When We Were Young, There Was a War is documentary filmmaker Patricia Goudvis’ follow-up to If The Mango Tree Could Speak, a film about ten children, aged between twelve and fifteen, who grew up during the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador.

In If The Mango Tree Could Speak, Goudvis captures, through a series of poignant vignettes, the children’s pain of living through conflict, loss and violence, as well as their hopes for a better future.

Civil war has had a deep and long-lasting affect upon Salvadorean and Guatemalan society. In When We Were Young, There Was a War, an interactive web documentary, Goudvis revisits the ten children, now young adults, and explores their experience, and that of Salvadoran and Guatemalan society in general, of life in the aftermath of the armed conflicts. In a statement, the filmmaker said:

“I’ve kept in touch with about half the kids over the years, and now I’ve located the rest. The four from Guatemala all still live there. Of the six Salvadorans, two stayed in El Salvador, three immigrated to the US and one to Australia. Some are single, others are married with children; some finished college, others nvever went to school. But all have grappled, in one way or another, with the losses they experienced as children surrounded by war. Finding out how they have done so, what choices they have made, and their thoughts and feelings about their earlier years is the purpose of making the follow up interactive web documentary.”

“In the original film, I asked who was winning in the battle between fear and hope? I wondered if the children’s spirits had been crushed and if their scars would be permanent. Now, with the benefit of time passed, I am eager to peer deeper into how individuals are profoundly marked by early experiences, as well as to reveal the strength of character that allows them to carry on with their lives.”

Goudvis’ When We Were Young, There Was a War is an excellent project which investigates post-conflict society in Guatemala and El Salvador through the eyes of ten young people who witnessed first-hand the horrors of war.

Using the medium of interactive web documentary, Goudvis interconnects interviews of the children when they were young with interviews of them as adults, and to deliver an interactive experience, she uses video material, text, photographs, and sound recording to provide in-depth contextual and historical information about the wars and the current human rights situation in both countries.

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For more information about Patricia Goudvis and her work see:

Francisco Palomo (right). Image source:

The chief lawyer of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was gunned down in broad daylight last Wednesday 3 June. Francisco Palomo Tejada, 63, was driving home on a lunch break when two men on a red motorcycle pulled alongside his black Audi. According to witnesses, the men opened fire on the car for the length of a block until it finally crashed into a tree. Palomo died on the scene from at least 12 gunshot wounds to the chest and neck. Zury Ríos, the daughter of General Ríos Montt, who is standing in elections this September, was quick to announce her sense of ‘betrayal’ and loss for what she regards as ‘a man who fought for justice’.

Palomo is the 26th lawyer to be assassinated in Guatemala in recent years. His former clients include a parade of controversial characters, such as Alfonso Portillo, the former President jailed in the United States for laundering US$ 2.5 million in bribes from the Taiwanese government.

Palomo’s work for Ríos Montt spans more than a decade. In 2003, while serving as a constitutional magistrate, he voted in favour of allowing him to run for the Presidency despite a constitutional ban on coup leaders seeking office. In 2006, he defended Ríos Montt after Rigoberta Menchú filed a lawsuit in the Spanish Supreme Court – she accused him (and others) of ordering an assault on the Spanish Embassy that left her father and 36 others dead. Most notoriously, Palomo defended Ríos Montt against charges of genocide and war crimes. He attempted to stall and derail the case with a string of obstructions, but nonetheless, Ríos Montt was found guilty in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in jail. This decision was later overturned on a technicality. In January 2015, at the reopening of his re-trial, Palomo argued for amnesty on the basis of a long-repealed law.

It is unclear how Palomo’s death will now impact proceedings. According to the National Forensic Institute, the former dictator’s health is deteriorating and his team will seek to argue that he is unfit to stand trial. Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief, José Rodríguez, are charged with ordering 15 massacres of Ixíl Maya during Guatemala’s civil war.

More than 40,000 protesters swept through the streets of Guatemala City yesterday, Saturday 16 May 2015, to vent fury over the nation’s unfolding corruption scandal, which is set to become the country’s most severe political crisis since the end of the civil war in 1996.

Converging outside the National Palace, the protesters called for the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, as well as jail time for his former Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti, who resigned last week after her former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, whereabouts unknown, was implicated as a ring-leader in the infamous ‘La Linea’ crime syndicate.

The syndicate is thought to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars by accepting bribes in exchange for lowered import duties. Guatemala’s current and former tax chiefs are suspects in the scandal, which is believed to involve at least 50 private citizens and public servants.

The protests, which were staged simultaneously in several parts of the country, were not organised by any single group, but appeared to evolve organically through decentralised social media networks. It drew crowds from diverse quarters of civil society, most significantly, the middle classes.

“Given the history and on-going reality of repression and impunity in Guatemala, this is a very courageous display of citizen action,” said Grahame Russell, director of the human rights NGO Rights Action in a recent newsletter. “Repression is a very real reality in the coming days and weeks as a growing number of people overcome their fear and peacefully take to the streets to express their indignation at so many generations of corruption, exploitation, repression and impunity.”

The protest marks the end of a tumultuous week for the government, which many suspect of involvement in the scandal at the highest levels. On Monday, the Associated Press announced it had obtained recordings of wire-tapped telephone calls between businessman and fugitive Luis Mendizabal, various Guatemalan lawyers, and suspects, including some of the 27 currently in custody. Mendizabal’s boutique clothes shop, ‘Emilio’, is believed to have been a meeting place for the fraud ring.

The wiretaps mention ‘the No 2’, ‘the lady’ and ‘the R’, which prosecutors believe may be a reference to the former Vice President, who is currently not under arrest, but has been ordered not to leave the country. The Associated Press noted a conversation on April 16 where Mendizabal told detainee Javier Ortiz that he will soon be free.

“Blanca Stalling is behind it and they have very good communication,” he said.

Judge Blanca Stalling Davila, a Supreme Court justice, was quick to deny any involvement in the scandal, suggesting that perhaps Mendizabal had confused her with her sister, Judge Marta Sierra Stalling. According to prosecutors and a UN investigative commission, Judge Sierra Stalling accepted payment for the release of three suspects on bail, including Oritz. All the suspects have now been returned to custody along with the five lawyers alleged to have paid the bribe.

On Thursday 14 May, Guatemala’s congress selected a new Vice President, Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, from three nominees submitted by President Otto Perez Molina. Maldonado was a constitutional judge, former Cabinet minister and ambassador, described by the President as an ‘exemplary Guatemalan’.

“I ask for the support from the entire country … all those who want to join the effort to bolster and deepen our democracy,” said Perez Molina.

In fact, Maldonado was one of the three judges on the country’s five-member Constitutional Court who ruled in favour of annulling the genocide conviction of dictator Efrain Rios Montt in 2013.

Against the backdrop of general elections later this year, the crisis continues…

Photo credits: Comité de Unidad Campesina
Photo credits: Comité de Unidad Campesina