Tuesday, March 31, 2015

HRWFF 2015 Film Review - Burden of Peace

The film opens with a grainy black and white television image of General Jose Efrain Rios Montt . He is speaking to the Guatemalan people explaining how you need to be ruthless when dealing with communist enemies. The next shot is of a couple of soldiers in Montt's Army who when asked about human rights replies that they are political ideals for socialist countries. The documentary jumps ahead 30 years to the 2010 swearing in of Claudia Paz y Paz as the first female attorney General in Guatemalan history. She is taking office in the first series of free elections 14 years after the end of the civil war.  Paz y Paz has a strong moral codes that she stands by the chief being that justice for victims regardless of gender, social status or ethnicity is justice for the country. As she takes office in Guatemala City the murder rate due to the rampant drug wars stands at 15-20 per day. Victims body's lie in the street in the exact spot where they were felled. The Mexican drug cartels have free range in the meal country and corruption runs rampant in the government. Many of the ex military leaders turned in their military uniforms for suits to continue to wield power in the government or in business organizations in the private arena.

In her first few days in office Paz meets with the Prosecutor office staff letting them know quietly but plainly that things are going to change. The office had 1897 open cases with 2176 victims with a conviction rate on violent crimes sitting at five percent.  Paz y Paz is forced to have a formal meeting with staff to go over the basic act as filling out the complaint forms properly.  The bulk of the reports list the perpetrator as unknown and the word unknown is misspelled multiple times on the forms. The body language from the staff especially the males is overtly hostile many sit with arms crossed, frowns firmly in place or appear to be not paying attention at all.

Dutch directors Joey Boink & Sander Wirken pick up the story from day one on the job. The crew's plan is to follow four year term of the former social and human rights activists turned Attorney General. Pays y Pays climbs into he official vehicle after her swearing in finding the productions camera present. They go with her to her first meeting with the prosecutors' office in the northern most region of the country near the Mexican border where the situation is the worst in the country. The region have only opened four cases in the last while and zero of them have gone to trial. The crew also record the events during the Attorney General visit to the Ixil Region as two men who were kids at the time give the details of the attacks on their community by General Rois Montt's army in the early 80's. The pair talk about the men being lined up and either shot or beheaded. The women separated out elsewhere to be raped, gutted and or shot and their escape into the forest for survival. The attacks against the indigenous peoples in the region was considered an unpunished act of genocide by many in the country.

Within the first year Paz Y Paz had some significant successes.  Her team created an elite team of police officers help to identify and arrest multiple gang members.  The conviction rate jumped from five to thirty percent. The Guatemalan people begin to feel safer in their homes and on the streets. Paz y Paz then turned her gaze on to the actions of the military during the dictatorship years reopening cases attacking the culture of Impunity in the country. First she went after Oscar Mejia Victores Defence Minister in Rios Mott's regime then Rios Mott himself.  Her actions unsettled the old guard whose influence still ran deep in the country leading their mouthpieces in the press and private sector to commence personal and political attacks against Paz y Paz. At the same time former military intelligence chief General Otto Perez Molina who had no interest in investigating Guatemala's military past was running for and most likely to win the presidency.

Burden of Peace is a riveting story of a remarkable person who risked her personal and families safety to do what's right for her country. Her work was recognized all over the world as she accepted awards for her commitment to Justice in San Francisco and London. She was also a finalist for the Noble Peace Prize. Paz y Paz granted complete access to the film crew from day one of her four year term.  The only restriction being filming anything that could jeopardize open cases. Paz y Paz took on the old entrenched guard head on and her efforts gave her people a renewed belief that Justice regardless of background could once again be achieved in Guatemala. It is a film that I highly recommend.

**** out of 4.

Burden of Peace | Joey Boink & Sander Wirken | Netherlands / Guatemala / Spain | 2014 | 77 Minutes.

Tags: Genocide, War Crimes, Drug Cartel, Corruption, Activist,  Public Servant, Marxist, Socialist, Sexism.

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