“We don’t tell the stories – the archives do.”
In the dimly lit corridors of Guatemala’s Historical Archive of National Police, box after box is piled high in every available corner and against almost every wall. It’s hard to fathom the scale of the task the staff have undertaken here. Discovered in 2005, the archive holds over 80 million police records the most important of which date from the country’s 36 year internal conflict which left 200,000 dead. So far, the archives have been used as evidence in 14 cases relating to the crimes committed during the civil war including the most recent genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt who was behind some of the worst atrocities committed against indigenous communities in Guatemala.
The archive has been a powerful tool for justice. Maybe too powerful. Two months ago, the archive director Gustavo Meoño Brenner was let go without any explanation and the staff are currently on short-term contracts without any idea what will happen to them or their archive. They fear the worst; that the archive will be turned into a museum or closed down all together. To date, they have processed and digitised just over a fifth of these police records leaving the vast majority of the records untouched.
The staff want me to know, to reiterate during this politically-tense time when the future of the archive is uncertain, that the work they do isn’t politically motivated. That they don’t have an agenda. That they didn’t incriminate the generals who committed atrocities during the civil war. They are not the ones that tell the stories – that’s what the archives do. The archives speak and allow the voices of the past to be heard.
As journalist we are sometimes accused of having an agenda. Of being politically motivated. Of being troublemakers. But we don’t tell these stories – we just listen and allow voices of today to be heard.
By Arwa Aburawa, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow