Anthropologist authors new book on genocide in Guatemala

Author: Shannon Chapla

A new book by University of Notre Dame anthropologist Victoria Sanford traces the survival of Maya victims of the Guatemalan genocide in the 1980s.p. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, “Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala” was released this month and is available in bookstores and online.p. Between the late 1970s and the late 1980s Guatemala was torn by extreme state violence against the Maya.p. Massacres in 626 communities left more than 200,000 Maya dead in a campaign of terror now attributed to the Guatemalan military and referred to as “genocidal acts” by the Guatemalan Truth Commission.p. More than 160 exhumations at clandestine cemeteries have now been conducted in an effort to help bring truth, justice and community healing to Maya survivors.p. “Victoria Sanford leads us into a powerful and heartbreaking history of testimonies,” said Michael Ondaatje, author of “The English Patient.” “Her journey into this war zone ? a world normally depicted by men ? is clear-eyed, haunting and, above all, close to the ground.”p. Working directly with a team of forensic anthropologists since 1994, Sanford helped exhume skeletons, took testimonies from some 400 survivors, and worked on a report to the Guatemalan Truth Commission. The anthropologists continue to receive death threats as they uncover evidence for legal cases against present and former leaders of Guatemala. To date, no one who ordered these mass killings has been prosecuted.p. “‘Buried Secrets’ is significant because it demonstrates quite clearly why what happened in Guatemala was a genocide committed by the army,” Sanford said. “The book was very painful to write. The survivors trusted me with their stories. The emotional weight and moral responsibility were, at times, overwhelming.”p. In addition to Sanford’s testimonial narrative, “Buried Secrets” includes interviews with members of the forensic team, human rights leaders, high-ranking military officers, guerrilla combatants and government officials.p. Sanford, an assistant professor of anthropology and a faculty fellow in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, joined the University’s faculty in 2000 after previously teaching and conducting research at Stanford University. She has served as a Bunting Peace Fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, a Kellogg Fellow at Notre Dame and a Rockefeller Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She has worked with Maya refugees since 1986 and in Maya communities since 1993. In addition, she co-authored the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation’s report to the Commission for Historical Clarification.p.

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