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Bringing Up the Bodies in Guatemala

Tue, 02/23/2016 - 10:05am
Saul Elbein, Al Jazeera America

The laboratory of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, where the remains of victims of the civil war are analyzed and identified through DNA testing. (Credit: Saul Martinez for Al Jazeera America)The Find

In February 2012, Edgar Hernandez walked with a team of archaeologists beneath the lush cypress forests of a military base in Coban, a city of 250,000 that sits in a high misty valley in the mountains of central Guatemala. They cleared grass from areas where the land seemed to dip, as though the soil had been disturbed decades before. Then, surrounded by soldiers, the archaeologists staked out thin exploratory trenches and began to dig.

Today the base, used by Guatemalan soldiers to train for UN peacekeeping missions, is called the Regional Command for Peacekeeper Training — Creompaz, in Spanish. Said aloud the name sounds like “creo en paz” — “I believe in peace.” Soldiers there are trained to deploy with UN missions in places like Haiti or the Congo, sometimes alongside troops from Canada and the United States. Yet Hernandez’s presence at the­­ site pointed to its darker past.

Hernandez is a forensic archeologist at the Forensics Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, an independent organization that runs the largest private forensics lab in Latin America, and which has been a mainstay in the campaign to bring to justice military commanders involved in the atrocities of Guatemala’s 36-year internal war, which ended in 1996. Between 1979 and 1983, the fever years of the war, a thousand people vanished from the area around Coban — a local representation of the estimated 200,000 who died and 45,000 who went missing nationwide.

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Source: Aljazeera America

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