Our Profound Memories of Violence and Repression

July 19, 2021

En español

“I reclaim happiness without losing indignation”  - from the Maya Q’eqchi’ worldview


By María Mercedes Calel (Poqo’mchi')


In the territory of Martires Poq’omchi’ Pantup in San Cristóbal Verapaz, Guatemala, hope and enthusiasm for transformation and social change are some of the most prominent characteristics of those who have settled there. The population located in this area belongs to other communities that have come together as displaced populations.  These communities are victims, relatives of victims, and survivors of the 36-year armed conflict in Guatemala. The severe violations of human rights, material and human losses, with wounds still unhealed; the military dictatorship and the peace processes are extreme trauma. For this reason, these communities have passed on ideals for social justice to the new generations.

During the period of armed conflict, massive German immigration occurred due to the existing cronyism between authorities and landowners. Similarly, the installation of U.S. companies, based on regressive legislation approved for the benefit of transnational companies and power elites, occurred. 

Most people from the displaced communities currently work in informal businesses, domestic jobs, farm day laborers, and agriculture. Most of them do not know how to read or write; however, the painful past they lived through has made them thrive in other areas such as managing a business, accounting, and practical communication in their first language, Poq’omchi’, as well as Spanish. They adequately manage and distribute the community resources; they have the power to call for assemblies and raise their voices to represent their community to make changes and to transform the realities of the discriminatory and racist State we live in. 

Photo: Mercedes Calel
Photo: María Mercedes Calel


Nevertheless, there are still challenges. Angélica Hernández Vargas, a member of the COCODE (Community Council for Development) in 2011, originally from Chicaman, El Quiche, mentioned, “during the formation of the residential area, successful processes were set up and resulted in development projects for the community. However, a while later, due to disagreement among leaders,  scams occurred, causing delays in future improvements for the community.  There were arguments that the projects were unnecessary, that there were actions that were not executed in the best way,  devaluating the start-ups."

It is essential to recognize the skills put in place, the potential, the strengths of community leaders to face weaknesses and transform their community environments to benefit the whole. Because when immersed in struggle, life’s lessons, resistance, defenses, awareness of relationships, and inspiring work, they still find themselves with open wounds, without a cure.

The marks left by political insurgents and the genocide directly affect Mayan communities. Communities whose only goal was to honor and dignify the desire to be ever-present, supporting transformational processes out of narratives of violence, processes alive with their visions and legacy, as light and voice for coming generations and those denied everything since colonization.  The internal conflict puts fear in the populace, and those memories, thoughts, and legacies will not disappear. They forged the need to struggle for human rights and initiate dimensions of awareness.


"We hate the farce they call the fatherland because that name takes our children from us so that they can serve the elites, seen merely as dogs, prisoners.  They brutalize us in the name of the fatherland; they kill us in the name of the fatherland; they beat us in the name of the fatherland.  And if we are so bold toto rebel, we already know what awaits us, a direct shot without any hesitation. They will never understand the language of the people.  If we ask for justice or bread, they shoot and incarcerate us.  What, then, is the fatherland?"
—  Virginia Bolten


--María Mercedes Calel (Poqo’mchi) is 25 years old, from San Cristóbal Verapaz, Guatemala, and holds a diploma in criminal and forensic investigation. She has been a volunteer in a justice and historical memory organization since 2017, where she has carried out activities related to community organization. She has facilitated workshops on historical memory with women. Mercedes was a participant in the project: “Training Indigenous Women to Defend their Human Rights,” a series of workshops on communication and human rights held between March and June 2021 by Cultural Survival and the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund. The topics of the trainings included healing, information, and documentation of individual and collective human rights. Different media were used to document and communicate human rights violations, including writing, photography, video, radio, and social media. This article is the result of Mercedes' final training project.



Top photo: María Mercedes Calel