This documentary is tough to watch, even for those of us who have
acquired a special interest in, and personal experience with, the
war-ravaged Central American country of Guatemala.
The Guatemalan Civil War lasted from 1960 to 1996.
That much is not in dispute. What
is not so widely agreed upon are the root causes of the war, and why it
began in the first place. There
was a coup d'etat by the military against a democratically-elected
government, and many commentators insist that the United States backed the
military rebels, because of the Cold War mentality of attempting to
counter leftist (Marxist) governments, both in Guatemala and in Cuba.
We all know what happened at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, when
U.S.-backed rebels failed to topple Fidel Castro's revolutionary
government in Cuba. What is
not so clear is the U.S.'s involvement in backing the Guatemalan military,
which began systematically eliminating indigenous people perceived to be
enemies of the State.
“Finding Oscar” points to a particularly horrific brutality,
the wiping out of a whole village, Dos Erres, in 1982, by a military hit
squad, “The Kaibil,” patterned after the U.S. military's Special
Forces. This documentary film
can't show us footage of the actual massacre, of course.
But it does show us archival footage of President Ronald Reagan
meeting with the military dictator and promising continuing unqualified
Then we are taken to the abandoned well of Dos Erres, where scores
of skeletons were found, but still no eyewitnesses, because there were no
known survivors. Until a
determined Forensics Anthropologist teamed with a zealous prosecutor and a
local human rights activist to actually find a couple of Kaibil soldiers
connected with the slaughter. One
was a cook, the other an enlisted man, who both admitted their own
participation (in exchange for immunity from prosecution).
They told how children were killed by being hit on the head with a
sledgehammer, then thrown down the well.
They told of the raping of the women and the beating of the men,
before they, too, were killed. Somehow
two boys escaped, and ironically, were adopted by a couple of Kaibil
soldiers who later emigrated. These
boys were actually found. One
now lives in Canada, and still breaks down in tears every time he
remembers what he saw that day. The
other, Oscar, lives in Framington, Massachusetts, and had no idea.
The person he thought was his Dad died in a car accident years ago.
He's now married with a family of his own.
But Oscar was flabbergasted to discover that he was actually an
orphan boy adopted by one of the dreaded Kaibil executioners.
It also so happened that Oscar's real Dad also escaped the
massacre, because he was out working in the fields at the time, though he
lost everyone else in his family. Or
so he thought. The tearful
reunion between Oscar and his Dad in the airport is as satisfying to the
viewer as it is euphoric for them.
We may never know how many civilians were killed in that tragic
civil war which nobody in Guatemala seems to want to talk about now.
And we may never found out, literally, where all the skeletons are
buried. But we have found
Oscar. And he, at least, has
found out who he really is.