Last week, PEN issued a letter to Guatemalan authorities protesting the conviction of Raúl Figueroa Sarti, owner of the publishing house F & G Editores, on spurious charges of copyright infringement—charges that appear motivated by Sarti's publication of books on human rights abuses in Guatemala.
PEN America 10: Fear Itself touched upon such abuses in two pieces: “The Secret Lives of Cities”—a conversation featuring, among others, Francisco Goldman, who spoke about Guatemala—and “Public Demons,” by José Rubén Zamora, which was recently selected to appear in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of The Utne Reader. “Public Demons” is reprinted below.
This has to be recorded for your children, one of my captors says. You’re going to die, you son of a bitch. They throw me in the room with my family. Ramón is eleven years old. The rest of my family has their eyes taped, but not him. He’s watching. I tell him: Be cool, don’t worry. I even smile. And deep down I’m thinking: here’s where the shit ends. Ramón is dripping snot.
Why are you making trouble? they say. Stop fucking with the higher-ups. Every so often they say they are going to kill us. There are twelve or fourteen guys, and they can’t stop moving. Shouts, threats, guns. One of them closes the curtains and climbs on the bed. He starts jumping around with a shotgun.
Rodrigo cries silently. The raiders tear the house apart. In my son’s closet they find a collection of guns. That’s when they go crazy. They drag me out of the room, say they’re going to kill me. I’ve now lost my bathroom, I’m completely naked. Look, guys, I’m not making trouble, I tell them. Whatever you say, we’ll do. Just fucking kill me in the garage, so the kids aren’t brought into it.
They keep me outside for fifteen minutes with a shotgun in my chest. Twice they pretend they’re going to shoot me. I’ve accepted my fate. But I lose it when they drag me back in the room, naked, and tie me up with neckties. Tell your children to watch, they say. And to them: You’re going to witness your father’s death. Ramón is in a green pool. I have no idea where so much snot came from. Everyone is crying.
We’re going to carry off the little one and your wife, they say. What are they worth to you? There’s no calculating their worth, I tell them. So if you want to keep them, they say, you have to keep quiet. If you go to the police, if you make a public statement, if you tell anyone you work with, if you complain to an ambassador, if what happens here leaks out in any way... We know your family’s routines, we’ll fucking kill them all.
Before they leave, one comes up to me and says, I was the good one. Did you notice? I was the one who kept them from killing everyone. So, in gratitude, you’re going to give me 250,000 pesos. Tomorrow or the next day. I’ll call and tell you where and when. You’ll get in your gray Volvo and we’ll meet up. I’ll be on a motorcycle. I’ve seen your house. You’ve got dough.
After two and a half hours, they leave. They take my cell phones, credit cards, a computer, a watch, my wife’s jewels, my grandfather’s guns, and a pair of running shoes.
I’m not going to say shit, I tell myself. But then I call Gonzálo Marroquín, another journalist. Look, man, I say, and I break down. What the fuck happened? he asks. Call my assistant, I tell him, and have her cancel my credit cards. They stole them. In case anything gets out, prepare my mom and my Aunt Marina, because she’ll be scared, remember her heart. What the fuck is going to get out? he asks me. And I tell him.
What are you going to do? he asks.
You know what? I’m going to report this.
Soon there are four thousand people in the house.
People from the military police come. And my wife says, pointing to one, That man was here, during the raid. I think she’s crazy. But in fact, he’s erasing fingerprints.
I have to get my family out of the country, and my children are pissed off. The second oldest says to me, I’ve respected what you do, but I think it’s unfair that because of your decisions we have to flee Guatemala like thieves. You did this to us.
Me, I decide to stay.
The house is empty.
José Rubén Zamora continues to edit El Periódico, the third newspaper he has founded in Guatemala. Because of the stories he has published, he has been repeatedly harassed, threatened, and attacked by government, military, and organized crime figures. The raid described above took place on June 24, 2003; a more detailed account is available at www.pen.org/publicdemons.