Category: News

Title: Human Rights and the Question of Genocide in the Guatemalan Civil War

by Anna Landre (SFS’21)

On October 25th, the Center for Latin American Studies hosted priest and anthropologist Father Ricardo Falla, S.J. for a discussion about the 1982 San Francisco Massacre in Guatemala. Though a tragedy almost three decades in the past, Fr. Falla stressed the continuing impact that memories of this massacre, and others like it, continue to have on Guatemala.

A native of Guatemala, Fr. Falla was one of the first to draw attention to the human rights abuses committed during the country’s civil war, even living clandestinely within indigenous communities for six years to document these impunities. He spoke about his experiences interviewing a survivor of the San Francisco massacre, allowing him to share this testimony as evidence of the crimes committed by the Guatemalan military. During this time, he noted, “I was no longer an anthropologist. I was a human rights activist.”

Ricardo Falla talks to students at event

While working clandestinely on a written account of the military’s crimes against indigenous Guatemalans, Fr. Falla used the alias “Marcos,” a reference to Mark, the first evangelist. He explained his motivation to ensure that the crimes he witnessed were documented for future inspection, referencing the latin phrase “verba volant, scripta manent”—spoken words fly away, written words remain.

In his talk, Fr. Falla explored the concept of genocide, noting the inherent difficulties in proving that the Guatemalan military had a clear intention to eliminate the country’s indigenous populations. Still, due to the symbolic acts of violence performed in the midst of each massacre and the systematic ways that these killings were carried out, he believes that the charge of genocide in Guatemala is warranted, though few have been brought to justice.

During the question and answer session, Fr. Falla encouraged students to seek structural change in order to prevent tragedies such as the San Francisco Massacre, rather than simply looking to memorialize them. He noted the power of social media in connecting the world, and the need to use resources to stop the spread of hate and instead spread understanding and peace.