Guatemalan Human Rights

These posts are about human rights issues in Guatemala.

Update from El Estor & brief history of this blog for new readers

I’m very flattered to see that the number of people who subscribe to my blog has grown these past two weeks–I’m guessing in response to my post about Michael Brown’s death. There are many ideas in that post that I cut out in an earlier draft, and I am planning to revisit these thoughts in an upcoming post. In the meantime, I would like to give my newer readers some background for why I began this blog, and provide a much needed update on the community of El Estor, Guatemala.

In 2012, I attended the Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s (GHRC) fall speakers tour where community activist Maria Choc spoke about how the Canadian Nickel Mining Company, HudBay Minerals, had brutalized her community–how its security forces had raped eleven women, murdered community leader Adolfo Ich, and shot and paralyzed a young man named German Chub Choc. My accounts of the history of El Estor and Maria Choc’s talk can be found here and here. I was very moved by Maria’s talk–her description of the atrocities El Estor had experienced, and how the community was fighting back through a lawsuit against HudBay Minerals and resiliently rebuilding their lives. I wanted to do something, and when a member of the audience had asked, “what can we do to help?” Maria stated that the community needed funds for a wheelchair and German’s ongoing medical needs, as well as startup capital so he could independently operate a corner store.

Coming from a disability rights perspective, raising funds so that German could experience greater independence and inclusion appealed to me. I set up an Etsy store and created this blog as a forum to explain how and why I was selling my handmade crafts. I also wrote about issues intersecting with my project, like the Affordable Health Care Act’s effect on people with disabilities, and reflections on social justice. I soon discovered that making felt purses is a very inefficient way to fundraise, even more so when no one buys them. The organization Rights Action, which works in solidarity with Central Americans to improve human rights, launched an appeal to fund a home for German and his family.

Since then, my blog has undergone some shifts, but remains a forum where I, as the no longer misspelled tagline states, share resources and reflect on issues pertaining to social justice, human rights, and disability. Included in this catchall, is news about German Chub Choc and El Estor, which can be found here, and now I have a few updates.

1. Mynor Padilla, the former head of HudBay security, responsible for shooting German and seven other people, and murdering Adolfo Ich, remains in jail. I am sad to report that German is being harassed by people agitating for Mynor Padilla’s release, and German is experiencing health problems from conditions associated with his spinal cord injury. Rights Action. “Hudbay Minerals: Stop the Harassment in Guatemala Concerning Mining Related Criminal and Civil Lawsuits.” August 22, 2014. http://www.rightsaction.org/action-content/hudbay-minerals-stop-harassment-guatemala-concerning-mining-related-criminal-and

2. The people’s court in Canada held a mock trial for the El Estor lawsuit against HudBay, and the verdict was guilty. Under-mining Guate. “HudBay Minerals Declared Corporate Criminals in People’s Trial.” May 8, 2014. https://rachelblumesmall.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/hudbay-minerals-declared-corporate-criminals-in-peoples-trial/

3. The documentary film Defensora, which tells the story of El Estor’s lawsuit against HudBay Minerals, was screened in Canada on April 22, 2014. The trailer is included in this link. The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN).” April 22–Defensora Screening.” March 25, 2014. http://mininginjusticesn.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/april-21-2014-defensora-screening/

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New & Noteworthy: Migration Crises

Two articles crossed my path today, and although each article covers immigration in different countries, the common themes of how painful histories and destructive polices create diasporas is cause for contemplation.

1. Kathryn Johnson and Lydia White Cocom.  Upside Down World. “US Policies Exacerbate Migration Crisis in Guatemala.” July 29, 2014.  http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/4962-us-policies-exacerbate-migration-crisis-in-guatemala 

This article, co-written by The Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s Assistant Director, blends testimonies from Guatemalan youth who have migrated to the United States to flee violence with facts from  the Organization of American States, UNHCR, and UNICEF to effectively illustrate how United States’ policies are contributing to the migration crisis in Central America.

2. Americas Quarterly. “The Dominican Republic and Haiti: A Shared View from the Diaspora.” Summer 2014. http://americasquarterly.org/content/dominican-republic-and-haiti-shared-view-diaspora

I was intrigued to learn that in September 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruled that the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, including those born in the Dominican Republic, are no longer citizens of the D.R. In the linked interview, Dominican author Junot Diaz and Haitian author Edwige Danticat “discuss the roots and legacies of racism and conflict in the neighboring nations, the impact of the court’s ruling, and the responsibility of the diaspora to build bridges between Dominicans and Haitians.”

