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FEATURE North Toward Home BY BILL ADLER It’s mid -afternoon in the heart of Guatemala City. At this time of day, Seventh Avenue, like the other thoroughfares that define the perimeter of the Plaza Mayor, is choked with traffic. The sidewalks are so clogged with commerce that many pedestrians take their chances in the anarchistic streets. f wo seventeen-year-old students, Luis Yax-Patzan ri and his classmate, Patricia, are hurriedly negotiating the chaos, dodging cars and buses and trucks and push-pedal wagons and hand-pulled carts and mopeds. Capitalism is in full roar; the more established vendors, their backs to the street to avoid direct hits from the omnipresent jetblack blasts of bus diesel exhaust, perch in jerry rigged booths displaying the colorful huipiles worn as much in North American college towns as here. Then there are the portable operations: old women peddling sliced, bagged fruit from two wheeled carts; sad-eyed, frightened urchins hawking sticks of gum; black-marketeers exhorting back-packing gringos to exchange their trust-fund dollars for quetzcaes; half-dead beggars splayed everywhere, hands outstretched, eyes closed. Forty-five minutes or so earlier, Luis and Patricia had met at school, the Rafael Aqueche Institute, a red-brick high-walled urban fortress, and walked the five minutes over to the National Library to begin work on a school project. They spent a half hour or so in the archives, and set out on foot again to meet a classmate. To reach Seventh Avenue, they cut across the Plaza Mayor, a great square park of concrete and humanity anchored by the headquarters of the country’s two dominant and rival institutions: the National Palace and the National Cathedral. At the north end, to their left, they pass the imposing three-story, stone-faced Palace rimmed by sleepyeyed soldiers wielding machine guns; DO NOT DISTURB is their unmistakable message. Above Luis and Patricia, on the second floor of the Palace, are the offices of the civilian president. From the top floor, they well knew, emanates the true power in Guatemala. There presides the minister of defense and, above him even, are the rooftop offices of the notorious army intelligence division, known as the “G-2,” which keeps tabs on internal security risks, real and imagined. “Its tentacles reach everywhere,” a government employees union organizer says. “It can recruit anybody, anywhere to serve as its eyes and ears.” Nearer the Cathedral, at the bustling southeast end of the Plaza, Luis and Patricia again encounter all manner of entrepreneur; carwashers, booksellers, ice cream vendors, candle-makers, florists, and the ubiquitous shoe-shine boys. The Plaza is the hub of old Guatemala City, a city of two million people \(all of whom, it largest in Central America, and the capital of a country of ten million people that is roughly the size of Ohio. A few blocks north of the Plaza, the traffic begins to thin. Seventh Avenue here is quieter, almost forlorn, with a few government 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER agency annexes, a religious artifacts shop, a small church, mornand-pop tiendas, a bakery. It is June 13, 1991, at 3;45 p.m. when Luis and Patricia reach the intersection of Seventh Avenue and First Street, where a construction dump site lies amid a workingclass residential area. Just as the two classmates turn east on First Street, a white and yellow sedan with polarized, tinted windows screeches to a stop. Neither had seen the car until it was upon them. “Two men jumped out and one hit me in the neck and shoved me and Patricia inside,” Luis recalls. “I didn’t recognize them, but they knew my name.” The two youths were blindfolded and driven around for a couple of hours, during which they were interrogated about their involve ment with the citywide “TWO MEN JUMPED OUT AND ONE coalition of high school HIT MI IN THE NECK AND SHOVED student governments. ME AND PATRICIA INSIDE,” LUIS “They wanted names MAUL “I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE and addresses of other THEM, BUT THEY KNEW MY NAME.” student leaders, where we met, what our plans were, whether we had arms,” Luis says. “Patricia was only a minor student leader in our school; they mainly wanted me.” To underscore their interest in securing Luis’ cooperation, his captors battered him with a billy club. “Of course I talked,” he says, “but I gave them false names and locations,” The kidnappers offered his release if he agreed to work as an inforinant, passing on names of students who participate in demonstrations in Guatemala City. “I agreed, because I didn’t know how long they would go on beating me and I was afraid they might harm my family or disappear me if I didn’t [cooperate], Then they told me if I lied, that would be the end.” His captors drove him and Patricia to the northeastern limits of the city and stopped the car at the edge of a cliff. But the ride was only a warning; Luis was shoved from the car. He made his way to a volunteer fire station, where his mother retrieved him. Patricia, meanwhile, was held some hours longer and dropped off across town, apparently unharmed. “Why, why you?” Luis’s mother sobbed. “I don’t understand.” here is little about Guatemala that is easily understood. Cer tainly it is a land of unfathomable beauty: of towering, mist covered volcanoes lording over the pristine lakes and sweep ing valleys of the western highlands; of lush, tropical jungle blanketing the eastern lowlands. But no scenery, no matter how spectacular, can stanch the wounds of a country drowning in its own blood. For Guatemala, above all, is a land of unfathomable atrocity, of fear, desperation, anguish, cynicism. It is a country unwilling to NOVEMBER 8, 1996