Publish and perish: The Story of Myrna Mack

“The Perils of Publishing (April 24)”

by Eduardo Galeano

In the year 2004, for once the government of Guatemala broke with the tradition of impunity and officially acknowledged that Myrna Mack was killed by order of the country’s president.

Myrna had undertaken forbidden research. Despite receiving threats, she had gone deep into the jungles and mountains to find exiles wandering in their own country, the indigenous survivors of the military’s massacres. She collected their voices.

In 1989, at a conference of social scientists, an anthropologist from the United States complained about the pressure universities exert to continually produce: “In my country if you don’t publish, you perish.”

And Myrna replied: “In my country if you publish, you perish.”

She published.

She was stabbed to death.

From Eduardo Galeano’s new book Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, excerpted at Toward Freedom.

I’m ashamed to admit I had never heard of Myrna Mack. In reading up on her story I learned she was stabbed, 27 times, outside her downtown Guatemala City office on Sept. 11, 1990. At the time of her death, she had been researching and publishing information about the plight of internally displaced persons in Guatemala. In 1993, a low-level sergeant was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime.

In February 2003 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard oral arguments in the case brought by the Mack family against the Guatemalan government for allegedly failing to ensure timely justice in the Mack case. On December 19, 2003, the Court unanimously found Guatemala in violation of Articles 1 (obligation to respect rights), 4 (right to life), 5 (humane treatment), 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights.

In April 2004, President Oscar Berger joined the heads of Congress and the Supreme Court on Thursday in publicly acknowledging government responsibility for the 1990 killing of human rights activist Myrna Mack.

“In the name of the state, I ask for the forgiveness of the Mack family and of the people of Guatemala for the murder of this young anthropologist,” Berger said.

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