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Women of the War Remembered
Cerigua Weekly Briefs, No.48, 11 December 1997
Guatemala City, December 6. Some of the hundreds of women who died fighting in Guatemala's 36-year civil war were remembered yesterday during the launch of a small book entitled, "When Women Die they Multiply."
The book, compiled by the women's sector of the National Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity (URNG), attempts to recaptures the history and experiences of 21 women guerrillas through poetry and personal accounts of their lives. This is the first in a series of six volumes.
"They overcame a number of obstacles in their different forms of struggle and they died" for that struggle, said URNG leader Alba Estela Maldonado (Lola), the only women on the fledgling party's directorate.
Poet Edwin Cifuentes who recounted at the event the story of his daughter Mireya said both her death and those of other women had helped raise awareness about the armed struggle. "They will not die, but live. It's certain they'll live in the history of Guatemala," he said.
The mother of Mayra Corina and Dina Lizabeth Vargas Fernandez -- students at San Carlos University who were disappeared in the early 1980s -- urged all women to continue to fight. In doing so, the sacrifice her daughters had made would not be in vain, she said.
War Crimes: Women Begin to Speak
Fifteen years ago, the women of Rio Negro, some of them pregnant, were dragged from their homes, forced to march to the top of a mountain, and there, along with their children, were raped, tortured and killed.
"The soldiers and the (paramilitary civil defense) patrollers started grabbing the girls and raping us," recalls Ana, one of a handful of survivors of the massacre. "Only two soldiers raped me because my grandmother was there to defend me. All the girls were raped,"
In total, 177 women and children died that day. The village, one of the most far flung of Rabinal municipality in Baja Verapaz province, disappeared.
This horror story was repeated throughout the country during Guatemala's counterinsurgency war. Time and again women bore the brunt of men's crimes against humanity. "They slashed me with a machete, they raped me, they threw me on the ground and slashed my head with the machete, my breasts, my entire hand," a young woman from Alta Verapaz province recounts.
Rape, as one of the tortures practiced on Guatemalans during the war, has been widely acknowledged here, but not discussed at length. And a systematic investigation of how it may have been used as a weapon of war is lacking.
Yolanda Aguilar, an investigator with the Catholic Church's project for the Recuperation of Historical Memory (REMHI) is currently working in this area and says it is the first time there has been an investigation of this type here. "We talk about intrafamily violence and race violence, but this type violence has never been dealt with," she said.
Aguilar believes rape formed a conscious part of the army's counterinsurgency strategy against the indigenous population. "It was not declared but openly realized," she said.
Herself a survivor of the violence directed against women during the war, she says the motives for raping women at that time were various. "Women were responsible for maintaining much of the social fabric... by attacking them they were attacking the social fabric of the community," she said. Rape was also used to 'reward' soldiers for their work, she added.
Despite the frequency of these kind of abuses, statistics are poor, not least because women themselves have been reluctant to speak out.
However, according to Aguilar, that situation is beginning to change. As more women speak, she says, another step in the long process of building peace in Guatemala is taken: "Peace isn't arrived at because of an accord between two parties. It's the everyday work, where women play a central role."