Human Rights Defender Makrina Gudiel–steadfast pursuit of justice

I always leave the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) speaker’s tour feeling so inspired by the actions Guatemalans are taking to advocate for justice. GHRC’s 2014 spring tour with Makrina Gudiel was no exception. GHRC staff introduced Makrina by stating that “as a human rights defender, she is a “real-life hero.”

Makrina opened her talk by describing, in a gentle and calm voice, how a human rights defender “is a person who makes their life part of the social forum.” She identified two paths to becoming a human rights defender–one path was academic and analytical, and the other was auto-didactic and through lived experience. Growing up in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, a sugar growing town in Guatemala’s south coast, she observed how the economic inequality on the sugar plantations created a system that pitted “the rich against the poor.” This realization sparked in her a desire to change the status quo, and by the time she was an adolescent, she joined her family advocating for labor rights.

When I heard her say the name of her town, Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa I felt a memory jolt–I had met with members from this community and learned about the assassination and disappearance of many of their family members during the Internal Armed Conflict. Sadly Makrina’s family was one of those to suffer such a loss–her beloved brother, Jose Miguel, was disappeared in 1983. Makrina later learned that the Guatemalan military had targeted her family as “Chumpas Rojas” (Red Jackets) because their labor advocacy was considered subversive. Furthermore, Jose Miguel’s entry was found in the Military Diary, a roster the Guatemalan military kept documenting those they kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. After Jose Miguel was disappeared, Makrina and her family went into exile in Mexico and the United States.

Jose Miguel Gudiel pictured in the Military Diary. Photo Source: The Guatemala Human Rights Commission

Jose Miguel Gudiel pictured in the Military Diary.             Photo Source: The Guatemala Human Rights Commission

Makrina and her family returned to Guatemala after the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, and her family brought her brother’s case to the Inter-American Commission in 2004. Soon thereafter, Makrina received a telephone call from a Kabil, a member of the Guatemalan military’s counter-insurgency unit, who told her, “you and your family will receive a visit from me this year.” Despite reporting this threat to the police, her father was murdered in December 2004. This crime was never adequately investigated, and Makrina recently testified before the Inter-American Court regarding her father’s murder in 2014.

Listening to Makrina tell her story, I was so struck by how she has channeled her tragic personal losses in “the social forum” as an active community organizer and a coordinator of the Network of Guatemalan Women Human Rights Defenders. GHRC staff expressed their concern that when Makrina returns to Guatemala, she will likely be threatened for her ongoing pursuit for justice for her father and brother’s deaths. I encourage everyone reading this article to frequently check in with GHRC regarding Makrina Gudiel, and to take a concrete step toward positive action by signing the petition to maintain the ban on US funding to the Guatemalan military.

Makrina Gudiel (left) and her family. Photo Source: "Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza" (106)

Makrina Gudiel (left) and her family. Photo Source: “Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza” (page 106)

Learn more about GHRC’s Spring 2014 Speakers Tour with Makrina Gudiel

1. “Makrina Gudiel: Seeking Justice for Crimes of the Past in Guatemala.”  http://www.ghrc-usa.org/get-involved/events/spring-2014-speakers-tour-makrina-gudiel/#Makrinabackground 

2.”Guatemala News Update: March 31-April 4, 2014.” http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/guatemala-news-update-march-31-april-4/

3. “Guatemalan Activist Calls for Solidarity in South Coast.” http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140403/NEWS/404030383

Learn more about the victims and survivors from Santa Lucia Cotz

1. “We Need Everyone to Know.” Impunity Watch. http://www.impunitywatch.org/html/index.php?alineaID=89 The organization Impunity Watch works closely with the community of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa. In this article. Impunity Watch provides background information about the violence that escalated in the murder and disappearance of many members of the community, as well as Santa Lucia Cotz’s efforts to commemorate their loved ones by writing Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza and painting a mural.

