Yesterday I went to the Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional with Pedro Dana, Program Manager for the IWMF’s Adelante Initiative. We drive to Zona 6, a part of the city I had not seen yet. Although, I haven’t seen much of the city at all, so that isn’t saying much. We pull up next to a compound that feels like it’s on the edge of town (it’s not), greet a guard who lets us in and then walk on a long, dirt driveway until we reach the main building, passing murals with barbed wired above them. We meet a woman named Louisa who gives us a tour and lets me take photos of anything I want.
The building itself was designed to be a hospital. However in 1980, the construction was stalled due to corruption and was never finished. Sometime after that the police started sending dump trucks of their old files and records there. Louisa told us that many neighbors had no idea that there was a building inside the compound, most people just thought that it was a junkyard, which it also kind of was. In addition to sending tons of documents, they sent ‘uncooperative’ women who worked for the police as a sort of work reassignment. Louisa told us that if women working at the police station didn’t comply with giving ‘favors’ or complained about harassment, they were sent to ‘the worst place possible.’ The archives.
The archives were discovered in 2005 when an Ombudsman (my very first time hearing this word) paid them a visit. And the conditions of the archives and these women’s work environment were unimaginably poor. Sections of the building were overrun by rodents and bats, in addition to mold, dust and toxic particulates. When we visited, the workers who handle the documents directly wear full body suits, masks, gloves and hairnets.
In the building they discovered documents dating as far back as 1882 and they have since been digitizing every single one. The documents have been particularly useful in convictions of human rights violations from the Guatemalan Civil War. Turns out the police kept impeccable records.
The building itself was… scary. The whole place felt haunted and filled with this particular kind of sadness that makes perfect sense given that perhaps within those walls there is a record of the wrong done to the hundreds of thousands who died or disappeared during the conflict. And then countless more. A type of heaviness that you feel when you remember that women who spoke up about harassment were sent to work there as punishment to spend their days sifting through records of murder, abuse and bureaucratic nonsense.