Guatemala: a young man’s search for his identity

01-09-2008 Feature

According to the report published by the Historical Clarification Commission, around 5,000 children became separated from their families during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. Sebastián Max was one of them. After 28 long years, he has finally learned his true identity.


©CICR/Carla Molina 
April 2008, Rocja Pasacuc. Sebastián embraces his sisters Adelina and Marcelina.    
    In 1981, the Mayan village of Rocja Pasacuc in Alta Verapaz department was attacked several times. Armed men murdered civilians, set fire to houses and killed animals. Each time, the villagers had to leave their homes and run for their lives. Adelina and Marcelina Max, a pair of young sisters, were two of the people forced to flee the violence, carrying their two-year-old brother, Sebastián.

In the panic and chaos that ensued, Sebastián slipped from Adelina's grasp, and she could not go back for him. They believed that he was dead.

Sebastián was found and brought up by another family who named him Felipe Castro Maldonado. He ran away from this family when he was 10, and at the age of 16, like so many other young men in the same situation, he joined the army. After he was discharged, he worked in a textile factory where he met his wife, with whom he now has a son.

Felipe was tormented by doubt and uncertainty throughout this period. He finally decided to contact the organization ¿Dónde están los Niños y las Niñas? [Where are the children? ] hoping they could help him learn the details of his past.

"When we managed to find Sebastián’s sisters, it was an incredible moment, because they told us that he was only two years old when he got lost in the mountains.” 
©CICR/Carla Molina 
Manuel Cedillo, president of ¿Dónde están los Niños y las Niñas?    
The organization opened a case for him and immediately began making enquiries in different hamlets, villages and estates in the Playa Grande area and other places near Alta Verapaz. Their enquiries led them to the village of Rocja Pasacuc, where they were able to locate Adelina and Marcelina, Sebastián’s sisters.

On 26 April 2008, after 28 years of uncertainty, the Max family was reunited in Rocja Pasacuc. “I thought my little brother was dead,” said Adelina, “but thanks to the organization’s work, I can now embrace him.”

“I finally have what I longed for so desperately. My life has been hard, but now everything has changed forever. Now I have fam ily. I'm not alone any more and neither are they, " said Sebastián.

In Guatemala, the ICRC supports the activities of non-governmental organizations working to reunite families, who have a right to know the fate of their relatives.