Trips to and from Guatemala


Part of the mural painted on the wall
surrounding the Archive

HRDAG has been working with the Historic Archive of the National Police in Guatemala (hereafter, the Archive) for the past seven years.  The Archive contains a treasure trove of data recorded and kept by the Guatemalan National Police over the past century.  When the Archive was first discovered in 2005, researchers there immediately recognized both the value and fragility of the tens of millions of documents.  As a result, they reached out to HRDAG, and we reached out to volunteers at Westat to devise a plan to estimate the contents of the entire Archive as quickly as possible in case the documents were destroyed or access to them was limited.  Fortunately, neither feared outcome has come to pass and a variety of research continues to be conducted at the Archive.  See our Guatemala project page for a history of this project.

Together with our colleagues at the Archive, we have been working to bring together these past seven years of work in a few reports.  We have drafted a long report that describes the full process of the quantitative research we have been conducting.  Everything from the decision to select a random sample of documents, how we went about designing that sample, how workers at the Archive then carried out our carefully designed selection method, the coding of document content into a database, and ultimately the analysis of that database.


Showing Carolina where we were on the BART map.

In March, Patrick and I spent a couple of weeks visiting our partners at the Archive, reviewing the latest draft of this report and devising a plan for its distribution.  Ultimately we decided that this very long report would be better served as two publications – one aimed at a general audience, serving as a sort of introduction and orientation to the Archive and a second more technical/academic publication.  Both will be made available, in English and Spanish, on our website as well as the Archive’s site.

While we were in Guatemala, Patrick met with the Ministerio Público regarding his upcoming testimony in the trial of General José Efraín Ríos Montt (for information and analysis on the case, see here).  We look forward to posting about that once the trial has concluded.


Carolina and the ‘Painted Ladies’

Following our trip to Guatemala, we invited Carolina López, one of the Archive employees co-authoring our forthcoming reports, to join us in San Francisco.  Over the course of one very busy week we trained Carolina in our team’s internal workflow, which included teaching her LaTeX, bash shell scripting, and Makefiles.  We are very excited to be able to provide this technical training to Carolina and believe that it will both improve our collaboration with the Archive and increase the Archive’s capacity to conduct future research.

Of course, it was also lots of fun to introduce Carolina to all the things San Francisco has to offer.  I suspect she was more a fan of our diverse dining options and less a fan of our large quantity of hills!

Photos: Megan Price and Carolina López, 2013.

[Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, including images]


Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.