Us delegates arrived in Guatemala from various parts of the United States, and from El Salvador in stages, slowly forming a whole. Since I was among the first to arrive in Guatemala City, I was present for dinner with activist Lolita Chavez, a friend of Lolita’s, two professionals from Guatemala’s Independent Media, and three indigenous women from Santa Cruz Barillas, a western municipality, recently rocked by an 18-day siege in May.
In the crowded pizza parlor where we dined, the three women from Santa Cruz Barillas stood out–their traditional clothing, huipil (blouse) and corte (skirt), and weighty sadness in their eyes–contrasted with the restaurant’s western bustle. As we sat around a shared table, these women introduced themselves by declaring the sadness they carried in their hearts.
They had spent a grueling weekend visiting a high-security prison. Two of the women’s husbands, and the third woman’s son, had been charged with evidence-less crimes of terrorism for their peaceful protests regarding the establishment of a hydroelectric dam that 46,472 of 46,481 residents of Barillas had voted against.
I had read about these men mere hours ago, when the story had happened to people I did not know. Confronted with the sorrow of the women sitting across from me, the distance fell away and facts were eclipsed by feeling. As we shared a meal, I yearned for the ability to do more than munch garlic bread from a communal basket, I yearned to connect with the three women and express compassion for their suffering. But bread broken, and sadness coalesced, all I could say was “gracias.”
To learn more about the siege and its aftermath in Santa Cruz Barillas
1. GHRC/USA Blog. “Weekly News Roundup.” May 31, 2012. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2012/05/ The GHRC blog provides detailed news about what transpired in Santa Cruz Barillas throughout May 2012 when the siege occurred. These blog posts also provide links to the Guatemalan news, and these links are helpful for understanding the unfolding of events.
2. Mercatante, Rob. El Quetzal. Issue No. 12. “State of Siege Spreads Fear and Sorrow in Santa Cruz Barillas.” http://www.ghrc-usa.org/Publications/El_Quetzal/Issue12.pdf Director of GHRC’s Guatemala Office, Rob has written a heart-wrenching account of his visits to Guatemala’s prison to meet with two men from Barillas who were imprisoned during the siege, the husbands of two of the women I met.
3. Geglia, Beth. Waging Nonviolence. “We are all Barillas: A New Moment in Guatemala’s Anti-Extraction Movement.” June 23, 2012. http://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/06/we-are-all-barillas-a-new-moment-in-guatemalas-anti-extraction-movement/ Beth, whom I met the very same day as the three women from Barillas, has written a clear explanation of the siege as well as the historical and political context surrounding industrial development in the department of Huehuetenango, where Barillas is located. Beth’s article also links to the Guatemalan Independent Media.
4. Goldcorp Out News. “Guatemala and the Siege of Santa Cruz Barillas.” May 25, 2012. http://goldcorpoutnews.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/guatemala-and-the-siege-of-santa-cruz-barillas/ This blog is an extensive information clearinghouse on mining in Guatemala’s western highlands, including the municipality of Santa Cruz Barillas.