Under the mandate of General Efraín Ríos Montt, a notorious Guatamelan strongman who belongs in the company of Augusto Pinochet and Slobodan Milosevic, over 200 residents of Dos Erres — men, women, kids, elderly — were murdered on or about 12.6.82. The killers were an elite Guatamelan special forces unit, known as the Kaibiles. The killings were part of Montt’s scorched-earth policy, under which up to 200,000 indigenous and Mayan people died.
Wiki page excerpt: “[The Kaibiles] bashed the smallest children’s heads against walls and trees, and killed the older ones with hammer blows to the head. Their bodies were dumped in a well. The commandos interrogated the men and women one by one, then shot or bashed them with the hammer, and dumped them in the well. They raped women and girls, and ripped the fetuses out of pregnant women.”
Last night I caught a screening of Ryan Suffern‘s Finding Oscar (Film Rise, 4.21), a Steven Spielberg-sponsored doc about a long investigation of this notorious genocide. The invited crowd was obviously affected, impressed. So was I up to a point. It tells a horrific story but also an emotional one, and the combination works for the most part. But I was slightly bothered by Suffern’s emphasis on a humanistic, up-with-people, we-can-get-past-this approach.
Justice finally caught up with the bad guys 30 years later, but I didn’t want to be comforted or told “there, there.” I wanted, rather, to immerse myself in the details of this Central American horror. I wanted to sink into this realm and sort it all out like a special prosecutor. I wanted to channel the spirit of Jean-Louis Trintignant in Z.
Finding Oscar is not so much a detailed investigation of a massacre as an attempt to convey the emotions beneath it — the guilt shared by two older men who participated, the satisfaction and catharsis felt by investigators as they sifted through thousands of pieces of evidence over the years, and especially the emotions of two boys who escaped this slaughter and are now in their late 30s — Ramiro Cristales and particularly Oscar Ramirez, who now lives in Framingham, Massachusetts.