Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Digging Guatemala: Anthropologists Look for Clues to Past Political Killings

One day last spring, Fredy Peccerelli found himself conducting an unusual exercise: correlating the dates of major massacres during Guatemala's civil war to the play schedule of the New York Yankees in the 1980s. It was an attempt, the director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation says, to compare what happened in his native country with his own life after he and his family fled in the fall of 1980 when he was nine years old.

The violence in Guatemala's 36-year insurgency peaked between 1980 and 1983, under the military governments of General Fernando Romeo Lucas García and General José Efraín Ríos Montt. Both regimes led scorched-earth campaigns in the Guatemalan countryside and "disappeared" urban intellectuals who opposed the government. By the time peace accords between the government and an armed resistance movement called Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) were signed in 1996, 200,000 people had perished, many in massacres that targeted entire villages, according to the country's Historical Clarification Commission, a United Nations–led investigation into human rights violations there.

As a kid, Peccerelli knew that his family had fled to New York City because his father, then a law student, had received threats from government death squads in the capital, Guatemala City. "At that time, they were killing a lot of people at the law school," says Peccerelli. "[My father] had a lot of people around him disappear." So when the threats came, the family l quickly fled.

Read the rest at Scientific American.

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