Guatemala: medico partners focus on deep-rooted violence and racism


As in the postwar years in Germany, many in the Central American nation of Guatemala would like to forget the past. The rich families in particular, who had always ruled the country with brutal force, are living in a sanitised parallel universe. They deny any violence by the state and genocidal persecution of the indigenous population for which they themselves share responsibility. After the peace treaty in 1996 that marked an end to decades of civil war, the victims of state violence began a long struggle for justice and accountability. This involves more than just their personal fate. A democratic and emancipatory renaissance of this Central American nation is only conceivable on the basis of successful reconciliation with the past.

medico has supported these efforts at restorative justice for many years, along with assisting the essential need for self-organisation of the victims and providing assistance to the continuing urgently required psychosocial aid to relatives and survivors. This work took on new importance again in 2010 and 2011, as a new generation wanted to know the causes of the violence and political deadlock that are still a hallmark of the country. Another motivation for this is that the ‘drug war’ today is claiming almost as many lives as the civil war did earlier. In addition, the collective rights of the indigenous population are still being disregarded, with fatal consequences. Local populations are still being forcibly displaced so that lucrative prospecting and exploitation rights for land and mineral resources can be sold on the global market. All of this demonstrates the renewed virulence of the long-standing violence and racism.

Multigenerational experience of violence

In 2011 medico approved four projects supporting the people in their various efforts to uncover the past and establish the rule of law. These involved supporting the sociologists and psychologists of the long-standing partner Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP). With medico funding, ECAP is currently working in five local communities in the Quiché province. The target group is 150 victims of the massacres from the start of the 1980s and their relatives, including women who were victims of sexual violence. Courses are being held on the psychological and social consequences of violence, and volunteers are being trained to carry out psychosocial work independently in the communities. They are supporting witnesses appearing in the recently initiated trials, who are having to confront their experience of violence again. In addition, educational work is carried out with later generations and with institutions which mostly lack the background knowledge and skills for dealing with traumatisation that often affects the subsequent generation as well.

Winning reparation, stopping dams

The farmers’ association Asociación Campesina para el Desarrollo Integral Nebajense (ASOCDENEB), which is also supported by medico, is working In the Ixil Triangle, also in Quiché Province. It was formed in 2000 with the goal of helping local communities impacted by violence to rehabilitate after their traumatic experience. This includes asserting their collective rights and the struggle for the payment of reparations which have long been promised but are still not being paid. They are now on the agenda, primarily in connection with new trials also addressing the massacres in the Ixil Triangle during the war. At the same time, the farmers’ association has acquired new and powerful opponents. New dams are being built in the province on behalf of and for the benefit of major electricity producers, and more are in planning. The goal of the ASOCDENEB is to prevent at least the forcible dispossession and new displacements.

Remembrance, truth, justice

Another partner in rehabilitating Guatemalan society is the group of initiators of the International Film Festival “Remembrance, Truth, Justice”. The festival is being held in 2012 for the third time, and tries in its way to maintain and expand the public arena for exploring history and consequences for the present day.

In the legal field, medico is supporting this endeavour in cooperation with the International Commission of Jurists by financing legal assistance for the independent ‘Human Rights Law Office’, which conducts over 80% of all major human rights cases in Guatemala. The independent law office plays a key role in the struggle against impunity, not only with regard to the violent crimes of the past but also in dealing with current violence, particularly in the context of the drug war. Through its painstaking work the law office has made a major contribution to a situation where there are also now actors in the Guatemalan justice system committed to the rule of law, from the Supreme Court to the ranks of the public prosecutors.

During the period under review medico approved EUR 300,654.49 for projects in Guatemala.

Published: 20. August 2012

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