Haunted by the Ghosts of Guatemala’s Bloody Civil War

I’m in the jungles of northern Guatemala, scouting for a new public television special about world hunger — and I’m learning that extreme poverty is often rooted in conflict.

Today, I visited a cemetery that was filled with tombs dating from 1981 and 1982 — an especially violent period of Guatemala’s civil war, when the government massacred thousands of indigenous civilians. Walking through this poignant cemetery, hearing survivors tell stories of lost loved ones who were struggling for a little corn and a few beans, I felt the scars of that tragic time.

When I traveled through Central America back in 1988, a favorite song was Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance.” Listening to it again, the lyrics — so painfully true back then for me — still pack a punch:

I’ve been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war

And there’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs

On the radio talk shows and the T.V.
You hear one thing again and again
How the U.S.A. stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can’t take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can’t even say the names

They sell us the President the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us everything from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

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You can find out more about my trip to Guatemala at https://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/tag/guatemala

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