11 Year Old Mascot, Military Barracks, Acul, Quiché

MJS: Oh, yes, I was here. I used to eat lunch with the family and they’d get phone calls from the extortionists. And the father would pretend nothing was happening. I used to go visit the mother in the afternoons, I’d bring her chocolate rum balls from the pastry shop on 12th Street, and she’d tell me who was extorting the family. At first they couldn’t believe that these people could be the extortionists; Lucky’s family was well connected. There are two presidents in her family history. But the extortionist said that Lucky had a mole here on her back, which she did. And then he said she had a plant in her room in a flower pot and she called it teléfono because she thought that she was communicating telepathically with it, and as long as the plant lived, Lucky said she was alive, too. And the family checked and there was a plant there in that flower pot, so then they knew these people were her torturers.

MT: How did this influence your sense of journalistic objectivity for the project?

JMS: Is objectivity just reporting certain facts? Or is it not giving a political opinion? Yes, I chose what I was reporting. I wasn’t that interested in going out and interviewing, time and time again, some right-wing politician, because they were getting plenty of publicity on their own. What I wanted was the other side of the story. What interested me was the side that was suppressed, not the side that amounted to government propaganda. There is a side that is not told, but it is not the same as saying that something is ideologically slanted or untrue. And the army constantly confused this. Reporting one side, the side that the army was intent on quashing, was “being subjective.” I mean, any kind of reporting that wasn’t in their interest was “subjective reporting.” So was I disinterested? No. I had my politics, but no one has ever said the book is slander, or that, “This is untrue, you screwed up.”

I’ve never had a single person say that.

MT: Much of the book is told in small vignettes associated with individual images you captured. I’d like to ask you about a few of them, if you don’t mind.

JMS: Not at all.

MT: Could you tell our readers about the photograph of the boy as “a mascot” to the army?

JMS: Sure. The “mascot” was a child whose parents had been killed by the army.

MT: And, mascota, a pet . . . that’s what they called him?

JMS: Yeah, he was a mascota. They dressed him in camouflage and he was like their pet poodle. And saddest was that he’d adopted all their mannerisms. He swore like a sailor. And he was . . . just theirs. That was in 1982 – 1983. It’s one of the images where I took the picture, but didn’t know much about it. I never asked his name, or anything. There was a lot going on.

MT: And what about the photograph of the young woman dancing with the soldier?

JMS: You know, photos are funny. Very deceptive in a way, because at the end of the day you are expressing what you believe by making a choice of which photo to show. The photo I took right after that one — she was smiling. Technically, it wasn’t as good a photo. The light was terrible in there, and I had to choose the first photo for the lighting, but I also chose it because that was what I wanted to express.

MT: What was the event?

JMS: It was the Independence Day Dance in Nebaj. And the army controlled Nebaj. You have to imagine these little towns back then. You could not walk one street without seeing five or six guys in camouflage. Now if you see soldiers in uniform you might think, “Where are they going?” But who cares. You don’t feel this . . . this paranoia where you tighten up. But in Nebaj, they took over the convent, they took over the rectory, they took over the square, they took over everything and made that their garrison. Inside they were putting up maps and anti-guerrilla propaganda. There were shells all over the place. Dead guerrillas. They even took over the bell tower of the church.

  1. Very thoughtful interview, Mike. What struck me the most while reading Jean-Marie’s book is how indian everybody looks, army and guerrillas alike. Associating with the «winners», their values and lifestyles, to the point of doing their dirty work for them, at the expense of your own kind, is the principal malaise of this country and continues to be to this day. I don’t have to tell you to keep up the good work because I know you will, so I’ll just say till we meet again, and congrats.

  2. Thanks La Cuadra for this interview, and thanks Jean-Marie for your valuable work in Guatemala, I’ll try to look for it, and I think your book won’t let us to forget what happend here, and that’s very important.
    I just wanna say “Guatemala Nunca Mas”

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About the Author

Michael Tallon, Editor-in-Chief, head writer and delivery boy, of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated from the States 11 years ago. After spending a year in Antigua gasbagging about wanting to start an English Language magazine, he hit the road and wandered about South America, India and Nepal before finding himself sipping tea in Darjeeling and realizing that maybe it was time to head home and pick up the career path. That ill-fated adventure in New York lasted about 6 weeks before he headed back to Antigua, Guatemala, where John Rexer had actually started the magazine in his absence.

After a few months, Mike took over the magazine and has been going slowly broke since. On that note, Mike would like to invite advertisers, readers and potential patrons to send him free money.