BYRNE: The grandest country in a sick neighbourhood, Guatemala suffers to excess the familiar troubles of Central America. The longest civil war, the harshest military which turned, most ferociously, upon the local people who learned to stay silent, as silent as the grave.
Tyres burning. Truck blockade
When silence breaks it sounds like this.
BYRNE: The men blocking the highway are ordinary Guatemalans, forced by their government to take up arms during the years of civil war. Between six hundred thousand and one million were conscripted to these defence patrols, doing the armys dirty work from spying to murder. They now want compensation for the years lost and are paralysing the country to get it.
ZAPETA : There are approximately 150 ex-PACs ex Civil Defence patrols,
Zapeta on mobile phone
Who have blocked the road. Traffic is closed from the harbour to Esquinla, and from here to the South Coast.
BYRNE: Reporting on the latest roadblock is Estuardo Zapeta, one of the noisy new breed, unafraid to speak his mind in this violent and troubled country.
ZAPETA: Were crossing the line right now and I dont know when its going to turn to violence. My feeling, my guess is that its going to be very, very soon.
MAN AT BLOCKADE: Weve been here since 4.30 this morning. We think what theyre doing is unfair. We have been offered nothing.
BYRNE: Its a scene symbolic of whats happening in Guatemala where the past blights and blocks the present.
ZAPETA: I think it came with the madness of the war.
Super: Estuardo Zapeta
At the end we destroyed ourselves. I mean nobody else did it for us. We did it for ourselves.
BYRNE: Are the peace accords basically a failure?
ZAPETA: Totally. For Guatemalans, yes.
Women walk from church
BYRNE: The civil war touched every village, in fact probably every family in Guatemala. It lasted thirty-six years and claimed two hundred thousand lives. Victims were mostly men, mostly indigenous Indians, rural Guatemala particularly weeps with widows.
Rosalina walks with Byrne
TUYAC: All the massacres, the kidnappings, the killings, it shows what the army did.
BYRNE: Rosalina Tuyac lost her father, a music teacher in 1982. Her husband, a tailor, three years later. Both were kidnapped, their bodies never found.
TUYAC: For many of us, the wounds and scars of violence are still there. Theyre not healed, and wont be until we know the truth.
For more than twenty years weve searched high and low across the countryside, hoping we can at least find their remains.
Rosalina walks laneway
BYRNE: But Rosalina too refused to suffer in silence. Shes formed a national widows association and meets regularly with widows at her home town of Comalapa to plan and to comfort.
Rosalina greets Carmen and Feliciana and Marie Victoria
Carmens husband, Philippe, was a community worker, taken from home twenty-two years ago by men who promised to bring him back alive. She never saw him again.
Feliciana has eleven children. Her husband went out to chop wood. A local boy stumbled over his body the next day.
Marie Victoria is fifty-two. In 1984 her husband Juan went to the town hall to get travel papers from the army. He never came home.
TUYAC: The army acted differently in each case. This is why each of the thousands of women --each family -- has its own story. Some people were made to disappear, others were assassinated, thousands of girls were raped by twenty or thirty army men.
BYRNE: Why were they killed?
TUYAC: This is something we have never been able to find out.
BYRNE: Rosalinas widows also want the government to compensate for the wrongs of the past. While the defence patrollers have been told yes, the widows, no.
TUYAC: The government is doing this to win their votes in the next election.
BYRNE: So the widows have no money and the ex civil defence force have been promised compensation. How does that make you feel?
TUYAC: We see this is a mockery. They are mocking all the victims of war-- because the peace accords speak of assisting the victims and not the perpetrators.
Man at spinning wheel/ Guatemalan Republican Front logos
BYRNE: So who rules Guatemala today? The answer is splashed across the country, the three raised fingers of the Guatemalan Republican Front, a party founded and led by a man associated with the cruellest and bloodiest years of war: General Ephrain Rios Montt.
Archival: Soldiers during coup
Rios Montt staged a coup in the early 80s then led the army on a scorched earth campaign against Guatemalas fierce guerrilla insurgents. He was pushed out after just two years yet in an extraordinary turnaround, he is now again the most powerful man in the country, the elected president of Congress, running the national parliament. His daughter Zuri is Vice President and a chip off the old Montt.
ZURI: He is a great father. He has discipline. He has love. He is a good friend. He is understanding.
BYRNE: And as a politician?
MONTT: And, of course, brilliant. Imagine after thirty years still here. Hes seventy-six years old and hes here working and serving the people and serving the country.
BYRNE: Many have tried and are still trying to prosecute the General for war crimes. His daughter argues the classic defence of the dictator.
Super: Zuri Montt
Vice President, Congress
ZURI: We did what we had to do and we are in order. Otherwise our situation would be different. If all the things that many international media and many people said were true, so why do we have so many votes? Why do people trust us?
BYRNE: When you say you did what we had to do, what does that mean?
MONTT: What you listened. We accomplished a lot. Period. If other people did bad things you have the courts to judge them and to pay the consequences, but we were in the law and we did what the law said.
Guatemalan mountain shots
BYRNE: It looks so peaceful, so serene yet nothing here is as it seems. Beneath the mists, narco-traffic thrives, judges and human rights workers are murdered. Corruption infects every level of government. In the face of these unseen forces, the Guatemalan tradition is to maintain silence.
