Mar. 18, 2014

Who is the girl on the cover?

Ulli Steltzer took this photograph in 1984 in Guatemala. Ms. Steltzer, who now lives in Canada, is generous with her permission to reuse it. She took the picture  near the end of a period that some have labelled the “holocaust” of the Americas because of the government counter insurgency policies. We know little of this girl, but I found her on the cover of “A New Dawn in Guatemala,” as part of my research. She is described only as, “Girl in a field at Macalajao.” Her too-young face is hard to decipher but for me it captures the plight of Indigenous in a world turned horribly unfriendly.

 In my view, Guatemala is the most beautiful country in Central America. It is also the most interesting and-still-violent.  At the time of the story it was in the throes of leaving its feudal roots and landed oligarchy in a painful reach for modernity. That goal remains in progress. Dictators and oligarchies are known in countries that are “modern” of course but Guatemala had been the Spanish headquarters of colonial Central America. Combined with landholdings centalized in the hands of a few families and a few corporations and a huge majority-unlanded-population (mostly indigenous), has given the country a unique flavor and perhaps a singular history in the resolution of tension. Martin Diskin (Trouble in Our Own Backyard), said in 1983:

 “Accustomed to the efficiency of murder as a form of political discourse, the military-economic elites are reluctant, perhaps unable, to contemplate any other form.”

 Of particular interest to me is the umbrella under which the regimes carried out an unrelenting atrocity against their own people. Stalin used the vast and essentially unknown regions of Russia to carry out his own; the Guatemala regimes used the mindless support of fearful American administrations. Under the circumstances of life in Guatemala, those administrations were perhaps well-grounded in that fear. Like fear in general, their fear led to military and police excesses, which accustomed the people to the practice of solving problems with a gun and knife. It also provided a generation of trained killers who may still find ready employment with the cartels. 

My new epic novel Don Fernando's family (working title), offers a more balanced and less strident view of this struggle from the WWII to 1984.