Guatemala's National Police Historical Archive

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From Silence to Memory: Revelations of the AHPN

Featuring new Forward by Carlos Aguirre and Preface to the English Translation by Kate Doyle.

From the Foreword

The discovery, in 2005, of the almost eighty million pages of documents belonging to the historical archive of the National Police in Guatemala represented a watershed in that country’s struggles to confront the legacies of several decades of violence, state repression, and human rights violations. For quite a long time, the efforts by victims, relatives, human rights attorneys, NGOs, and other social agents to find out “what happened” and to bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocious acts of violence crashed against a wall of silence and impunity. Those records, now not only recovered but also being made available to those searching for evidence of police and state repression, constitute an invaluable resource in both the search for justice and the recovery of lost memories. The Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (AHPN) has become an emblematic case of the worldwide effort to preserve what are known as “archives of repression” but also a model of what can be called archival activism: records ought to be considered not inert pieces of evidence but actual carriers of powerful symbolism and weapons in the multifaceted effort to create a more just society, empower hitherto marginalized and silenced individuals and social agents, and promote a culture of transparency and human rights.

Making this report available in English will amplify the reach of this story and will allow for increased international attention to the amazing work the AHPN is doing. We are very proud to be able to offer this translation to students, scholars, human rights activists, and everyone else with an interest in the connections between history, memory, archives, human rights, and power.

Review of From Silence to Memory

"Because the country is still not a safe place to live, the recovery of history is difficult. Yet the legacy of terror is on full view at the Historical Archive of the National Police. This archive is a deeply impressive symbol of Guatemala’s fitful effort to deal with its past. Documents from the archive reproduced in From Silence to Memory offer a terrifying look at the inner workings of a murderous police force. A postmortem card bears fingerprints of a victim called XX, the name under which thousands were buried. A one-sentence note introduces a list of 'individuals known to collaborate with guerrillas or subversive delinquents in the Quiché region.' A surveillance photo of a student demonstration on September 20, 1978, has a cross identifying the twenty-three-year-old student leader Oliverio Castañeda de León; he was killed a month later."

-- Stephen Kinzer, "Glimmers of Hope in Guatemala," The New York Review of Books, December 5, 2013.

AHPN - Keep Your Eyes On Guatemala opening video screenshot

Keep Your Eyes On Guatemala

"Keep Your Eyes On Guatemala," a documentary film by Gabriela Martínez Escobar, tells the story of Guatemala's National Police Historical Archive intertwined with narratives of past human rights abuses and the dramatic effects they had on specific individuals and the nation as a whole. In addition, it highlights present-day efforts to preserve collective memories and bring justice and reconciliation to the country.

Full-length Spanish version | Full-length English version


Special thanks to the Network Startup Resource Center for support and contributions to this project.