Vice President Harris is currently visiting Guatemala with the responsibility of discouraging the flow of migrants — especially youth from that country — to the U.S.
I recently wrote an article for the WNJ commenting on the many natural disasters in that country contributing to this flow of refugees, but did not mention the issue of war. Of the Central American countries, Guatemala has been most affected by war.
Before launching into that tragic story, I’d like to say that Guatemala is the Latin American country with the next to highest percentage of indigenous or native population. Bolivia has well over 50 percent of its population being indigenous, while Guatemala is very near to 50 percent. These people are Maya and they are divided into over a dozen major ethnolinguistic groups located in different areas of that country of over 12 million people.
Indigenous groups throughout the world are under constant pressure from central governments, and Guatemala is no exception. Human rights violations in Guatemala are among the worst in the world and, unfortunately, the U.S. has been a major contributor to that problem. A virtual civil war existed between Maya people and the government military for many years, especially in the 1980s.
The following quote summarizes and documents these human rights violations, and unfortunately few of those responsible have been brought to justice: “An estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed during the Guatemalan Civil War including at least 40,000 who ‘disappeared’ – 93% of civilian executions were carried out by government forces. Armed Forces of Guatemala, and that US training of the officer corps in counterinsurgency techniques ‘had a significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation.’”
We will soon learn how these facts will be reflected in the report by VP Harris’ investigation, but it will be some time before we will know how this knowledge guides our policy.
Let’s hope that some degree of compassion will make its way into our government’s policy that recognizes our complicity in this situation and that be reflected in our treatment of the mostly young who will appear at our border.
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.