Learning about Guatemala–Listening to the Echo of the Pain of the Many

During my delegation to Guatemala, I had a few internal questions I was hoping to answer. These questions ranged from the professional–what is living with a disability like in Guatemala? To the personal–why do eggs and beans taste better at breakfast? And to the photographic–how many advertisements for the documentary film “El Eco del Delor de Mucha Gente/The Echo of Pain of the Many” could I spot?

El Eco del Delor de Mucha Gente/The Echo of Pain of the Many is a powerful documentary film directed by Ana Lucia Cuevas. In “the Echo” Ms. Cuevas frames the story of her family’s search for the truth regarding her brother, Carlos Ernesto Cuevas Molina, a student activist who was disappeared in 1984, against the pain of many Guatemalans that suffered the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones during the internal conflict, which lasted from 1960-1996.

“The Echo” is approximately one hour in length, and interweaves historical footage from the 1954 Coup, interviews with Guatemalan activists and massacre survivors with the personal story of the Cuevas family. The blending of these diverse components forms a cohesive whole, and the artistry in the combination calls to mind Ms. Cuevas’s background as a sculptor and painter. Watching the Washington, DC Premier of “the Echo” on May 8, 2012, with a diverse group of people working in Guatemalan human rights, I felt the echo of the pain of the many not only projected onto the screen, but also refracted throughout the room.

The film opens with Ms. Cuevas seeking out Political Analyst Noam Chomsky in order to understand how her country was plunged into violent turmoil that culminated in the death and disappearance of 200,000 people, including her beloved brother. Noam Chomsky gives a brief yet balanced explanation of how the United States backed coup in 1954, which was carried out to protect the land interests of The United Fruit Company, led to a 36 year Civil War between the military and Guerilla groups. Noam Chomsky’s analysis provided a helpful introduction for someone such as myself, who has limited understanding of Guatemalan history. From Chomsky’s overview of the armed conflict, Ms. Cuevas seeks out specific information, and speaks to National Security Archive Senior Analyst Kate Doyle, who describes “the Military Diary,” a logbook that the military kept complete with photographic entries of those they tortured and killed. In the Military Diary, Ms. Cuevas discovers an entry for Carlos, proof that the Guatemalan government tortured and murdered her brother and “soul mate.”

Sadly, the pain of the Cuevas family ripples outward beyond the loss of Carlos Cuevas. Carlos’s wife, Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, became a leader of GAM, the mutual support group for families of the disappeared. When Ms. Cuevas spoke with GAM founder Nineth Montenegro, I felt a gnawing twinge of fear. I recognized Rosario’s name, and realized that Ms. Cuevas was bringing to life a tragic incident I had read about in “The Art of Political Murder.” Rosario had captivated author Francisco Goldman with her vibrant spirit. Photogenic, she appears on the banner above bearing a megaphone. In April 1985, Rosario herself was disappeared.  An investigation discovered the lifeless bodies of Rosario, her 21-year-old brother, and Rosario and Carlos’s infant son in a wrecked car. However, a car accident contradicted the stories of violence the bodies told. Human rights defenders reported that the baby’s fingernails had been torn out.

The Washington DC premier of “The Echo,” was followed by a panel, in which speakers shared how the events captured in “The Echo” affect present day Guatemala. The panelists were:

  • Ana Lucia Cuevas,  Director of “El Eco del Delor de Mucha Gente/The Echo of Pain of the Many”
  • Iduvina Hernandez Batres, Guatemalan journalist, human rights activist, conducting a Speaker’s Tour with the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission
  • Kathryn Johnson, Development and Advocacy Coordinator of The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, translating for Iduvina Hernandez Batres
  • Samuel Villatoro, founder and director of the Amancio Samuel Villatoro Foundation
  • Representative of Amnesty International

Journalist Iduvina Hernandez introduced herself by pointing out a painful fact that united her, Ana Luisa Cuevas, and Samuel Villatoro–each of them had a loved one featured in the Military Diary. Listening to the panelists share their individual histories, which echoed the pain of many Guatemalans, and also braided together tremendous resiliency in pursuit of justice, was a powerful experience. Perhaps an antidote to the “Military Diary,” opening the book and giving an echoing voice to lives lost and stories untold.

Many thanks to all those involved in the screening, and to NSA Research Associate Emily Willard for convening this moving event.

Source Notes

1.  Trailer. “The Echo of Pain of the Many.” http://vimeo.com/11162712

2.  Perkins, Laura. “Notes from the Evidence Project:  ‘The Echo of Pain of the Many.'” National Security Archive Blog. April 24, 2012. http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/the-echo-of-pain-of-the-many-2/

3. Willard, Emily. “Notes from the Evidence Project: Premiere of ‘The Echo’ a Smashing Success.” National Security Archive Blog. May 11, 2012. https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/notes-from-the-evidence-project-premiere-of-the-echo-a-smashing-success/

4. Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. El Quetzal Issue No. 12. page 3.  July, 2012.  http://www.ghrc-usa.org/

5. Doyle, Kate. Death Squad Dossier: Guatemalan military logbook of the disappeared. July 1, 2008. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/guatemala/logbook/index.htm

6. “El Eco del D0lor de Mucha Gente/To Echo the Pain of the Many.” Facebook Page. 2012.  http://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Eco-del-Dolor-de-Mucha-GenteTo-Echo-the-Pain-of-the-Many/119073521447246

7. Doyle, Kate. “Guatemala’s Police Archives: Breaking the Stony Silence.” Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. 2011. http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/publications/revistaonline/fall-2010-winter-2011/guatemala%E2%80%99s-police-archives



  1. Reblogged this on EmaBee's Art and commented:
    Great #ArtActivism – Ms. Cuevas channels the pain of her family and community and creates beautiful sculptures, paintings, and moving documentaries. Thanks to Edgy Amelia for writing about it….

  2. I attended a women’s conference for the disappeared in El Salvador during that war. Women from many countries attended. It is so sad that these crimes continue to this day and have spread all around the world.

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