Witness Amid War

The untold story of Christian efforts to end the violence in Guatemala.
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Fireworks. Parades. Three days of celebration in Guatemala City followed the signing of peace accords on December 29, 1996. Peace had come to Guatemala at last after 36 years of civil war. Or had it?

Church historian Martin E. Marty introduces the documentary Precarious Peace with two questions: What does it take to end a war? What does it take to ensure a peace?

The secular media have largely overlooked the church's influence during Guatemala's troubled past. Precarious Peace fills in some of the gaps. In this two-part documentary, producers Rudy and Shirley Nelson challenge Christians to consider how to address social ills in Guatemala, where civil war, corruption, genocide, ethnic discrimination, and injustice have led to a culture of fear and violence. They see Guatemala as a case study that parallels other conflicts.

La Violencia

The Nelsons, along with co-director Dennis Smith (a Presbyterian missionary in Guatemala) and executive producer Bill Jersey, look at how Christian groups and individuals have responded (or not) to years of what Guatemalans call la violencia. They involved Guatemalan filmmakers, advisers, and spokespeople. They culled war footage from the extensive archives of Guatemalan filmmaker José Vasquez, and two other in-country photographers filmed interviews and local color.

"We didn't want to make a documentary produced mainly by gringos," the Nelsons write.

As the video explains, Guatemala's civil war can be traced to 1960, when military officers rebelled against a dictatorship. Earlier, in 1954, the CIA had helped overthrow a democratically elected government seen as a communist threat. Military rule soon followed. Later, revolutionary forces moved their base of operations to the mountains, where ...

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