Matanza en Santiago Atitlán, el 3 de Diciembre 1990
(Massacre in Santiago Atitlán on the 3 of December 1990)
36" x 54", oil on canvas

Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay

Originality: Exceptional

About the massacre in Santiago Atitlán Victor Perera in "Unfinished Conquest" writes:

"On midnight of December 2, 1990, approximately twenty-five hundred Atitecos, led by the outgoing mayor, Delfino Rodas, and the mayor-elect, Salvador Ramírez, marched on the army barracks south of Santiago Atitlán and demanded to speak with the comandante. At the mayors' urging, the marchers were unarmed and carried only sticks and white banners. Earlier that evening five plainclothes military, among them the base commander, had harassed several townspeople after drinking heavily in a local cantina. The comandante—who was apparently drunk—had attempted to rob the home of Andres Sapocu Jabuychan, and neighbors rang the churchbells to summon help. When a young man identified them as soldiers, the commanding officer fired his weapon, wounding a nineteen-year-old Atiteco in the hand and leg. Another youth apparently struck the officer in the face with a stone. The plainclothes soldiers gave themselves away when they had to be rescued by an army patrol, which escorted the officer and his four men back to the barracks.

"The marchers were met by the comandante, who told their leaders to turn back and return the following day. According to eyewitnesses, an Atiteco toward the rear threw a stone at the comandante. A soldier fired into the air and a sergeant major manning an automatic weapon opened fire. Witnesses report that a courageous marcher threw himself on the gunner to prevent a slaughter, but it was too late. The soldier continued to strafe the crowd even after everyone fell to the ground or sought cover. When the shooting stopped, eleven men, women, and children lay dead on the ground, and at least twenty-one more were wounded. Two of these later died in the hospital. The final tally revealed most of the dead and wounded were Catholics, among them several catechists with Acción Católica.

"The following day a clamor arose for the expulsion of the army garrison from Atitian. Father Tom McSherry quietly set up microphones in the square, as more than half the town's twenty thousand residents gathered to hear the Attorney for Human Rights and other speakers demand the army's removal. Mayor-elect Ramirez went on national TV to denounce the murder and the disappearance of two thousand Atitecos over the past eleven years. Before thousands of astonished viewers, he laid the blame squarely on the army."

In spite of the fact that a Mayan town was finally able to stand up to the atrocities of the Guatemalan army, the peace accord had not yet been drafted or signed, and Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay knew that for him to paint this massacre posed a risk for him. I visited him within weeks of the massacre and he was determined to a painting about the massacre. For my part I felt it was the most important theme that could be painted at the time, and that he was the only paint who would attempt it or do it justice. He hadn’t painted it the following year and the reason was clear. His house was always open during the day, and anyone could just walk into his studio at the front of the house and see what he was painting. He could hide a small or even medium size painting but the large size that such a major painting required could not be disguised. Although he did not fear for himself, he feared for his family. I pledged to get him a visa so he could paint it in the United States. He did a sketch on the canvas, painted in the church and background and told people who asked that this painting was a procession. He then brought it rolled up and finished it in San Francisco California, coincidentally 3 years to the day from when the massacre occurred.