Indigenous Mayan people of Guatemala continue to seek justice from 36-year civil war

After the 36-year civil war in Guatemala, land reform and equal rights have been slow to come for the Indigenous Mayan people. Now 25 years after the peace accords, some of the alleged perpetrators are on trial for atrocities committed during the conflict. IDEAS revisits a four-part series about the Mayan people and the legacy of the civil war.

An estimated 200,000 people were killed or forcefully 'disappeared' during the Guatemalan conflict

A Mayan Indigenous woman took part in a ceremony that marked the anniversary of the signing of a peace accord after 36 years of civil armed conflict (1960-1996) at the archaeological site of Kaminal Juyu, in Guatemala City, Dec. 29, 2019. (Orlando Estrada/AFP via Getty Images)

Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth is a four-part series about the Mayan people — who they are, their culture, their beliefs, and the legacy of the civil war. You can listen to each episode below.

The Guatemalan civil war, which lasted 36 years from 1960 until the peace accords of 1996, pitted right wing governments and military dictatorships against leftist rebels and the Indigenous people.

The clash was over land reform, rampant corruption, the power of the military, and the control of the United States over all aspects of the economy. 

The conflict mostly affected Indigenous people of Mayan descent. Villages suspected of supporting the rebels were destroyed. 

When the civil war ended in 1996 more than 200,000 had been killed, 40,000 "disappeared," another 200,000 had fled as refugees — with more than 6,000 settling in Canada.

Guatemalans and the descendents of the Mayan people among them, are still struggling to implement a peace accord designed to create a stable democracy.

In a country still rife with corruption and violence, just a handful have gone to prison for their part in the massacres. But now 25 years after the war's end, 12 former military officers are on trial in Guatemala accused of atrocities in the civil war.

IDEAS revisits a four-part series called Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth about the Mayan people. It first aired in 1998 just after the signing of the peace accords. 

The first episode in this series explores the spirit world of the ancient Mayan people and the struggle today to make Mayan ancient beliefs relevant in a modern society.

The second episode of this series looks into the issue of land and land reform — and the historical importance of land to the Mayan people.

In this episode, IDEAS explores the place of Mayan women in present-day Guatemala, their role in the making of the country, and the importance of the art of weaving in keeping an ancient culture alive.  

In the final episode of this series, IDEAS examines the ongoing struggle in the rebuilding of Guatemalan society. Torture, massacres, individual murders, the fracturing of communities and families, all of these are part of the terrible legacy of the civil war. How are the inheritors of all this to make change and build something better?


Guests in this series:

Father Axel Mendez is a Catholic priest in the town of Chichicastenango in the Guatemalan highlands.
Thomas Hart is a Maya priest.
Peter Zabriski is a cave guide in San Ignacio, in western Belize.
Roberto Poz Perez is a Maya priest and day keeper in Zunil.
Alfonso is a Maya priest in Momostenango.
Elizabeth Graham is an anthropologist at Lamanai, a Mesoamerican archaeological site in Belize.
David Pendergast is an anthropologist at Lamanai, a Mesoamerican archaeological site in Belize.
Jose Luis Garcia is an organizer at Finca El Carmen, a coffee plantation in Guatemala.
Walter Castro is a coordinator at Kabawil, a social agency for farmers.
Don Gregorio is a refugee at Finca El Carmen who has returned to Guatemala from Mexico.
Don Luis is a refugee at Finca El Carmen who has returned to Guatemala from Mexico.
Juana Garcia is a Guatemalan refugee who recently returned from Mexico.
Francisca Alvarez is director of the Manuel Colom Argueta Centre for Democracy.
Isabella is the treasurer at Solola Weaving Co-op.
Agustin Sapon Morales is a weaver and cultural worker.
Emelia is a weaver in the Santa Ana cooperative in Zunil.
Rosalina Tuyuc is the deputy in Congress for New Guatemala Democratic Front.
Ronalth Ochaeta is the director of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala.
Fernando Flores is a forensic anthropologist at the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation.
Alfredo Caxaj is a Guatemalan refugee now living in Canada.
Mario Caxaj is Alfredo's brother, living in Guatemala.

* This four-part series was produced by Philip Coulter and Ann MacKeigan. It originally aired in 1998.

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