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Notes from the Evidence Project: “The Echo of Pain of the Many”

April 24, 2012

By: Laura Perkins

“The Echo of Pain of the Many” — Following one woman’s profound journey in search of “the voice of the disappeared” and the search for her brother disappeared by Guatemalan security forces

still from film, "The Echo of Pain of the Many" - Director, Lucia Cuevas speaks with survivors of violence during the conflict

The Guatemalan documentary film, “The Echo of Pain of the Many,” will make its North American Premier on May 8th, 2012 at George Washington University*. “El Eco del Dolor de Mucha Gente” is just that — a glimpse into the still very raw pain of a recovering country through the story of a filmmaker trying to find the whereabouts of her brother who disappeared in 1984. This excellent film will leave you with a better understanding of Guatemalan history, as well as a tear running down your cheek.

After years of newspaper clipping and letter writing, Ana Lucia Cuevas began her journey to find her brother, Carlos Cuevas. Her first stop in the film was to see Noam Chomsky in Massachusetts to discuss the role of the United States in undermining Guatemalan self-governance. Next, Kate Doyle, Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive, reviewed documents from both the United States and Guatemala as evidence of U.S. involvement in the conflict, securing their role as perpetrators of human rights violations during the conflict. With the help of Doyle and Chomsky, Lucía slowly unravels the context around which thousands of Guatemalans “disappeared” at the hands of their government.

Director, Lucia Cuevas, speaks with Noam Chomsky

The discovery of the Military Diary in 1999 provided the first bit of information for Guatemalan families on the whereabouts of loved ones.  By reviewing the document with Doyle, Lucía found indisputable proof that her brother had been captured, tortured, and killed at the hands of the Guatemalan government. She traveled to the National Security Archive in Washington D.C. to see the original book for herself. In a moving scene, she finds evidence of not only her brother, but of surveillance of her entire family, touching the pages that “smell of death.”

In Guatemala, Lucia meets with survivors of government atrocities and with those working to bring justice to Guatemala. She speaks with multiple representatives of Guatemala’s police archives, el Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional, which since its discovery in 2005 has provided evidence in multiple human rights cases.

Lucia also talks to people who were active during the conflict, defending the rights of the people. Nineth Montenegro, now a Guatemalan Congressional Representative, helped found the Mutual Support Group of the Families of the Disappeared (GAM). Montenegro represents one of thousands who have dedicated their lives to fighting for those whose voices have been silenced.

still from film, "The Echo of the Pain of the Many" - exhumations of mass graves in search of the disappeared.

In some cases, these fights have reached the international level in the form of human rights trials, in which the Archive has been able to play a significant role by providing expert witness testimony on declassified U.S. documents. The Dos Erres Massacre, for example, led to the life imprisonment of four former secret policemen for their role in the systematic extermination of Guatemala’s indigenous population. These court cases are a collaboration between many groups and people, including testimony from experts like Kate Doyle, who use government documents against perpetrators, and forensic anthropologists like Fredy Peccerelli, who use DNA to connect bodies found in mass graves to names of the many disappeared. As the Executive Director of the Fundacion de Antropologia Forense de Guatemala, or FAFG, Peccerelli conducts the forensic examination that serves as the thread connecting Lucia’s journey from CIA documents to military diaries, to first-hand accounts, to grave exhumations, and to human rights trials.

The first-hand accounts—of disappearances, tortures, massacres, forced displacements—bring the documentary full circle into the pain that persists into the present. It is not just Lucia who has spent the past twenty-eight years looking for her loved one; it is not just Lucia’s brother, Carlos Cuevas’ name and picture that appears in the Death Squad Diary; and it is not just Carlos’s wife who marched the streets of Guatemala City holding a picture of her “disappeared” husband.  Thousands of people continue to suffer and search for information about their loved ones, making Lucía Cuevas’s story a mere echo of the pain of the many. However, as painful as these memories are, their power prevails over the hatred and violence that created them.


*The premier will be followed by a panel discussion with Ana Lucia Cuevas, director of “The Echo,” Iduvina Hernandez, Guatemalan journalist and human rights defender, and representatives from the National Security Archive and Amnesty International. The film is in English and Spanish with English subtitles.


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