When I left Guatemala in 1982 at the age of five, I joined the immigration tide of thousands of people fleeing Guatemala’s civil war, poverty, gangs, and corruption to cross the Mexican desert and enter the United States. For many of my generation, Guatemala was as far as we could imagine from a law-abiding society where justice prevails.
But things are changing. This year has already opened up new chapter in Guatemala's history. Look at what’s happened in just a few short months:
- An ex-president went to jail to face money laundering charges.
- The murder of Rodrigo Rosenberg—the prominent attorney who appeared on YouTube in May 2009 accusing President Colom of killing him—is resolved by a UN entity with 300 investigators who use cellphone calls and private security camera footage to determine that Rosenberg plotted his own murder.
- The director of Guatemala’s national police force, Baltzar Gomez, is arrested on March 10 on charges of colluding with drug traffickers.
And now, Guatemala has begun to both, figuratively and literally, dig deep in the dirt of its past and enter a period of transitional justice. For decades, Guatemalans have been digging up bodies buried in mass graves located in the mountains—where government troops and death squads massacred indigenous Mayan villagers to eliminate guerrilla opposition—but exhumations are now underway in Guatemala City's Verbena Cemetery. In the capital, thousands of students, church leaders, union members, and everyday citizens were abducted and never heard from again—and to this day Guatemala has made no official mention of those crimes or punished those responsible.