Political Women (7) Ana Lucia Cuevas
Lucia was born in Guatemala ,one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and one with a tragic history. Between 1944 and 1954 a democratic government tried to bring in basic human rights in education and labour, reforms which were labelled as “Communist” by the USA. The Eisenhower government supplied covert aid to the military to destabilise and overturn the legitimate government. Decades of repression followed.
Lucia and her family were part of a radical opposition to this longstanding military regime:
My father was Chancellor of the National University and was outspoken against the violations of human rights. My mother spoke out against injustice and inequality.
Her father died in exile in 1979:
My father made a big impression on my life. He would talk a lot to us. He gave us a political education.
As a student in the 1980s, alongside her brother, she opposed the civil war that had raged in the country, with the illegal kidnapping, torture and murder of opponents to the regime. It is believed that over 150,000 people died and 45,000 people were “disappeared.”
I joined the Communist Party aged 17 years and was part of a clandestine opposition movement of which the students were an important part. I was very political, no doubt due to time I was living through. I felt I had no choice.
By 1984 the situation had become so bad with the escalation of violence against Communist Party members that Lucia and her family were advised to leave. Her brother, who was a student leader, and his wife disappeared at this time. After spending a year with her mother and sister in Costa Rica, she went to Bulgaria to continue her studies:
I lived in Bulgaria for six years. The Communist government paid all my expenses. I started an Art degree and led a simple life. It gave me time to heal. It was a strange time, being in exile, but I had no contact with the West.
In 1991 Lucia came to England and completed a Masters Degree in Computer Graphics and then decided to focus on filmmaking:
Since leaving Guatemala I had always campaigned about the political situation in the country. In 1996 there were peace accords in Guatemala, so I went back, very quietly. I got in touch with the group that my sister-in-law had formed, and we asked the government to investigate my brother’s case.
Lucia discovered that her brother had been killed by the government:
In 1999, a chilling document was found: records of 183 people who had been taken. My brother was there, with all his details. There was a code – the number 300 – next to the name if the person had been executed. My brother had that code: he was executed three months after he was kidnapped. Until then, I’d thought he might still be alive.
Due to Lucia’s campaigning last year, the civilian president, Álvaro Colom, made a very public apology to her family and two others. But in January this year, a new president took power: Otto Pérez Molina. He was part of the military during the repression. To Lucia this is an ominous sign:
Under this military president things are being obstructed and he is finding ways to avoid processes.
Lucia has used her own filmmaking experience to tell her story, and that of her country in a film called The Echo of the Pain of the Many. Her film of that journey, documents not just one man’s disappeance and murder by government forces, but brings to light the history of the USA’s involvement in Latin America for over 36 years and the consequences for the people of Guatemala:
It comes from my heart, and the response to it in Guatemala has been overwhelming. My brother, Carlos, was my soulmate and losing him was a big hurt in my life. It was important for me to make the film, to challenge the amnesia that exists in Guatemala about that period of history, to find out who was responsible for my brother’s death, but also a chance to gather together pieces of a shattered past. Not just to relive my pain but the echo of the pain of the many.
In Guatemala many young people in schools and universities have seen the film and Lucia feels that it has made a difference to their lives:
I am full of hope, I have seen young peoples’ response to the film and they understand that there is a gap in their history of what happened during this time.
Lucia is very aware that. with the election of a military president, things are changing again in Guatemala:
It’s surreal: human rights are already going into reverse. Last week eight people in the countryside were killed as they took part in a demonstration.This new president is returning to old fashioned repressive techniques.
And her message for young women?
Life is very different if you are part of a movement that is doing something to change our reality. It is very rewarding and no words can describe how empowering that is. Especially for women whose lives can be so disempowered. You can feel a different person if you are part of a movement for change.