Central America, Guatemala, Photo Essays

Guatemala: Exhumation Inside Cobán’s Garrison

June 19, 2012 By James Rodriguez

COBAN, GUATEMALA — On February 27th, 2012, The Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) began an exhumation inside the former Military Garrison of Cobán, one of Guatemala’s largest cities. Three months later, forensic anthropologists have recovered the remains of close to 100 victims of Guatemala’s 1960-1996 internal armed conflict. One mass grave has revealed the remains of 63 women and children, while another includes numerous human corpses that are still bound, tied and blindfolded.

According FAFG anthropologist Selket Callejas, the 63 human remains recovered in Mass Grave number 15 belong to women and children from the Achi Maya region of Rabinal, a municipality in the department of Baja Verapaz. Due to the necklaces, silver pennants and decorative textiles found in the mass grave, experts believe the deceased were  from the Rio Negro community and most likely were victims of the Los Encuentros massacre, one of a series of massacres carried out by the Guatemalan military and paramilitaries from 1980-1982 against a  civilian population that resisted the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam and the flooding of the Chixoy River Basin.

“This community was attacked by the army with grenade launchers on May 14th, 1982, killing 79 community members, along with the disappearance of 15 women. All homes were burned down,” according to a statement from Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission (CEH).

At the time, the Guatemalan government justified the massacre by claiming that the civilians were aiding leftist guerrillas. In 1993, twenty-three Maya Achi communities banded together to create the Coordinating Committee of Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Dam (COCAHICH) in an effort to bring attention to the Río Negro/Chixoy Dam massacres and their aftermath.

In March, the forensic teams located a number of mass graves at the military outpost in Cobán. Rony Urízar, a spokesperson for Guatemala’s Ministry of Defense, said in March that the Army would cooperate with the investigation.  “We are respectful of the law, and we will submit to any requests in this case,” he said.

Today, Cobán’s former military garrison serves as the headquarters for Guatemala’s Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ).

About James Rodriguez

James is an independent photojournalist based in Guatemala who specializes in documenting that country's post-war social movement. Raised in Mexico City, James holds a B.A. in Cultural Geography from the University of California at Los Angeles. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Indypendent of New York and Yes! Magazine, and can be viewed at Mi Mundo.