2. “Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza: la memorable historia de Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa contada por sus protagonistas.” http://biblio3.url.edu.gt/Libros/2013/pqsalipobre.pdf This is the pdf version of the book the community Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa wrote to commemorate their family members who were assassinated and disappeared. The story of Makrina’s brother, Jose Miguel Gudiel, and father, Florentin Gudiel Ramos, which Makrina wrote, is on pages 104-106.

3.  “Painting Realized by Family Members of the Victims of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa.” http://www.impunitywatch.org/docs/ENGELSE_VERSIE_POSTER_MURAL_lowres.pdf  This document includes a picture of a beautiful mural painted by the victims’ family members, a short explanation of the Internal Armed Conflict, and the family members’ process of organizing themselves and pursuing justice. One of my favorite things about this document is that it includes quotes from the family members about how they chose to represent their loved ones in the mural.

 

New and Noteworthy: Awesome blogs from my friends & Defensora debut

The Blogs

1. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) visits a Qanjobal community in Omaha, NE: http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/ghrc-visits-qanjobal-community-in-omaha-ne/

2. The Health Equity and Policy Blog: http://healthequityandpolicy.blogspot.com/

3. Feminist Collective Blog: http://disruptingdinnerparties.com/

4. Two Disability Rights Blogs: Claiming Crip: http://claimingcrip.blogspot.com/ and Dealing with Dyautonomia: http://dealingwithdys.blogspot.com.au/  are written by my two talented friends who interned with AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities) this summer, and share their thoughts on disability theory, rights, and policies as well as their personal experiences.

Defensora Debuts in the US

The Documentary Defensora, about the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community El Estor’s resistance against mining in Guatemala, debuts in the United States. The link to the Defensora website is here: http://www.defensorathefilm.com/ and my pots tagged German Chub Choc detail the awe-inspiring courage of the El Estor Community with a focus on German Chub Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi man who sustained a spinal cord injury after he was shot in an unprovoked attack by a security guard from HudBay Minerals.

Searching for Providence and Harvest of Empire

A few months ago, I read Patricia Foxen’s ethnography In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. An ethnography is a descriptive work resulting from the study of human cultures, and Dr. Foxen has created an insightful analysis of Mayan K’iches’ who have emigrated from a rural Guatemalan farming community to Providence, Rhode Island after the Internal Armed Conflict. I found Dr. Foxen’s book fascinating, and so many parts spoke to my own personal heartfelt experiences. Her description of the Mayan K’iche’ communities in their “host community” of Providence reminded me of my experiences working with recently resettled refugees. Her analysis of K’iche’ in their “home community” in Guatemala gave me deep nostalgia for my experiences at the Mountain School.

Furthermore, I was intrigued by Foxen’s description of how the Maya K’iche’ use trickster behavior. According to Foxen, in El Quiche “the instability caused by poor weather and crops, an insecure economic environment, poor health, and social strife lead most K’iche’s to learn to be flexible and above all, listo (literally to be ready, or on one’s toes) for whatever opportunities present themselves” (194). Foxen elaborates on how as marginalized immigrants, K’iches’ leverage this coping mechanism to act as tricksters. 

Tricksters, present in many cultures’ folktales including those of the Maya K’iche’, usually appear as animals who are metaphors for how an oppressed people can use their position of weakness to outsmart their oppressors. Foxen gives examples of how K’iche’s acted as real life tricksters to survive the Guatemalan military’s brutal surveillance tactics, and later put these techniques to use when contending with “la migra, the police, and bosses” in the United States (195). Foxen noted that K’iche’ migrants take pride in their trickster abilities, which they see as part of their ethnic identity.   

Foxen’s study of May K’iche’s trickster behavior left a deep impression on me because I have studied tricksters in ancient folktales and in contemporary fiction, but had yet to delve deeply into how people in recent history have used trickster behavior. One work of contemporary fiction that I have studied that came to mind when reading In Search of Providence was Junot Diaz’s collection of vignettes Drown, which features Dominican immigrants acting as tricksters in order to adapt to their new lives in New Jersey. Diaz writes in English, and cleverly uses language to express the multiple worlds his characters are straddling. Drown begin with an epigraph by Gustavo Pérez Firmat that expresses this notion:

The fact that I

am writing to you in English 

already falsifies what I

wanted to tell you. 

My subject: 

how to explain to you that I

don’t belong to English 

though I belong nowhere else.

