I was sitting on an open porch in Managua, Nicaragua, when I met the Guatemalans. Members of the Guatemalan Church in Exile, they were anxious to provide information about their troubled homeland to the outside world. They had lost family and friends to the bloody repression that has plagued Guatemala for decades (see box), and had fled to Nicaragua because now their own lives had been threatened. My stay in Nicaragua lasted only a few weeks, and the number of people I managed to meet seemed overwhelming at times, but I often remember the special sadness of the Guatemalans.
I had gone to Nicaragua to see, firsthand, the results of Reagan's illegal war against the Nicaraguan people–to see the countryside for myself, to travel its roads, and to meet as many of its citizens as possible. Nicaragua, a small, poor country in the best of times, is now in the process of rebuilding a ravaged economy, but unfortunately this process is complicated by Reagan administration policies and a threatening militarization of Honduras. Though the Nicaraguan people have suffered enormously, first under the dictator Somoza, and now at the hands of U.S.trained terrorists based in Honduras, those I met seemed to display a genuine sense of hope.
It was a different type of hope that haunted my conversations with the Guatemalans. They were separated from the culture that was the basis of their hope and faith, and the terrible strain showed in their faces.
Working with solidarity groups in the Midwest, I had met many Central Americans. As a member of the human rights organization Amnesty International, I had gained a special insight into the problems of this troubled region. I had read the human rights reports, I knew of the government abuses and had done a great deal of reading and research.
But recently my interest had become darkened by a sad reality. Central America, and particularly Guatemala, is in the midst of a holocaust. The numbers of people affected are staggering. In El Salvador, as a matter of government policy, tens of thousands have been murdered, an average of between ten and twelve thousand for each of Ronald Reagan's first four years in office. In Guatemala the numbers have been equally staggering, but less precise–partially because the regions targeted by the Guatemalan army are remote and partially because the slaughter has been so extensive that keeping count is a difficult task. Together these small nations have seen between 100,000 and 150,000 of their citizens disappear. Maybe more....