Washington’s narrative of the democratization of Latin America goes something like this:
Latin American countries used to be governed by ruthless military dictators who murdered hundreds of thousands of people in order to stay in power.
But in the 1970s and 80s, the military pulled out of the government and transitional democracies took root.
Finally, new civilian governments were democratically elected. Successive White House administrations have used this story of democratization to push a free-trade agenda.
But critics call this narrative a myth. They say the legacy of military dictatorships continues.
Just last week in Guatemala, forensic anthropologists were forced to flee after receiving multiple death threats. They have been digging up the skeletons of thousands of massacre victims, which were going to be used to bring genocide charges against government and military officials.
Also last week, an accountant for the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation was shot dead in a cafeteria in Guatemala City. Police said it was a robbery, but Nobel Prize winner and indigenous rights activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum suspects political motives. Menchu has received repeated death threats since she filed allegations of genocide against eight of Guatemala’s former dictators, presidents and ministers.
Menchu has made it her life’s work to document the untold stories of an untold people. The Historical Memory Project was founded with the same goal-to document and uncover human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples in Latin America. Tomorrow, Rigoberta Menchu will be speaking at a conference held by the Historical Memory Project at John Jay College in New York. We are joined now by the organizer of the project, Marcia Esparza, and by a survivor of the Guatemalan civil war.
- Marcia Esparza, director of the Historical Memory Project and professor of Puerto Rican/Latin American Studies Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
- Emiliana Aguilera, survivor of the Guatemalan genocide. Emiliana’s sister was disappeared and her uncle killed during the civil war. Following the signing of the Guatemalan Peace Accords in 1996, she worked with the Truth Commission.
- South Carolina (Barnwell)–Gill Scott-Heron, From South Africa to South Carolina (TVT CD).
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