Members of the Ixil community carry coffins bearing the remains of 61 Ixil who died in Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war during a mass funeral in Jacana, Guatemala, on 30 March 2023. EFE/Esteban Biba

Indigenous victims of Guatemalan civil war finally laid to rest

By Esteban Biba and David Toro

Residents of Jacana, Guatemala, transport coffins containing the remains of 61 members of the Ixil community who died in the 1960-1996 civil war. EFE/Esteban Biba

Jacana, Guatemala, Mar 30 (EFE).- Scores of Ixil indigenous people gathered here Thursday for the burial of 61 members of the community who died four decades ago after being driven from their homes by the army during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 internal conflict.

Members of the Ixil community of Jacana, Guatemala, place the remains of 61 Ixil who died in the 1960-1996 civil war in a mausoleum on 30 March 2023. EFE/Esteban Biba

“Today we bid farewell to these families with whom we traveled in the mountains during the war,” Pedro Chavez, representing an association of conflict survivors, told EFE ahead of the mass interment in the Jacana district of the town of Santa Maria Nebaj, 260 km (161 mi) north of Guatemala City.

Nebaj is one of a cluster of towns in Quiche province that are home to most of the Ixil, a Mayan-speaking people.

The 61 coffins were carried on foot to the site where the community built a mausoleum to hold their remains and a monument in their memory.

“We are not afraid of the army and if they come we talk to them. I am angry about what they did to us,” one elderly woman shouted during the procession to the cemetery.

While only three sets of remains were positively identified, the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) was able to determine that the 61 dead included 26 children, two of them newborns.

“This group of people had fled from their communities in the center of Nebaj because of constant attacks by the army and they took refuge in the mountains of San Marcos Chajul, where they died for lack of food,” FAFG’s Ricardo Pinto told EFE.

In 1982, the Guatemalan military carried out a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Quiche, killing at least 18,000 – and as many as 75,000 – people in the course of eight months.

The early 1980s were the bloodiest phase of a war that claimed more than 250,000 lives.

“The army burned the few crops they managed to grow in the mountains. They lived in constant flight,” Pinto said of the displaced residents of Nebaj.

Some 1,500 Ixil died at the hands of the military during the 1982-1983 reign of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt (1926-2018), whose 2013 conviction on genocide charges was overturned by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.

The Commission for Historical Clarification discovered documents showing that the military regarded the Ixil as an “internal enemy” who had to be destroyed.

The late dictator’s daughter, Zury Rios Sosa, is seen as one of the favorites in the June 25 presidential election. EFE dte/dr