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Guatemala's `disappeared'...Where are they?

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ONE Friday morning not long before Christmas, in the closing days of the militay regime of Gen. Oscar Mej'ia Victores, some 50 Guatemalan men and women stood together in Guatemala City's main square. Silently, they held up sheets of paper. Sheets covered with row upon row of small photos -- most of them of young men, some of them of women and children. There were so many photos, many of them so small, that the sheets were almost meaningless and it became difficult to conceive that the endless rows of shots represented real individuals -- living or once-living human beings. Nonetheless, foreign journalists and photographers crowded around the sheets, cameras clicking.

The pictures were those of the ``disappeared'' -- Guatemalans who have disappeared, most of them picked up in their homes or on the street by Guatemalan security forces or privately financed death squads. After their abductions, nothing more is known of their whereabouts. Neither their families, nor their friends, nor their lawyers -- if they have any -- are told anything about their fate. The vast majority of them are almost certainly dead.

The people standing in the square in front of the National Palace, mutely holding up photos, are the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, and sisters of the disappeared. They want to know for certain.

Some of them desperately cling to the hope that their desaparecido (as the disappeared are called in Spanish) is still alive. Others simply want to know for sure if those they have loved are dead and, if possible, to bury them.

All of them want an answer from the government. All of them expect one from the incoming democratically elected President, Marco Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo.

``There are no disappeared,'' said one mother of an abducted boy. ``They have to be somewhere, they are not smoke or dust, they haven't disintegrated into nothing.''

Nothing, however, is precisely what most political observers here expect Mr. Cerezo to do about satisfying this mother's sorrowful demands to know, or about bringing to justice the Army, security, and right-wing civilian groups, which diplomats and foreign human rights observers here say are responsible for the deaths and disappearances of about 50,000 Guatemalans since 1980. Organizing to be heard


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