GUATEMALA CITY -- When army helicopters landed in his village in August 1982, Francisco Velasco was away in the cornfields with the men. Then they heard the screams. Velasco rushed back home and found his wife and two baby daughters dead.
Velasco lost 16 relatives, including his mother and father, in the army's scorched-earth campaign against leftist guerrillas. Five years after applying for compensation, his family received $5,400 from the state a few months ago and an official apology.
"You can't pay for a life," Velasco said. "But it is a gesture of support."
Since President Álvaro Colom took office in January 2008, Guatemala has stepped up payments to survivors of the estimated 200,000 people who died in the 36-year civil war. Begun in 2003, the program had compensated 3,000 survivors by 2007, according to its directors. But under Colom, whose family suffered a high-profile death during the war, the state has handed out 10,477 checks -- many for claims ignored for years, according to Cesar Davila, president of the National Compensation Program.
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.' "