I was in Guatemala on Feb. 15 when I first received the news that Venezuela — my home for the past three decades — was on the brink of civil war. My inbox flooded with questions from friends and journalists asking what was happening in my adopted country. “Pray for Venezuela,” said numerous other email messages from people in the U.S.
I had just returned from the Mayan Ixil community of Cocop, in the state of Quiche, in the western highlands of Guatemala, where I met with survivors of the 1981 massacre there. The 58 victims of Cocop were among 1,700 Ixils murdered by the army under the leadership of Gen. Jose Efrain Rios Montt, the former Guatemalan president who was recently convicted for genocide, although the conviction was overturned by the Constitutional Court and will be retried. All told, approximately 200,000 were killed in Guatemala’s 1981–96 civil war.
At Cocop’s small cemetery, the president of the town’s survivors’ committee, Jacinto de Paz, turned to me and said, “I’d like to introduce you to my parents.” His hand then swepttotwo tombs. As he shared the story of how the army gunned down nine family members, his body trembled and tears fell. He was 13 at the time. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “It still hurts so much.”