The Executioner's Wife
At a conference on human rights at the Hague, I met an activist, a quiet unassuming middleaged Europeanlooking woman who spoke English with a barely noticeable Spanish accent. She was a clean, thin, wellmannered woman, almost timid. Her perfume was understated. But when she spoke her eyes became lit with fire and she spoke with power. Her name was Yesenia. This is her story.
"When you hear about Central American dictatorships, kidnappings, tortures and murders, I know they are true," Yesenia said. "I was the executioner's wife. I can still see the ghosts of the disappeared. Their faces haunt me still."
"I come from the land of the trees. It is a magical land with high mountains, great volcanoes, Mayan ruins and all kinds of plants and animals. We have two great oceans. Some say the land is so fertile because of the volcanoes. Others say it has been watered by the blood of martyrs. We have coffee, bananas, cotton, sugar cane, avocados and the world's largest carrots. We have great Mayan ruins, great Spanish colonial cities, painted in the most colorful pastels, old Spanish cathedrals and churches and one of the new world's first university. We have three UNESCO sites.
"More than sixteen million people from all over the world live in our country, the most populous in Central America. But the majority of people are Indianos, descendants of the ancient Mayans. Many still dress in hand woven colorful clothes of their ancestors – black, lavender, blue, red, pink, y verde. In Guatemala, you can meet someone and they will be your befriend you the same day. Truly the people love their neighbors and God with all their hearts.
"And the food? Muy delicioso. Chocolate, coffee, tacos, fish, chicken, beef, guacamole, corn soup, fruit drinks and chuchitos. Ever had fresh goat's milk? They sell it on the street of Guatemala City.
"I grew up on my father's estate outside the city of Antigua, one of three UNESCO sites in my country. I attended an allgirls private Catholic school and church on Sunday.
"My favorite teacher was Sister Maria. She taught religion and philosophy and literature. One day, the boy's team was practicing penalty kicks on the football field. Sister Maria asked the boys if she could try to shoot a goal. She removed her shoes. From the time, she picked up the ball, turned it and then placed it on the ground, you knew she knew. She appeared to kick the ball to the right of the goalie only to change directions and let loose a rocket to the goalie's left. After class that day I asked Sister Maria if women really came from a man's rib. She smiled and said'Someday, child you must decide this question for yourself.'
"One day, a Mayan girl joined our school. All the girls but me made fun of her dress, lack of sophistication and imperfect Spanish. Sister Maria, furious, castigated us.'Who do you think you are,' she asked us, her brown eyes bearing down upon us. After she finished, we were silent. She looked at me and said'Evil flourishes when good people do nothing.'
"My father was a military man – a general. We were from a landowning family. He was an ardent anticommunist. As the patriarch of our family, his word was law.
"My husband Juan Carlos was from a civilian family, the son of the owner of a trucking company. He was a dashing young intelligence officer with great promise.
"My father was European, a Spaniard, the descendant of a Hidalgo family, who had come to Mexico. Juan Carlos was a Mestizo. He was a quick and decisive man. He was medium height but built like a bull. He was tough. My father loved him I think more than me.
"It was a grand wedding. Sister Maria wished me the best of luck. My father was so proud. My mother wept.
"I was young and beautiful then," Yesenia said. She paused and said, "Now, look at me." She laughed in a sad way. The waiter brought in a glass of ice water. She thanked him. She showed me a black and white picture of herself when she was twenty. She was beautiful.
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