NPR "Xeni Tech" – Guatemala: Unearthing the Future

Photo: (2007/Xeni Jardin): FAFG anthropologist Raquel Doradea logs information that will be entered into the FAFG database, along with testimony from survivors.

This week on NPR "Day to Day," a five-part series of reports I brought back from Central America: "Guatemala: Unearthing the Future."

One European visitor in the 1800s called this country "Land of the Eternal Spring," and its volcanoes, ancient ruins, and rich Mayan culture make the place feel mythic even today. But suffering also defines Guatemala, and scars from a decades-long civil war have yet to heal. The war that claimed more than 200,000 lives ended ten years ago, but its lingering effects have left some 80% of the population in poverty. In this series, you'll hear stories from people who are trying to fight that, applying innovative, home-grown technologies to solve old problems.

The first of these reports focuses on a group called the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), a nonprofit comprised of technologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists who unearth mass graves from political massacres. They work to identify the dead and return the remains to their families for dignified reburial. The process begins with the hard work of the exhumation itself, but they also use DNA forensics and software they develop themselves, so they can identify a greater portion of the remains, and preserve evidence that could be used in criminal trials. FAFG staff routinely deal with death threats from those who do not support their work.

Link to "A Database for the Dead," with streaming audio (Real/Win).

MP3 Link for today's segment.

Link to narrated slideshow.

Also today, NPR is launching a "Xeni Tech" podcast where these reports (and everything else I file for the network) will be available in DRM-free MP3: Link.

Photo: (2007/Xeni Jardin): FAFG's Patricia Ixcoy works on remains from a 1982 massacre that killed 26 K'iche Maya people in Kanakil, a rural pueblo in the department of El Quiché. The bones look charred because the victims were first shot, then set on fire.

See also some recent posts on a "reporter's notebook" blog from the Guatemala trip:

  • Accused mass murderer Montt to run for congress
  • E. Howard Hunt and the CIA
  • American aid worker killed in traffic accident
  • Political refugees in US face deportation