ZAPETA: Its fear which paralyses people and fear its turned into silence and silence it turns into paralysis because of, in violent times
when talking, speaking out was so dangerous. The problem is that we go to the extremes. We go to very strong silence and then we go to very radical violent expressions.
BYRNE: Wheres it heading?
Super: Estuardo Zapeta
ZAPETA: I think its heading to a very harsh dark bottom, politically and economically.
Zapeta on radio
BYRNE: Estuardos outspokenness has made him a star. He takes hours of talk back every day, encouraging callers to speak up, poking fun at the government and especially at General Rios Montt.
ZAPETA: We say in Spanish that we reach far and father with honey more than with venom.
BYRNE: What about Rios Montt, does he have a nickname?
ZAPETA: Yeah, crazy bird. Its the one on TV, the Woody Woodpecker.
Shots of city
ZAPETA [on radio]: What sort of country is this what can we have, or are we obliged to rebuild?
BYRNE: But Estuardo Zapeta is a special case, an economist and anthropologist, a Fullbright scholar, twice. The most prominent indigenous Guatemalan in the country. It is his protection. Others who break the silence are not so fortunate.
De Leon walks with bodyguards
What is the situation with bodyguards? Do they, are they provided by the Congress or are they your own?
DE LEON: No they are paid for by the government. They are policemen.
BYRNE: Annabella de Leon never ventures out without bodyguards. An independent Congresswoman and self appointed watchdog on government corruption, she has been threatened, her family harassed, her security detail shot at. She remains undaunted.
De Leon at school
Today she is inspecting a barrio school built for a family of five, it accommodates five hundred and fifty students who arrive in shifts. This first year class has fifty pupils.
Saravia teaches class
DE LEON: In each bench there are three children, every day.
BYRNE: Illiteracy is a major problem in Guatemala and you can see some of the reasons why. Ninety-five per cent of these fifth graders fail the year. Their teacher is Gustavio Saravia.
SARAVIA: They stay here for five hours or six hours.
BYRNE: No playground?
SARAVIA: No playground.
DE LEON: One bathroom for five hundred children in this poorer school in Guatemala.
De Leon with parents
BYRNE: Annabella herself grew up poor, starting work aged nine. These parents trust her to fight for them and their children. Their support is why others, unseen of course, want to stop her.
Super: Annabella de Leon
Member of Parliament
DE LEON: The last call was in this way, tell your boss that she is playing with fire and shes going to burn.
De Leon with bodyguards
BYRNE: Annabella prides herself on being a thorn in the Governments side. She haunts the courts and judges chambers, denouncing corrupt politicians and public servants. Already she has forced the resignation of four ministers and is gunning for more.
DE LEON: It is very difficult especially when you have a corrupt Government. The government officials are still in the money of Guatemalan people.
BYRNE: You think they are thieves, the politicians are thieves?
DE LEON: They are thieves, they are thieves. This is the truth.
BYRNE: Certainly what money there is in Guatemala does not trickle down. Slums sprawl across the capital. One of the largest, La Limonada, was once a green belt but now some thirty thousand families live here illegally. They call them parachutistas because they dropped from the sky.
Rosalina with washing
Rosalina Tuyac lives far outside the city. Three generations sharing her home, but distance has not lent safety.
TUYAC: Since 1985, I have received many death threats and attempts on my life
three kidnapping attempts. My children have also been persecuted.
They tried to kill one of my brothers on two separate occasions and they bashed him really badly. They also tried to kidnap my sister Maria.
BYRNE: Who are they these people who threaten and kill? Who gives them orders? The mask is another powerful element of Guatemalan culture. When you do speak or protest politically you do it behind a mask. To unmask can be fatal.
It was true during the civil war which turned so much of Guatemala into a vast boneyard and it is still true today. The murders and mysterious disappearances have not stopped.
Given that, frankly, dozens of people get killed every few months, judges get killed, human rights workers get beheaded, journalists get killed.
BYRNE: Do you have to be mad to speak out? I mean
Super: Estuardo Zapeta
ZAPETA: [Laughs] We have to be careful. Thats what we have to be. We have to be very careful.
Montt adresses crowd
BYRNE: But the General has friends in high places. And Guatemalas highest court backtracked, and ruled he is eligible after all. The same day, armed supporters put on masks and rioted in the capital, demanding their man be permitted to stand. And such is the countrys yearning for a strong hand in this time of chaos and crime, he may well win.
ZAPETA: He had a lot of support because a lot of people supported the army during the violence.
BYRNE: So for all his association with the deaths and the massacres, people still thought, well hes a strong man.
BYRNE: Hes a good man. Well vote for him.
ZAPETA: Yeah, this is one of our own paradoxes here, contradictions. Were still very tribal in that sense but the man, thats what I call, I usually yell in the radio that we fail when we ask for El Hombre, because thats what we want.
BYRNE: The man.
ZAPETA: The man! Yes. When the man hits the table the people think oh hes the one.
BYRNE: Though the strong man could, of course, be a woman.
BYRNE: As I understand it, in Guatemalan history, a party has never been
MONTT: Mmm so were going to go on through that meet and were going to change the story. Were going to be re-elected.
BYRNE: Youre sure.
Shots overlooking city
BYRNE: Guatemala is such a beautiful but sad country, locked it seems into its own tragedy. Yet the voices of change are here becoming louder and more insistent.
Reporter: Jennifer Byrne
Camera: Geoffrey Lye
Sound: Kate Graham
Editor: Garth Thomas
Producer: Vivien Altman