Memory, Truth, and Justice in Guatemala
Wendy Mendez spoke in Victoria, sponsored by the Victoria Central America Support Committee on March 28, 2014
Report by Theresa Wolfwood
Wendy Mendez was coming home from school in Guatemala City with her brother – looking forward to playing hide- and- seek with her friends, but there were no other children on the street, no people at all. They ran home and found their house full of soldiers and their mother being interrogated.
Born in Guatemala in 1976, Wendy’s mother and father were suspect because they were active in the university community during the time of civil conflict and government brutality. She was nine years old when she saw her mother, Luz Haydee Mendez, being taken away by the Guatemalan Military Intelligence on March 8, 1984. Luz has never been found.
Wendy’s grandmother sat outside every day, waiting in vain for her daughter to appear, thinking she might miss the house in a changed neighborhood. She died a disappointed mother.
Wendy and her brother were also interrogated, but managed to escape, using those hide- and- seek places they knew so well. They were sheltered and cared for by neighbours and the soldiers could not find them. Her father stopped at a local shop to buy tortillas on his way home; the store-keepers stopped him from going home, they told him that his children needed him and dressed him as a woman so he also could hide. Three years later, Wendy, her father and brother were in Vancouver as refugees. She grew up and went to school there.
Wendy founded the organization, HIJOS (sons and daughters of the disappeared) in 1999 with others who were children when their parents were disappeared or massacred and during the civil conflict. Many, like Wendy, returned to Guatemala, where a Peace Treaty was signed in 1996, to seek information about their parents and to reveal the identity of those who were responsible for these crimes against civilians. HIJOS also intended to educate the new generation in Guatemala about what happened during the years of repression. They choose June 30 as the day to commemorate the disappeared and the dead, the same day as Guatemala’s annual military parade. They started with 8 people with signs and photos standing in front of the military parade. Every year their numbers increased up to 1000 with more banners and a band playing funeral music. The military has now cancelled its parade and the day is now known, thanks to the efforts of HIJOS and others, as the “Day of Heroes and Martyrs.”
Wendy’s presentation inspiring and full of hope. She was able to smile and even joke about these events. She has lived through her story and turned her grief into action. She and her friends say they are not victims; they are survivors and are bold and clear about their activities.
She said that the possibilities of the Peace treaties were not realized; no government has respected the accords and the agenda of the right has always been to continue the repression through economic means, including CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
The torturers and murderers have enjoyed impunity until recently. The trial of Rios Montt, the President responsible for some of the worst massacres and repression, was the result of hard work by HIJOS and other human rights groups and a major victory for justice. He was found guilty of genocide, even though another court overturned the verdict, HIJOS was jubilant. There will be more trials and revelations as determined activists continue their work.
My blood chilled when Wendy told us that in the corridors of the courthouse, upper class supporters of the military said to HIJOS members “Our only regret is not getting rid of you snotty nosed children when we had a chance!”
The present right-wing President Molina, a military man who promised to be tough on crime, is doing his best to reverse the few advances made under President Colon in education and health. Molina has upped the military budget and under him, military bases have been reopened and new ones have been created. In communities fighting to save their natural resources from transnational mega-projects, such as mines and dams that threaten to destroy the land and displace thousands of indigenous people, citizens are constantly spied on and threatened. Wendy reminded us of the deaths of community activists in places where Canadian mining companies are active and who opposed the environmental and social degradation caused by mining exploration and extraction.
HIJOS continues to call for an end to impunity for those who were responsible for death and disappearance. Members have been threatened, beaten, experienced attempted kidnapping and attacks in Guatemalan media.
Mendez has said that HIJOS believes that the best way to bring honour and glory to their mothers and fathers, to all the victims of genocide in Guatemala, is to continue the struggle for social justice and democracy.
For a live interview with Mendez listen to: http://www.gorilla-radio.com/index.php?id=703