Equipo Técnico de Educación en Salud Comunitaria (ETESC), a supported project of Partners In Health in Guatemala, was founded by refugees of the Guatemalan Civil War who returned to help rebuild their country. One of the ETESC’s core programs is sociolegal accompaniment—accompanying the most marginalized populations as they learn and exercise the rights guaranteed to them by the government following the brutal war. These programs include financial restitution as well as the exhumation and dignified burial of loved ones’ remains. PIH’s Chiapas Project Manager, Lindsay Palazuelos, sat down with ETESC’s Coordinator, Santiago Pablo Lucas, and Volunteer Rural Technician, Felix Marciano Méndez Sontay, to discuss ETESC’s sociolegal accompaniment program.
Lindsay: Part of ETESC’s mission is “healing.” What does this mean?
Santiago: ETESC supports, accompanies, or assists--together with victims of the armed conflict [the Guatemalan Civil War*]--healing of the harms caused by the state. We are looking for solutions.
Marciano: It’s an act of orientation, perspective. Many people have been afraid to speak out. They would say that “nothing happened” but inside they were saddened, injured.
Lindsay: Why is it important for Guatemala to confront the history of the armed conflict?
Santiago: It is good to understand why it happened, what happened, and how it happened. When people learn why a conflict happened, it is because it should never happen again. Many young people don’t know about the conflict. We must speak the truth; we must love justice, dignity and reparations. It’s not only something important, but rather a necessity.
Lindsay: A key program of ETESC is sociolegal accompaniment. Why is it necessary?
Santiago: ETESC has converted sociolegal accompaniment into a tool to aid victims of the conflict**. This accompaniment is necessary, first, because many don’t know how to read or write, second, they don’t speak Spanish (but rather indigenous languages), and third, they are blatantly ignored if they are not accompanied by a human rights organization. They are ignored because they are poor, elderly, orphans, or simply because they are women... ETESC orients communities, helps to create documents of condemnation including affidavits, helps lead visual inspection of clandestine graves, programs exhumations with forensic anthropologists, and later helps coordinate the dignified return and burial of remains.
Lindsay: How do families and communities feel after this process?
Santiago: The person’s sadness decreases. If a person is dead somewhere, people say that this person’s spirit is not at peace. Only when the family can give the person’s remains a dignified burial in the community cemetery, do people say that the spirit is at peace.
Marciano: One man said he dreamt that his brother [murdered in the conflict] called out to him to exhume and bury his remains. Then he learned about ETESC’s work. When he had the opportunity to bury his brother’s remains, he was very appreciative because he thought it would be impossible, and now his brother is resting in peace.
Lindsay: Do you have a message for PIH supporters?
Santiago: A thank you, because ETESC’s work could not continue if it weren’t for PIH. I would also say that although the bullets have stopped flying, don’t stop thinking about the many problems of poverty that persist. I send a message of solidarity, to not forget that the struggle continues in Guatemala.
Learn more about ETESC’s work.
How you can help: ETESC is in need of digital cameras, camcorders, and digital audio recorders in good, working condition for human rights documentation. If you’d like to donate your used electronics to this cause, or stay updated on ETESC’s activities, please contact Lindsay Palazuelos at email@example.com.
* The Guatemalan Civil War, lasting from 1960 to 1996, was primarily fought between the Guatemalan government and insurgents. The military gained increasing and eventually absolute power, and led over 400 massacres of civilians deemed “enemies of the state”. Over 200,000 people were killed, and between 500,000 and 1.5 million people were displaced. The UN Historical Clarification Commission found that 93% of human rights violations were committed by the state.
** Sociolegal accompaniment is a pragmatic process to assist survivors of the civil war to realize their rights to reparations from the government.