“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Gandhi
Today is the 65th anniversary of Gandhi’s death. Today I reflect on his wisdom, his compassion, his faithfulness, and the mighty works he accomplished through nonviolence.
Sixty-five years and a hemisphere away in Guatemala, violence is all around. I usually use this space on my blog to point out hope and to look for the good.
But there are some realities that I just can’t call good.
Guatemala boasts one of the highest murder rates in the world. The daily newspaper reports gang murders, domestic violence, a disturbingly, heartbreakingly high rate of sexual abuse, child abuse, theft, and corruption. The translation app on my phone is riddled with the Spanish equivalents for kidnapping, embezzlement, armored cars, trial, conviction, and even dereliction of duty—all words I never learned in my college Spanish classes.
The newest word in my collection: genocidio, genocide.
Just this week, it was announced that “Rios Montt, the former dictator, and his intelligence chief [will] stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres of villagers in remote highlands three decades ago.” (read the full article here)
The reaction to this news from my Guatemalan and expat friends has been surprisingly mixed. A woman in my friend’s Bible study stated that maybe God will save Rios Montt because he’s a Christian and because he kept Guatemala out of the hands of communists. Then I have friends who cheer the trial as a victory for justice. And then there are those who think the trial is too little, too late, a weak attempt at justice, an affront to those who suffered unspeakable violence.
I wasn’t in the States for the most recent presidential election, but my Facebook feed provided enough dogma from all political sides to make my head spin. It’s strange to find myself caught in the middle of opposing ideologies in a foreign culture, as an outsider. My head’s still spinning, and my heart still hurts for the people caught in the middle of the arguments, the ideology, and the violence—both structural and physical—that is employed in the name of these ideals.
I’m learning more and more how much I disagree with using violence as a means to an end, even if I agree with the end. Here in Guatemala it’s easy to see the damage that violence has caused and continues to cause, the evil that perpetuates and permeates.
Gandhi wrote, “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
A couple of months ago I visited the Maya Ixil (ee-sheel) area, where many of the acts of genocide Rios Montt is being charged with occurred. Throughout the late 70s and early 80s they lost an estimated one fifth of their population. They found themselves caught between the military fighting a war on communism and the guerrillas waging a revolution against an oppressive regime.
As I think of the homes that burned down. The fathers and brothers and sons that were disappeared. The land that was destroyed. The families divided. The children that grew up fatherless, with even less opportunities to thrive than their ancestors, and the single mothers left to raise them. As I think of all these people caught in the violence, the lyrics of a Mason Jennings song echoes in my mind, echoes Gandhi’s sentiments:
“I don’t want no victory, I just want you back.” Mason Jennings, The Field.
This isn’t meant to be a political post or commentary, but a place to process. A space to grieve the pain and loss of my Guatemalan friends, spoken and unspoken, often buried way down deep. A moment to place my heart with them, knowing full well that I can’t ever really understand what they went through or even begin to sort through my own country’s complicity in the physical and structural violence, both during the war and now.
Today, 65 years after his death, I want to celebrate the wisdom of Gandhi’s assessment that “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind” and to mourn the parts of this beautiful culture that are crippled and blinded by the legacy of violence.
If you’re interested in learning more about Guatemalan history and the armed conflict, I highly recommend Tomas Guzaro and Terri Jacob McCombs book, Escaping the Fire.
For up-to-date Guatemalan news and tidbits, I recommend the Roots and Wings International blog. They highlight innovative and inspiring projects throughout Guatemala, as well as discuss pertinent development and justice issues.
To read more hopeful or entertaining posts on Guatemalan culture, check out these past posts: