The Wealth of the Region
The municipality of San Juan Cotzal in the department of El Quiche is located in northeastern Guatemala. It is part of an area called the “IXIL Triangle” that is formed by the towns San Juan Cotzal, Nebaj and Chajul. There are 70,000 inhabitants who speak the IXIL language, and San Juan Cotzal has about 20,000 inhabitants. The town is at 1700 meters altitude and is surrounded by the lush vegetation of the Cuchumatanes mountain range. There are also impressive waterfalls nearby. The temperature varies from 15-25 degrees centigrade.
The life of the town is centered around the main square where there is a beautiful church. On the walls along the church aisles are crosses for many citizens who were killed, kidnapped, or “disappeared” during the civil war. Most of the buildings are traditional, made with adobe and tile roofs. The other part of town where a lot of people live is across the river, Tichun, where the women still wash their clothes as they have done for generations.
Surviving Poverty and the War
Although there are fertile agricultural land, many inhabitants suffer tough living conditions. Problems with owning land worsened during the armed conflict which was particularly cruel in the Ixil Triangle. Many people were dispossessed of their lands and forced to work in the coffee and sugar plantations.
Moreover, the violence of the civil war which culminated between 1979 and 1983, was terrible in this town. There were 1000 victims in Cotzal alone, most of them men who were tortured, massacred and “disappeared”, and this is not counting those who lost their lives in the mountains outside of town.
To recuperate from this battered economy and start building their lives again, many families, widows and orphans have established initiatives like our group of weavers in Cotzal.