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September 22, 1989 - Image 18

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-09-22
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Guatemala: Eternal
Spring, Eternal
Tyranny
by Jean-Marie Simon
Norton (1987): 256 pp.
$19.95/papert
Writing of Guatemala in 1969,c
the famed Uruguayan novelist1
Eduardo Galleano described the dicta-1
torship there as a "regime that vio-1
lently imposes the law of survival oft
the strongest, a society that con-
demns most people to live as if in ae
concentration camp; an occupied
country where the imperium shows
and uses its claws and teeth."
"Guatemala," writes Jean-Marie
Simon in the introduction to her
own magnificent book, "is a place
where those who have nothing offer
the only chair in the house, while
those who have everything will
often not pay minimum wage."
Simon's ability to concentrate on
such apparently simple details is one
of the strengths in her narrative of
Guatemala's last decade, which, if
anything, cries out for even stronger
condemnations than those offered by
Galleano 20 years ago. The statistics
she cites speak for themselves: worst
land distribution pattern in all of
Latin America; highest maternal
mortality rate in Central America; a
place where over 40 percent of all
children die before they are five.
Thirty-nine percent of the disap-
peared in all of Latin America since
1966 are from Guatemala alone; in
the last decade, genocide against the
indigenous population has claimed
100,000 lives, spawned over one
million internally displaced refugees
(in a country of 7 million),and sent
another 70,000 fleeing toward
Mexico.
But while statistics can say a lot,
they are also abstract, making it dif-
ficult to grasp the human dimension
of the tragedy they describe. It is
Simon's pictures - hundreds of
them, in full color - that do most
to add this dimension.
Woven into the text, though
rarely overwhelming it, her pictures
complement the countless stories
she narrates to recreate the simple
people who have been killed or dis-
appeared - the faces and places be-
hind the statistics. And they offer a
silentcondemnation of those count-
less generals, politicians, and U.S.
dignitaries Simon interviews, almost
all of whom blithely ignore or cava-
lierly minimize the horrors for
which they are responsible.
Some of Simon's pictures are un-
forgettable. A nine-month-old baby
at a Guatemala clinic, horribly de-
formed from malnutrition and dead a
day later; appears next to a shot of
the sumptuous backyard of a
Guatemala cattle breeder and a.por-
trait of a Guatemala City debutante

and her father. Long lines of panic-
stricken people lined up for U.S.
visas -99 percent of whom are de-
nied entry into the United States -
appear next to a description of
Guatemala's fascist pass laws, fre-
quently used as an excuse for ran-
domly killing those people who vio-
late them. Child soldiers at military
prep school accompany a story of
how the Army teaches the cruelty its
troops learn to practice. And a
slashed and truncated female victim
of this cruelty appears next to a por-
trait of the civilian President behind
whose facade of democracy she was
brutally murdered.

rilla fighter Jeronimo, who took to
the mountains to avoid being killed,
leaving behind a wife who he has
not seen in six years and not heard
from in three. As Jeronimo fondles
his last, carefully preserved letter
from her and describes their initial
courtship, his bittersweet waves of
nostalgia are almost palpable. We
read a disappeared husband's smug-
gled last letter to his wife, written
just before his execution and ending
with the haunting "Goodbye for-
ever."
The most astounding story
Simon recounts, titled simply "The
Prayer," narrates the excruciating tale

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Simon arranges her pictures well,
beginning with seemingly innocu-
ous shots of Guatemala's gorgeous
scenery and plentiful resources: dawn
in the highlands; a colorful market
day in Chichicastenango; lovers
courting on the shores of beautiful
Lake Atitlan. Gradually, the pictures
become more somber, and then
chilling, exposing the incongruity of
death in such an apparent promised
land - of eternal tyranny in what an
18th century visitor referred to as
"the land of eternal spring."
The stories Simon has collected
create similarly macabre juxtaposi-
tions between innocence and evil;
idealism and hypocrisy; courage and
craven cowardice. We meet the guer-

of how a small village in southern
Quiche province received five cap-
tured men - accused of being
"subversives" -- and was ordered by
the Army to decide their fate.
Though the men are from the same
village, their erstwhile neighbors de-
cide to kill them, fully aware that
should they fail to do so, they will
be massacred. Before the condemned
are killed, the entire village lines up,
hugs them, and, crying, begs them
for forgiveness.
In this context, Simon's inter-
views and citations from members of
the elite and their United States sup-
porters appear even more callous,
cruel, and cynical than they actually
See Spring, Page 12
Weekend/September 22,1989.
x t ~I~4 /sq .f

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Weekend/September 22,1989

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