Day of Heroes & Martyrs

June 30, 2011 + San Francisco Style

the First March May 27, 2011

Communiqe: A Day for Our Heroes and Martyrs

H.I.J.O.S. Guatemala

Counting all those who saw the newspapers and news programs, there was no way to hide this small triumph won by history.

On June 30th, 2008, the Great March for Memory took place in the streets of the old historic center, starting in the place that, until this day, had been forgotten as a monument to the martyrs. Hundreds of us walked through the streets that have throughout history witnessed the great struggles of teachers, students, indigenous peoples, campesinos, and people protesting rising transportation costs. Heading up6th Avenue, the march stopped in front of the place where student leader Oliverio Castaneda de Leon was assassinated on October 20th, 1978.

We continued walking and, in our path, we could still detect the smell of bombs on the street corners of zone 1. Between the old houses and buildings, we could still hear the echoes of the marches in April of 2005 that brought hundreds of women and men, mostly youth, out into the streets to protest the Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).

We kept walking and from 7th Avenue, we could see the pillars of the cathedral engraved with the names of hundreds of heroes and martyrs. When we got to Central Park, hundreds of people were cramming in to see the exhibits on the martyrs and the “disappeared”. Thousands of flowers decorated the plaza. Dozens of youth were holding aerosol cans for the anti-militarism graffiti festival, while a group of women was preparing to act out the violence committed against our mothers, grandmothers, sisters and neighbors in attacks carried out by the Kaibiles. The artists, singers, poets, actors, vendors, shoe shiners, clowns and spies – all of them, hundreds of people, were waiting for the festival of memory, truth and justice. For many years, the parade of tyrants and criminals was held in this park. To the sound of drums and applause, hundreds of people now declared that, for the first time in history, the park would be free of military boots, free of soldiers, free of weapons and murderers.
We lost our voices, our throats were sore and our eyes began to tear with emotion springing from the memories held in our souls all these years. At last, after so much time and in spite of all the blows we were dealt, we could show that our history had the power to eliminate the symbol of terror and impunity embodied in the genocidal battalions marching through the streets.

Our fathers and grandfathers, our mothers and grandmothers were with us, their faces painted on the red banners waving in the air. The strings and drums drew sustenance from the hands that made them free. Our cries again rang out, as we shouted for memory, life, and the dignity of all our martyrs.

We laughed, we danced, we hugged and many others joined in. We broke out in chorus for our martyrs, calling for a celebration of their lives and their struggles. We called out to break the silence, to identify the tyrants, to celebrate the hope of the people that refused to be silenced.

This was how it all had meaning; the escape into the jungle, the exile, the hiding places, the resistance in the mountains, the sound of the wind and the trees that took bullets for us.all the love and silence in the face of cruelty and torture had meaning. To have survived had meaning; so we would not forget, so we could shout their names and celebrate all the men and women present in our voices and smiles – the Day of Our Heroes and Martyrs.

For the disappeared, neither forgetting nor forgiveness.

Because we are all children of the same history.

For memory, against impunity, never again the military parade.

Since 1871, the Guatemalan people have been subjected to witnessing the armed forces caravaning through their streets every June 30 — officially observed as Armed Forces Day. Starting in 1999, though, the HIJOS Collective (acronym for: Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice, against Forgetfulness and Silence, a group mostly made up of family members of those forcefully disappeared by the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s) set for itself the goal of permanently stopping the parade. According to HIJOS, “the military parade is a clear display of force by the armed forces against civil society in a country where the army has been accused of crimes against humanity by a number of justice processes. Despite such indictments, members of the armed forces walk the streets and even parade in complete impunity.”