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Guatemala: Mother and son reunited after decades apart

14-06-2013 Feature

Entre Ríos, Guatemala, 22 March 2013. After years of searching, Cristina Pastor has finally been reunited with her son, Pedro Coc, with the help of the ICRC and the Dónde Están las Niñas y los Niños association. Mother and son had been separated by the violence that swept Guatemala in the 1980s.

Cristina and her family lived among the indigenous Ixil people in Chel, a village in Quiché department. When violence spread to their area the local population was forced to leave everything behind and flee to the mountains. Hunger eventually drove Cristina and her husband from their makeshift shelter to gather any edible fruit or plants, leaving their young son Pedro with his paternal grandparents. Cristina and her husband were both captured, and later found themselves caught in the middle of a firefight. In the chaos Cristina managed to escape, but her husband was killed. Cristina fled across the border to Mexico, where she remained for the next 11 years. She returned to Guatemala in 1993 and was resettled with other Guatemalans in Entre Ríos, Petén department.

Meanwhile, Pedro had survived with his grandparents in the mountains. Unfortunately, Pedro’s grandfather was then forced to join a civil defence patrol and was killed in action. Pedro’s grandmother later died of malnutrition, leaving him without a family at just 14 years old.

“I had never known the love of my parents. I lived with several other families: some treated me well, like a son, but others very badly, with no compassion,” said Pedro.

On 11 February 2010 Cristina asked the Dónde Están las Niñas y los Niños (ADEN) association to trace her missing son and parents. With the help of the ICRC, the association carried on looking for Pedro and his grandparents for three years. ADEN gathered and recorded information and documents, compared details and descriptions of mothers and sons from before and after the conflict, and interviewed witnesses, often after covering long distances on foot. The association asked around among Cristina’s community of origin, as well as displaced people and returning refugees. In January 2013 they came to the conclusion that a young man living in the Ixil village of Amacchel was Pedro Coc, son of Tomás Coc and Cristina Pastor.

The date was set for 22 March. Cristina Pastor’s humble home was festooned with flowers and packed with people: ICRC delegates, ADEN members, local officials, friends and most importantly family had gathered together for the moment Cristina had been waiting for. Cristina held her son and then her mother for the first time in 30 years in a teary embrace.

During the reunion, Cristina said: “I can’t find the words to express how grateful I am that they found my son (…) I didn’t even know if he was alive. I don’t know the names of the people who brought him back to me but I pray that God will protect and help them to carry on doing such good work.”

Now 31, Pedro said that, “it’s like dying and being reborn (…) I know my mum didn’t choose to leave me in the mountains – it was the war that tore us apart and caused so much pain.”
According to the Commission for Historical Clarification, some 45,000 people disappeared during the armed conflict in Guatemala. But progress is being made: every month reunions are taking place, remains are being exhumed and people are being laid to rest.

So far, with the support of local organizations such as ADEN, the ICRC’s missing persons programme has traced over 600 missing persons since 1999. History is being reclaimed in Guatemala, pushed ever ory is being reclaimed in Guatemala, pushed ever onwards by families still looking for their missing loved ones.


Photos

Cristina Pastor's family impatiently wait for the arrival of Pedro Coc, after a 30-year separation. 

Entre Ríos, Guatemala.
Cristina Pastor's family impatiently wait for the arrival of Pedro Coc, after a 30-year separation.
© CICR / C. Amezquita

Pedro Coc hugging his grandmother.  

Entre Ríos, Guatemala.
Pedro Coc hugging his grandmother.
© CICR / C. Amezquita

Mother and son are finally reunited. 

Entre Ríos, Guatemala.
Mother and son are finally reunited.
© CICR / C. Amezquita

Three generations reunited: Cristina Pastor hugging her son, Pedro Coc, and her grandchildren.  

Entre Ríos, Guatemala
Three generations reunited: Cristina Pastor hugging her son, Pedro Coc, and her grandchildren.
© CICR / C. Amezquita