To give further insight into the ideas expressed in this poem Bilingual Blues, I have linked below for a second time to an interview where Junot Diaz and Francisco Goldman discuss how they grapple with living in “two linguistic spheres.”

Another book that I have recently read that address Central American migration to the United States is Juan Gonzalez’s revised edition of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. I delighted in taking my time reading Harvest of Empire, slowing pulling back the lens to gain a broader perspective on Latin American history from the Spanish Colonization in the 1500s to the present day. Thus far, my knowledge had been focused on Guatemala. Recently, I have begun to learn more about El Salvador from living in a city with large Salvadoran population as a result of a wave of immigrants and refugees who fled their country’s Civil War in the 1980s.

I especially liked Part II Branches (Las Ramas) and Part III Harvest (La Cosecha) for their comprehensive view of the revolutions in Latin America throughout the 20th Century and the discussion of the contemporary immigration debate. One close-up I particularly enjoyed was Gonzalez’s discussion Puerto Rico. Gonzalez himself is Puerto Rican, and included anecdotes about his family and own life, which added a personal note to the sweeping narrative.

Learn more about the books and radio show discussed in this post

1. Foxen, Patricia. In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. 2007. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0826515819/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

2. Gonzales, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America Revised Edition. 2011.  http://www.amazon.com/Harvest-Empire-History-Latinos-America/dp/0143119281

3.  Alarcón, Daniel. ”Junot y Francisco : En vivo desde Nueva York.” Radio Ambulante. February, 2013. http://radioambulante.org/es/

New and Noteworthy: Steps to justice in El Estor, ADA turns 26, and interacting with people with disabilities

1.  Canadian Mining Company HudBay Minerals will be tried in Canadian courts for murdering, shooting, and gang-raping Guatemalans http://www.rightsaction.org/action-content/media-reports-precedent-setting-ruling-canada-against-hudbay-minerals-indigenous and http://www.chocversushudbay.com/ My posts tagged German Choc describe how the Guatemalan community El Estor was brutalized by the Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals. Between 2007 and 2009, eleven women from the town of Lote 8 were gang raped, community leader Adolfo Ich Chaman was murdered, and German Chub Choc was shot in an unprovoked attack. Since these attacks, German Chub Choc; Adolfo’s widow Angelica Choc; community leader Maria Choc; and Rosa Elbria Ich Choc and Margarita Caal Caal, two representatives from Lote 8 formed a delegation to seek justice against HudBay in the Canadian legal system. I am so happy to report that as declared on Tuesday, July 23rd, their case against HudBay will proceed to trial in Canada!

2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 23 goo.gl/nFrVfT AAPD (American Association for Persons with Disabilities) 2013 Interns produced this YouTube video explaining how the ADA has affected their lives.

3. Excellent Journalist Tiffiny Carlson gives an articulate explanation of 10 ways to interact with people with disabilities http://www.themobilityresource.com/10-correct-ways-to-interact-with-people-with-disabilities/ Tiffiny’s list is great, and I couldn’t agree more with Number 10 “the golden rule.” A few years ago, I was at the Association for Blind Citizen’s Holiday Party, having a great time meeting and chatting with folks with and without sight, but when two blind acquaintances started walking toward each other each unaware of each other’s presence, I became tongue-tied, unable to say the simplest thing to let them know each other was there because I was wracking my brain for the right thing to say to prevent them from bumping into each other. As they both came to a stop, aware of each other when their canes touched, I awkwardly asked, “so what do I say when I see someone blind about to bump into someone or something? Both people turned to look at me and said, “you can say stop.‘”

Women in Resistance–The Story of the Scholarship

On the final night of the “Women in Resistance” delegation, our leaders gathered us together in a coffee shop in Antigua’s parque central for a brainstorming session. We strategized and shared ideas about how we would raise awareness about Guatemala’s land and women’s rights issues while carrying all the voices we heard forward in international solidarity, once we returned to our individual lives in the United States.

Many of my fellow delegates used their unique talents to advocate for land and women’s rights issues in Guatemala in special ways. In Georgia, Courtney collected art supplies and raised funds to support Casa Artesana’s painting program for incarcerated women. In Wisconsin, Agnes shared her experiences with her church, continued to actively volunteer with Racine’s latino community, and collected Spanish children’s books for the Alliance of Rural Women, which I delivered to Guatemala in November, 2012. Alma, who has continued living in Guatemala, used her ties to Nevada, where gold mining company Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates is headquartered, to advocate against the destructive environmental and social effects the gold mining project would have on San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. Recently, she create an opportunity for Don Alvaro from San Pedro Ayampuc to  protest at Comstock Mining Inc.’s shareholder’s meeting in the United States.

