arranged to meet Beatriz Manz in front of Guatemala's national
cathedral. We'd met once before at the University of California
in Berkeley where she teaches Latin American Studies. Manz recently
published a book called Paradise in Ashes, which chronicles
the history of Santa María Tzejá, a small village
that endured extraordinary hardships during Guatemala's civil
war. It was a largely secret war, during which the U.S.-backed
military pursed a "scorched earth" campaign to root out rebel
insurgents in areas populated predominantly by Mayan Indians.
Now, eight years after peace accords ended the 36-year conflict,
Manz was going back. I wanted to film her return and see how the
village is faring.
We would fly north to Santa María Tzejá tomorrow.
But today, there was to be a special commemorative mass for
her fellow anthropologist and human rights activist, Myrna Mack.
Mack was stabbed to death in the streets of Guatemala City on
September 11, 1990 after condemning the government for uprooting
rural Mayan populations in counterinsurgency operations. Mack
had been a close friend and colleague of Manz. Through the persistence
of her sister, Helen Mack Chang, Myrna Mack became a symbol
for the estimated 45,000 disappeared, tortured and murdered
victims of Guatemala's bloody civil war.
I arrived at the cathedral shortly after sunrise. Banners and leaflets festooned
the cathedral gates as busloads of Mayan men and women in brightly
colored huipiles arrived from the provinces.