ride similar to the one we rode during our adoption journey. Liberatore writes:

In the beginning, O’Dwyer had reason to be hopeful. “I’ve never given birth,” she writes, “but I know the exact moment when I became a mother: 10 a.m. Sept. 6, 2002.”

That was when she and her husband got their first loving look at their infant daughter in the lobby of a hotel in Guatemala City. Their joy was short lived. Getting the baby home would involve dealing with endless red tape, official corruption, attempted extortion, bribery and the gnawing fear that her baby could be taken from her at any time. Or worse.

“That was the biggest threat,” she remembered, “that someone would take the baby that you were now in love with, that you now regard as your child. And you have no idea what could happen to her.”

She recalls one terrifying instance when she and her husband and their daughter were triple locked in a sleazy lawyer’s office in a menacing section of Guatemala City.

“At that moment, we realized that no one in the world had any idea where we were,” she recalled. “We could just disappear off the face of the earth and who would know? What we were afraid of was that we never knew what could happen.”

Although the details of our adoption might be unique, the feelings of helplessness seem almost universal. As posted on this blog many times before, the families known as the Guatemala900 are still waiting for resolution of adoptions started before December 2007. During my interview with Libertore, he asked me, How exactly did we turn the tide? Why were we able to succeed? That’s a question my husband and I have asked ourselves many times. If I hadn’t moved to Antigua, if we hadn’t done what we did, would Olivia have remained in Guatemala even now? Here’s my answer:

“I believe the reason I was able to succeed was because the people in the bureaucracy saw that I was not going away, that I was dedicated to my daughter, that I was trying to be a good mother and that I was willing to do whatever they told me to do and that I was going to keep doing it until I succeeded,” she said. “They saw that I was sincere, and I think they respected that.”

For families who are waiting: You continue to press for resolution and advocate for your children. That has to count for a lot.

To the Marin Independent Journal: Thank you for helping to raise awareness about international adoption.


Arrest of suspect in 1982 Guatemalan civil war massacre

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

This Associated Press article from January 24, 2011 reports that a Southern California martial arts instructor suspected of involvement in a 1982 massacre during Guatemala’s civil war was arrested in Canada while visiting his parents and is awaiting extradition to the U.S. 

[Suspect Jorge] Sosa, 52, was indicted in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana [California] in September after authorities said he lied about his role in the civil war when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 2008.

Sosa was granted citizenship, but it was revoked after the grand jury indictment. He lives in Moreno Valley.

In Guatemala, Sosa was a member of a special military unit called the “Kaibiles” and was the commanding officer of a unit assigned to find and arrest guerrillas who had stolen military weapons, according to court documents.

On Dec. 7, 1982, he and several dozen soldiers stormed the village of Dos Erres, near Las Cruces, and systematically killed the men, women and children, the government claims in the indictment. The unit is accused of slaughtering villagers with sledgehammers and throwing people into a well.


The civil war in Guatemala claimed at least 200,000 lives before it ended in 1996.

In 1982, the “Kaibiles” were tracking an armed insurgency by guerrillas opposed to the military government. The killings cited in the indictment were investigated by the Guatemalan government 12 years later, when a judge ordered the excavation of the site and 162 skeletons were recovered.

The killings qualified under the law as perverse brutality, Guatemalan authorities said, and a judge in that country ordered the arrest of the Kaibiles in 2000.

In September, another former Guatemalan soldier who came to the U.S. was sentenced in Florida to 10 years in U.S. prison for lying on citizenship forms about his military service and role in the incident.

Read the Associated Press article, titled “Guatemala massacre suspect faces charges in California,” here. For more information on the civil war, including information about declassified CIA documents that reveal U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup that set off decades of destabilization in Guatemala, read the Wikipedia entry for Guatemalan Civil War. To learn more, check out Daniel Wilkinson’s excellent book, Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala.