Friday, June 22, 2012

My Visit to Pacux

"The voice of the grandchildren and children will never forget the terror".
I ended my last post mentioning that many of the challenges and deep rooted problems in the lives of many people in Guatemala are caused by their upbringing and the social-political context. One of example of that is the settlement of Pacux a small community on the outskirts of Rabinal.  Rabinal is the next major town over from Cubulco (13 km), and is a town with a violent past. Although we lived so close to Rabinal and had heard a little of the history of the town, we never really looked into the violent history until recently. Rabinal is a town with many social problems and these problems are largely a result of the civil war in Guatemala. Even though we did not live in Rabinal, over the years we got to know a number of people who live there since it was/is a town we pass through every time we go to the city or go to Cubulco. Through them and their personal tragedies we were made more aware of the issues that this town faces. One of the people we got to know quite well owned a grocery store.  Several years ago one of the local gangs started extorting them for money. Since the owners refused to pay, the leader of the gang walked into the store one day and shot the owner in head and killed him. Recently the same gang killed the armed guard of the store. This incident is not isolated and almost daily people are murdered in cold blood. One of the latest victims (a woman) was gunned down in the middle of the day and the wall of the cemetery bears her bloody hand print.
Last year we found out that a single American missionary woman (Mary Purvis) had recently moved to Rabinal and was working in Pacux. We contacted her and since then have become good acquaintances. During my recent trip to Cubulco I visited Mary in Pacux together with the director of the Cubulco hospital to see how the hospital can assist them in their nutritional program. The initial plan was just to meet with her briefly and look at her project, but in the end we were asked to be part of a meeting with community leaders and give them advice on how to best run a nutritional program and how to select the children. It was an interesting meeting and a privilege to be a part of it although just momentarily.
Because of my visit to Pacux, I decided to do some more research on the violent past of Rabinal. I had always been aware of one of the massacres that took place in which several hundred people were killed.  However, since then I discovered that there were numerous massacres and that close to 5,000 people where killed. Many of the massacres were motivated politically because certain people in power wanted to construct a hydro electric dam on the Rio Negro also known as the Rio Chixoy. To compensate the people they were offered something of equal or greater value. When the people went to look at their new land they realized that the plots were very small and not worth what they were supposed to give up. The people who lived in the proposed affected area refused to move and as a result the government resorted to intimidation. Later on, this intimidation resulted in the murders of leaders and then the massacres of entire communities. In one of the communities called Rio Negro around 444 of the 800 people living there were murdered. Eventually the people all fled and the government could carry on with the building of the dam. The people who fled had no choice but to settle in Pacux and live on small plots of lands (10-30 meters). Several years ago some of the people who carried out the massacre were tried and convicted, but the ones who were really responsible and masterminded the whole thing (certain people in the army, government, hydro company)  have never been arrested nor accused. All of this has created resentment within the people and this resentment often comes out through violence. Many young people have grown up with this resentment and now turn to gangs to give them "purpose" in life. Also many young people have grown up without a father since many fathers were murdered. This also creates huge social problems and hence the problem of gangs. This has been a reality in many places in Guatemala as there were many massacres during the civil war mostly directed at indigenous people. There is a lot of resentment built up in the lives of many people and because of that people are mistrusting and suspicious. This of course affects the church as well since the relationships within the church are often very fragile and gossip is rampant. Although Cubulco did not experience any massacres people did lose their lives during the civil war and some people in the aldeas (like Chirramos and Patuy) were misplaced because of the Chixoy hydro-electric dam.and the compensation package was never fully given. Ironically enough, many of the communities that were started as a result of the flooding of the valley for the hydro-electric dam, do not have electricity. Would you not resent that, let alone the host of other things?
It is important to understand all of this when working in Guatemala. Understanding this also allows you to be more patient and gracious with the people as they struggle with their baggage and "demons". It is also enforces the idea that only the Gospel can bring about change, forgiveness and healing. My purpose for writing all of this is not to judge who is responsible for the violence. It is more to help you, the reader, understand a little more what deep rooted problems and challenges we face working in Guatemala which is a direct result of 35 year civil war. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories and unfathomable how low humanity can stoop with regards to treating fellow human beings who bear the image of God. Humanity, in many cases, acts worse than animals. When seeing all of this one can see Satan's hand in all of this as he goes out looking to destroy the bearers of the image of God. That is what Satan delights in and that is why he wages war against humankind. Thankfully, the power and grace of God is able to overcome all of this and bring about eternal change even in the lives of those who are responsible. Only this power and grace of God can bring about a true and lasting change in Guatemala.  Therefore, I ask you to pray fervently for Guatemala and other countries that have been ravaged by civil war and hatred. Pray especially for the church and her witness in such difficult circumstances. Pray that the church will be an agent of change and healing.