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Jean-Marie Simon: A foreign witness to Guatemala's war

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Published on Nov 29, 2012

Jean-Marie Simon lived and worked in Guatemala as a photojournalist between 1980 and 1988, a period of extreme violence and brutality in the country.

Here, she talks about life and work in one of the most dangerous times in Guatemala.

'What was actually striking in the first few days after the coup was a sense of euphoria and relief. There was a huge rally in the park in front of the National Palace and people waving posters saying "we believe in the army", "we want peace" because urban repression had been so intense under the previous government headed by Lucas Garcia that people thought - it turned out wrongly - that anyone, even another military man, had to be an improvement on what they had suffered previously.

In fact, Amnesty International published in 1981 a booklet, which I consider seminal "Guatemala: a government programme of political murder" which really said everything about Guatemala under Lucas Garcia, so really the first few days of Ríos Montt were just sheer happiness and then what followed, of course, was a progression of repression, both in the capital and in the countryside.

In the countryside, the level of massacres escalated under Ríos Montt.'

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