Saturday, February 27, 2010

Digging up the past

Guatemala digs up graves in search for disappeared -

Guatemalan authorities have begun digging up mass graves at a cemetery where hundreds of people who disappeared during the Central American country's civil war are believed buried.
An official from the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation says 889 people could be buried at the Verbena Cemetery. Jose Suasnavar says investigators hope DNA testing will identify them.  
Some 240,000 people, mostly Mayan Indians, vanished or died during Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Some of the victims were buried in the Verbena Cemetery's mass graves when no relative came forward to claim their bodies.  
Suasnavar says the exhumations and testing could take up to a year. He spoke Friday after the exhumations began.

Hopefully, identifying the remains, determining the cause of death, and using that information to prosecute those involved in extrajudicial killings will be important steps forward for those seeking thurth and justice in Guatemala.  While one can't expect a short AP blurb to be that comprehensive, that third paragraphs irks me a bit.

I guess Guatemalans "vanished," although I can't say that I've ever heard it explained that way.  Many of the missing were abducted by the government's security forces, tortured, murdered, and then had their bodies disappeared.  Bodies were buried in unmarked graves, dropped into volcanoes, or thrown in the sea.

There was no official record of their arrest nor of their deaths.  Police, military, and government officials denied that the state had anything to do with the supposed disappearance of an individual in question.  On the other hand, if the individual was picked up by government forces, it was because the person was a subversive.  The only person looking for a subversive would be a friend or family member of the subversive.  That's not really something one would want to advertise.

Anyway, while I'm no expert on exhumations, how in the world to they expect to exhume and use DNA testing to identify close to 1,000 bodies in twelve months? And to carry it out in a way that treats the area like a crime scene leaving open the possibility of future prosecutions?


  1. Mike, I think it is actually possible: I know it seems shockingly fast, but if they are trained in Forensic Anthropology, it is entirely feasible. The members of this group have been active for a long time, valiantly working despite death threats reported against them. They are highly qualified and highly experienced and they deserve suppor.

  2. Thanks RAJ. I probably should have said that since I am no expert I am not going to comment on this news.

    I am rooting for them to succeed (that does sound wierd). Exhuming and identifying 2-3 bodies each day for 365 days seems overwhelming to me.