IN OTHER WORDS: Guatemala’s past

In mid-July, workers from the office of Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman discovered, in a police base, stacks and stacks of files. The files date back to 1902 but they cover the 36-year period of Guatemala’s civil war, which ended in 1996. During the war, 200,000 pe-ople were killed and 50,000 disappeared. Guatemala’s truth commission called the government’s actions during the war genocide.

This is probably the biggest trove of files found in the history of Latin America. It will be of immense use to historians, and will likely provide information on what happened to hundreds of disappeared people. The files may also contain key evidence for trying those responsible for major crimes. But the archive is so big that no one in Guatemala is quite sure how to deal with it. Security is the most urgent need. The police must physically protect these files.

Even if Guatemala manages the files well, their use will be limited if citizens aren’t allowed to see them, which is best done by passing a law guaranteeing freedom of information. And it is uncertain whether the files will lead to justice; Guatemala’s judicial sys-tem is fragile enough to be overwhelmed by threats and corruption. To deal with the past, Guatemala needs to solve its present-day problems.