In Guatemala, the endless mourning of the Ixils

Victims of the worst horrors during the civil war that ended in 1996, the Mayan Indians of the north of the country continue to count their dead and demand justice. The Italian photographer Daniele Volpe accompanies them to the edge of the abyss.

Thirty-six years of conflict, 200,000 deaths, abject acts of violence and a State accused of genocide against several Indian communities… From 1960 to 1996, the longest and deadliest civil war in America took place in Guatemala. central. A tragedy of which Daniele Volpe was unaware of almost everything when he arrived for the first time in the country, in 2006. At the time, he was neither a photographer nor a journalist. Just a young Italian tourist yearning for something new, not sure what, after studying engineering. “I began to learn this story through the words of those who lived it, he explains today, from Guatemala, which has become his country of residence.

After his initial trip, Daniele Volpe returns to work as a volunteer in a small ONG local. He begins to travel to the province of Quiché, in the north of Guatemala, and takes photos there as an autodidact, with the hope of being able to capture the living memory of the Maya Ixils. “At the beginning, I was interested in this region for the same reasons as the jurists, because it is one of the places where the repression was the most brutal during the civil war. LThe traces of the massacres are numerous there and constitute the best hope of reaching convictions.”

The Ixils are among the Indian ethnic groups that were decimated by the scorched earth strategy decreed in the early 1980s by the regime of dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. A policy of displacements and assassinations intended to fight against the far left guerrillas, which would have led to the death of approximately 7,000 Ixils. Ríos Montt was sentenced in 2013 to eighty years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity, before the sentence was canceled for formality. He died in 2018 without being retried.

But investigations and memory work continue in Guatemala. And part of Daniele Volpe’s photographic work consists of literally accompanying the dead. “I came several times to photograph the exhumations of mass graves. I go to a village and I follow the work of forensic experts, as well as the families who have come to surround the mortal remains of their loved ones who have disappeared.

Take an interest in the dead to console the living: terrible and beautiful, Daniele Volpe’s images connect the viewer to an ignored history and its depositories. They are also a starting point for other stories. “What you see in these photographs, he explains, is deeply related to topics such as drug trafficking, migrants or forced labor. In Guatemala, for example, people began to flee to the United States as refugees in the 1980s. However, some of the current migration continues on the basis of links that have developed abroad. at that time.”

The photograph

Daniele Volpe was born in Italy in 1981. Based in Guatemala, he reports throughout Central America, notably for The New York Times, of which he is a regular contributor. His photographic work on the memory of the Ixils received in 2020 the third prize from World Press Photo in the Long-term project category.

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