Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Right to Live

As I stood along the Sacapulas bridge rail, I glanced up and was startled to see a fully armed military patrol in camouflage gear marching toward me,. The line grew until I could see fifty or sixty soldiers, armed with everything from machine guns to mortars. The 1960's and '70's, leading up to the worst of the recent violence, had been the first period of church idealism in Guatemala since the [16th century] Verapaz experiment. Foreign priests, many of them Spanish and North American, had evangelized among the [Mayan] Indians, founded cooperatives, and taught literacy. The civil and military authorities in Guatemala had apparently found the resulting Indian political consciousness threatening, because in the late seventies, as a preface to the more generalized violence to come, thousands of religiously inspired catechists, cooperative members, and community leaders were selectively assassinated.

I followed the soldiers up the hill and into the center of town. Just off the main plaza, they filed through a gate bearing the words DECAMPAMENTO MILITAR SACAPULAS. To one side of the gate was painted the base motto: "Only he who struggles has the right to conquer. Only he who conquers has the right to live."

--The Heart of the Sky by Peter Canby


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