The government rose up against its own people, plotted against them, kidnapped and killed them. The powers-that-be, with the force of the military to support their wicked plans, instituted a years-long policy of genocide and systematically killed off those they feared constituted a threat to the government's power.
Sadly, this is not the plot to the latest Hollywood Armageddon movie.
This is exactly what happened from 1960 until 1996 as Guatemala waged war on her own people. In separate reports issued since the end of the war, the U.N. and the Catholic church have well-documented the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan government over the course of the 36-year armed conflict.
I bring this up because it seems appropriate as Christmas nears. It is, after all, not the first time a government waged war against its own citizens for fear of loss of power.
We are all aware of Luke's version of the Christmas story, with the visiting shepherds and angels singing glories to the baby Jesus. Let's not forget, however, Matthew's telling of the same story, in which governmental authorities plot to kill Jesus with the end result being the wholesale slaughter of male children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
Matthew recalls those days, saying there was a voice "heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
I'm told that this is the Nativity story that is preferred in Guatemala, for they are a people who identify with the loss of their children and loved ones. These are a people who have known sorrow.
Although Guatemala is our neighbor to the south, I don't believe most of us in the U.S. are very aware of its recent history. What has the killing been about and who is being killed? Most of us, if we know about it at all, probably believe it to have been a civil war having little to do with us.
Here are some facts from the Catholic church's Recovery of Civil Memory report (REMHI) and the U.N.'s Historical Clarification Commission (CEH):
*83% of the victims of violence were indigenous
*90% of human rights violations occurred in rural areas
*According to the CEH, 93% of the atrocities were credited to the governmental forces, with only 3% being committed by the anti-government guerrillas
*200,000 people were killed or "disappeared"
*The Guatemalan army committed over 600 massacres
This was not a civil war. This was a war by the government on the poor and indigenous people of Guatemala.
It gets worse. As it turns out, the war is not over. While the fighting has mostly stopped and the military violence has been curtailed (thanks partially to the peace accord signed in 1996), economic violence has taken its place.
Instead of keeping the poor masses in their place with bullets, the people are threatened with starvation and being kept from a living wage (half of Guatemala's rural population lives on less than $1 a day!)
But why? Why would a government attack its own people? For those who hate to hear anyone disparage this great nation of ours, I've some bad news, folk.
According to the U.N. CEH report, the U.S. government supported Guatemala in its 36-year war on its people. Our tax dollars went to economic and military aid for the government of Guatemala. We did so to protect our economic interests.
And now that the peace accords have been signed, our government is supporting the Guatemalan government in "economic restructuring" that will benefit multinational corporations and the rich minority in Guatemala at the expense of the poor and indigenous who were the targets of the military violence that has just so recently ended.
This is why our country and Guatemala has waged these wars: To protect the economic interests of companies such as Basic Petroleum (a U.S. oil company) and Del Monte, the banana people.
This is why you and I are implicated in the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalans.
And this is why Jesus was born: to forgive you and me and to show us how to repent and work for justice for the oppressed.
And this is why Jesus, like so many innocent Guatemalans, was killed.
As we approach Christmas this year, let us make up our minds to join with Jesus in working to bring God's kingdom on earth. It's not too late to change sides.
On a related note, you might be interested to visit my church's blog, Life at Jeff St. which has information about our Reclaiming Christmas Project on board right now.