The Odyssey
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Latin America Monica Dispatch

 
 
 

Searching for the Disappeared:
An Introduction to G.A.M.

 

Photo of The GAM Logo
GAM's motto: For the
Defense of Human Rights—
for Justice, Truth and Life
The following true story is taken from the history of Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, one of the indigenous rights organizations that the World Trek team will be working with in Guatemala in the next six weeks in order to learn more about the plight of today's Mayan population.

Edgar:
His name is Edgar Fernando García. He is twenty-five years old, active in an engineering group at the university called Asociación de Estudiantes de Ingeniería. He also works for the union movement at his glass factory. Having helped write a "Collective Pact of Working Conditions," he looks to create improvements in the socio-economic status of other workers in this enterprise. He also spends time with his beloved wife, Nineth Montenegro de García and their twenty-month old daughter.

On February 18, 1984, at around ten o'clock in the morning, the Special Operations Brigade stops Edgar Fernando in the middle of the street. Security forces take him to "El Guarda," an installation in front of the mercado (market) in Zona 11 of Guatemala City, the capital.

GAM Poster—Soldier taking away Child
"Where are they?"
The Brigade recognizes Edgar Fernando and has marked him as someone whose actions must be stopped. When he tries to escape, they shoot him in the legs and take him to the 5th station of the National Police, situated on the Anillo Periferico. After they extract some information from him, he is moved to a military hospital to be treated. Lastly, he is delivered to the Armed Forces, who are entrusted with the rest of his interrogation. Nothing more is known of his whereabouts.

Emilia and Nineth:
In the early morning of February 19, 1984, ten men in two cars without license plates, wearing soldier outfits and sunglasses, break into the Garcia household, informing his wife and mother that Edgar Fernando was seized and is currently being tortured. They check the house, looking for "subversive" material; when they cannot find any, they take only books and documents relating to the union movement and the student group.

Nineth Garcia, Edgar Fernando's wife, and Emilia Garcia, his mother, knock on doors, request and beg for information from higher sources. They hold a press conference with the union and other individuals, look amongst the cadavers that appear daily with signs of torture and mistreatment. They always receive the same response from the Governor: "We are living in a time of war," and "For what are you silly people getting involved?" Or, "We are only seizing communists. Is your husband a communist?"

During this time Nineth begins to meet other people—wives, mothers, and sisters—who also are looking for people who were illegally captured. They coordinate a united demand for information regarding each of their loved ones, with the hope that an organized effort will prompt more details on either the victims, their location, or their bodies.

Wall of Photos of The Dsiappeared
Dona Emila & Monica in front of
the photos of The Disppeared
In this way, on June 4, 1984 arose an organization named "Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo" (GAM). Translated to English, this means a group of mutual support. Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo quickly grew throughout the Mayan population. For the first time in Guatemala, a group of women arranged to break the silence, to fight for the facts, however awful, and to find other human beings that had been detained or had disappeared. To this date there have been more than 40,000 victims whose whereabouts are not known.

I visited the GAM office today in Guatemala City, just across from the metropolitan cathedral. In the lobby there is a big painted mural of a family and other colorful aspects of Guatemalan life. The secretary took some time out from a telephone call to take a picture with me and I met some of the other dozen people in the office. Doña Emilia works in an office behind a wall filled with pictures of the disappeared. I have included a photo so you can all see these portraits. The big picture, top row, fifth from the right, is her son, Edgar. Hundreds of beautifully colored posters fill the walls, including pictures of Rigoberta Menchu, quetzals, other graphic designs and advertisements for meetings and festivals. However, a somber quote reminds people why they are there. It reads: "Where are they? More than 300 boys and girls disappeared." Doña Emilia organizes GAM workers throughout the country, including groups working with indigenous Mayans in Concepción, near Panajachel, and San Martin Jilotepeque, in Chimaltenango.
Photo of Monica & GAM Secretary
Monica with the GAM Secretary
Tomorrow I will travel by bus to Concepción to meet the GAM group for three weeks. The town has no electricity, phone, or running water, but Abeja already charged up the camera for me, so I'll be passing off photos and stories at our trek team meeting in Panajachel this weekend. Please e-mail me at monicaflores@bigfoot.com with your questions.

 
 
Monica—No Turning Back: The Journey to Gutemala
Abeja—Wonderous Tikal from Sunrise to Sunset
Monica—Lost in the Lost World
 
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