It had been there all along. The abandoned building across the street and 75 metres down 8 avenida. The windows were barred; the grimy, exhaust-stained walls reflected years of rush hour traffic. I had walked by it a dozen times: on the way to Café Léon, to the cultural plaza, to church. It wasn’t small, or insignificant, but it was fading into Guatemala City.

Dozens of paper-shredded faces covered its lower walls. Three torn posters high by 10, 15, 20 long, staring out into the street. Justicia, memoria, verdad graffitied in grey as I walked by toward sixth avenue. Big bubbly letters that sum up a big, complicated history.

Justice. Memory. Truth. 

The building is a relic of a very recent past. By some accounts, up to 200,000 were killed, disappeared in over three decades of civil war. State-sponsored terror, genocide, executions and massive, widespread human rights violations. It ended with peace talks and a truth commission not even 10 years ago.

Today, mass graves are still being exhumed. Some NGOs still fight for justice. Media covers more recent crises. And the buildings – buildings like the one I walked by and past, ones that swallowed hundreds of people as police shut out the lights – fade into the city.

To understand Guatemala, you need to know its scars.

Part of that is knowing they seal wounds that haven’t healed.


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