A Walk through Darkness

In the previous blog entry, I presented stories by men and women who had survived the massacre of their own village, as revealed in testimony at the trial of Rios Montt in 2013.  The government’s campaign to wipe out citizens sympathetic or potentially sympathetic to the armed insurrection resulted in the extermination of entire communities and the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.  While Rios Montt (reg. 1982-1983) led the government during the height of the violence, and was later accused of committing crimes against humanity, his predecessor, General Fernando Romeo Lucas García (reg. 1978-1982), had carried out similar policies. During the Lucas regime, our next subject, María Secundina Marín López, saw her husband abducted and her village destroyed. Now 69 and living in Santa Catarina Barahona in the department of Sacatepequez, Marín spoke of her life and the trauma that befell her family.

I grew up in San José Calderas in the department of Chimaltenango. We only spoke Spanish.

For us, we didn’t have our own property.  We would go from one finca to another to work in the fields during the plantings and harvests.  We were always moving from one place to another. We only worked, that’s how I grew up.   

I had a boyfriend and I got married to him, and so I later worked at home, raising my children. 

One day in 1981, during the war, the army entered our town at 6:00 in the morning.  I was pregnant and had three daughters, the oldest being eight.  My husband was getting ready to go out into the fields and I was making tortillas for him to take with him. His name was Tiburcio Lopez Chavez. He was about 25 years old.

The soldiers entered our home and took our food, like our beans, threw it down and stepped on it and crushed it.

My husband was there, and they said they wanted him to go with them, so they took him.  Never again did I see him. We were never able to find out anything about him afterwards. 

The army would tie men up together, take them away, and put them in an empty school.  They brought a lot of them there.  And from there we don’t know exactly what happened to them, but there were many who were killed.  We think they took my husband there, but after that we don’t know what happened.

María Secundina Marín López, Santa Catarina Barahona, Guatemala, August 1, 2021.

We looked for my husband at the school but we found nothing. I went there with my mother-in-law but there was no one there. There were only pants and shirts inside the school, and blood. But from my husband there wasn’t anything, not shoes nor clothes.  As for the others, who knows what they did to them.  What sadness. What sadness in life.

This was just a poor town.  Out in the fields we were cultivating cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, carrots.  Everything was destroyed. The animals were killed so we couldn’t eat our livestock.  We couldn’t eat that entire day. It was pure fear we felt. 

They also burned down the houses, which were made of thatch.

We don’t have any idea why they came. None whatsoever. We were not involved in the war.  I told the soldiers that I didn’t know why they were here doing that, that we hadn’t done anything wrong. They were looking for arms and they would look and look, but there wasn’t anything.

They executed so many people. I saw three men being killed and I saw others being taken away. You could hear gunshots. A lot of people were buried in the fields.

Some would hide but when they came back the army would grab them and take them away, and kill them. There was a plane flying overhead surveilling the people. We couldn’t hide. Where would we go? 

The army came with a truck and also took women away, girls too.  People later said that they threw their bodies into a ravine.

They left us alone but after that, we didn’t have any place to live. They had burned my house, all of it.

From up over there (San José Calderas), we came here, Santa Catarina Barahona (about 7 and 1/2 miles away). We went on foot to where my father was living at the time. We travelled all night and used candles to see.  Now there is light but back then all we had were candles. 

We ate from the grassland on the way:  we ate a little cauliflower, macuy ( a flowering plant known as black nightshade) chipilín (a leafy plant) and chard.  That’s what you can eat here. 

I was always trying to make sure my children were fed. They were asking for food and crying. Where are you going to find it for them?  Where are you going to go to get it? And they cry for Papa, but he is not there. You say to your children, “let’s eat,” but you are not eating to make sure they do. The tears. It’s hard. That day was tough. We really suffered.

We finally arrived at San Antonio (a town near where she lives today) and asked for lodging.

You always think they’ll (the army) come back and kill you.  That’s what you are always worried about, day after day, that they will find and kill you.  And you think, then what will happen to my children?  

There were a lot of massacres at that time.  Towns would disappear.

I raised four daughters without my husband.  We suffer that memory of what happened.  You can never forget it.

The home of María Marín López, on a steep cliff in the town of Santa Catarina Barahona.

Marín López spoke with me on August 1, 2021, in Santa Catarina Barahona.  Her narrative reflects my edits and translation.

Author: storiesfromguatemala

Dr. Stephen O'Brien is a historian who resides in both Guatemala and New Haven, CT collecting oral testimony to gain insight into various historical and cultural forces. He has a PhD from Yale University in History, with a concentration in modern Latin America, and is a Fulbright-Hays scholar. He has taught at Trinity College in Connecticut and at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. Before that time, he was a reporter and anchorman in local tv news in the United States.

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