Guatemala: Operacion Sofia

GUATEMALA: OPERACION SOFIA

Environmental violence and genocide in the Ixil Triangle

The violence inflicted by Guatemalan state security forces — both military and military-organized civil militias — on the Ixil Maya people in the El Quiché region of West Guatemala (1978–84) amounted, according to Guatemala’s Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) to “acts of genocide.” But genocide is not only the killing of people, for it also includes “environmental violence”: the destruction of the natural and built environment as part of a military strategy.

The investigation attempts to read the environment not just as the location of conflict, but as the means by which it unfolds. This research formed a report produced on behalf of the prosecution in the case of genocide committed against the Ixil people. Our research was included in a series of trials taking place in Guatemala, including the retrial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt in the National Court of Guatemala and in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Paulo Tavares (research & coordination)
  • Daniel Fernández-Pascual (research)
  • Hannah Meszaros Martin (research)
  • Maya Cueva Franco (research)

SITU Research team

  • Bradley Samuels (Managing Partner)
  • Akshay Mehra (research)
  • Charles Perrault (research)

Collaborating Organisations

  • CALDH – Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (Rodrigo Salvadó and Edwin Cannil)
  • ODHAG – Oficina de Derechos Huamanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (Raul Najera and Ana Carolina)

Interactive Platform

Forensic Architecture’s research on environmental violence was designed to complement other studies of the conflict. In order to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of environmental violence, our research was presented in the form of a web-based interactive cartography produced in collaboration with SITU Research. The platform is able to establish the spatial and temporal relation between otherwise separate pieces of evidence.


The Mineral Geology of Genocide


Guatemala Investigation: The Mineral Geology of Genocide (part II). Forensic Architecture and SITU Research. Realisation by Steffen Kraemer.

Animated composite mapping


The transformation of the Ixil area between 1979 and 1986. Topographic model with a projected sequence of composite maps demonstrating how deforestation, pattern of massacres, destruction of native villages, and construction of new “model villages” transformed the area between 1979 and 1986. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.
NDVI map

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) analysis of the Ixil territory for satellite images taken in 1979 and 1986, the years that bracket the genocide. Green indicates heavy vegetation and red signifies little vegetation. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Map depicting the density of massacres registered by the UN-backed Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) during the thirty-six years of civil war. The zone of greatest intensity overlaps with the ancestral territory of the Ixil Maya. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Map depicting the density of massacres registered by the UN-backed Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) during the thirty-six years of civil war. The zone of greatest intensity overlaps with the ancestral territory of the Ixil Maya.
Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Taken over by wild grass, this partially cleared plot of land was formerly occupied by a wooden house. On the left side of the image an avocado tree can be identified, a signifier of the plot’s former occupants. Village of Xolcuay, Ixil territory, 2013. Photo: Paulo Tavares.

Taken over by wild grass, this partially cleared plot of land was formerly occupied by a wooden house. On the left side of the image an avocado tree can be identified, a signifier of the plot’s former occupants.
Village of Xolcuay, Ixil territory, 2013.
Photo: Paulo Tavares.

Aerial image of the model village of Acul in which survivors of the massacres were concentrated, circa 1984. Source: Magazine of the Guatemalan army, Polos de Desarrolo y Servicios, 1984.

Aerial image of the model village of Acul in which survivors of the massacres were concentrated, circa 1984.
Source: Magazine of the Guatemalan army, Polos de Desarrolo y Servicios, 1984.

Map identifying the location of unmarked graves⎯in which victims of the civil war were buried⎯uncovered by the Fundación de Atropología Forense de Guatemala (FAFG) at a cemetery in the city of Escuintla, southern central Guatemala. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

Map identifying the location of unmarked graves⎯in which victims of the civil war were buried⎯uncovered by the Fundación de Atropología Forense de Guatemala (FAFG) at a cemetery in the city of Escuintla, southern central Guatemala. Photo: Paulo Tavares and Eyal Weizman.

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) analysis of the Ixil territory for satellite images taken in 1979 and 1986, the years that bracket the genocide. Green indicates heavy vegetation and red signifies little vegetation. Two trends are noticeable: increased deforestation in the areas surrounding the major towns (the destruction of the forest went hand in hand with the destruction of villages); and an increase in vegetation cover in the northern areas, possibly signaling abandoned fields taken over by the wilderness. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Two trends are noticeable: increased deforestation in the areas surrounding the major towns (the destruction of the forest went hand in hand with the destruction of villages); and an increase in vegetation cover in the northern areas, possibly signaling abandoned fields taken over by the wilderness.

Housing density in the “Ixil Triangle.” Mayan villages were dispersed in the arable valleys between the mountain slopes. In this image the yellow dots mark the location of individual houses in 1964, before the campaign began. The red squares mark the location of new settlements and model villages into which all dispersed households were concentrated. This territorial reorganization employed by the Guatemalan military sought to concentrate the Ixil population into urbanized zones, radically altering their way of life. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Housing density in the “Ixil Triangle.” Mayan villages were dispersed in the arable valleys between the mountain slopes. In this image the yellow dots mark the location of individual houses in 1964, before the campaign began. The red squares mark the location of new settlements and model villages into which all dispersed households were concentrated. This territorial reorganization employed by the Guatemalan military sought to concentrate the Ixil population into urbanized zones, radically altering their way of life.
Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Ruins at the village of Pexla Grande, Ixil territory, 2013. Photo: Paulo Tavares.

Ruins at the village of Pexla Grande, Ixil territory, 2013.
Photo: Paulo Tavares.

The DNA identification room at Laboratorio Clyde Snow, Guatemala City, November 2011. Photo: Paulo Tavares, Eyal Weizman.

The DNA identification room at Laboratorio Clyde Snow, Guatemala City, November 2011.
Photo: Paulo Tavares, Eyal Weizman.

Excavation of clandestine graves at the cemetery in Escuintla, Guatemala. Photo: Paulo Tavares and Eyal Weizman.

Excavation of clandestine graves at the cemetery in Escuintla, Guatemala.
Photo: Paulo Tavares and Eyal Weizman.

 

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