I sought to be “the librarian” of the delegation, writing a record of each meeting as a way to honor the Guatemalans who were so kind to meet with us and share their stories, and also to inspire others to learn about land and women’s rights struggles in Guatemala. In the middle of transcribing the handwritten notes I took during the delegation into posts illustrated with beautiful photographs taken by Paola, Alma, and Courtney, I returned to Guatemala. I studied Spanish with a new teacher each week, and when asked six different times what brought me to Guatemala, I always explained the delegation. My teachers were intrigued, and many expressed a wish to participate in such a delegation as way of building international solidarity, and also learning more about on-the-ground issues in their own country.

When I returned to the United States in January 2013, I reflected on how meaningful participating in the delegation had been for me and that many Guatemalans may want to participate but lack the funds to do so. I decided to fundraise for a full scholarship so that a person with Guatemalan heritage who could not otherwise afford the delegation could participate in what was for me and my fellow delegates, a transformative experience. I solicited donations from friends and family, and sold Guatemalan textiles and jewelry that GHRC has stored in their office. It gave me so much positive energy to fundraise for this scholarship, and thanks to many generous donations and purchases, the scholarship was complete by the time that GHRC was accepting applications.  I plan to fundraise for this scholarship annually, and look forward to applying what I learned to fundraise next year. In the meantime, I sincerely wish all the 2013 delegates the best, and I can’t wait to learn about their experience this coming August!

Learn More about GHRC’s Women in Resistance Delegation and the Scholarship

1. “Delegations to Guatemala. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/get-involved/delegations/

2. “‘Women in Resistance’ Delegation Scholarship.” Causes. http://www.causes.com/actions/1734250-women-in-resistance-delegation-scholarship

3. Kramer, Ilyse. 2012 “Women in Resistance” Delegation an Event to Remember.  El Quetzal. Issue 13, December 2012. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/El-Quetzal-final-with-WN-note.pdf

Writing about Guatemala

During my time in Guatemala in November and December 2012, I studied Spanish at La Esceuela de la Montana (the Mountain School), which partners with two local communities. Students at the Mountain School eat all their meals with members of these communities, and this practice is a valuable time to practice Spanish and gain insight into rural Guatemalan life. Over the course of my three weeks at the Mountain School, I came to learn how the two communities had come to reside in the area after struggling for their right to wages on coffee plantations. I thought that these stories were incredible testaments to the communities’ deep reserves of persistence in the face of oppression. I wanted to document these testimonies in writing so that the communities could have a written record of their history.

Aiming to be a “librarian” for their stories, I also wanted to translate the communities’ testimonies in English, and share the stories with English speakers who would be interested in studying at the Mountain School and/or learning about Guatemalan labor rights issues. When I first heard these testimonies in November, I had transcribed the stories in English, and with help from my Spanish teacher, I re-translated the testimonies into Spanish. My Spanish teacher, whose family was from the larger nearby town Columba, was eager to help me. Her enthusiasm gave me an additional idea–I could share the Spanish version of the testimonies with other Spanish teachers at the Mountain School and its sister school Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco (PLQ), who wanted to learn the history of the communities. I also thought that the teachers could read the Spanish translations with their students as a comprehension exercise.

When I returned to the United States, I sought further guidance regarding the content and grammar of the testimonies from the Mountain School’s co-founder, and I implemented her suggestions and published the testimonies at the end of May. Soon afterwards, my friend and Coordinator of the Mountain School contacted me and explained that although members of these communities wanted foreigners to learn their stories, they did not want their stories published online because they were afraid that making their stories accessible to all would put them at risk of threats and attacks from the coffee plantation owners who had exploited them.

I quickly deleted these testimonies from my blog. I realized that although I had given meticulous attention to the details of the testimonies in English and Spanish, I had failed to hear the communities. I had failed to comprehend the meaning of the risks they had taken to defend their right to work–risks that still loom in their lives over 20 years later.

To reflect on words from my blog post about the Genocide Trials for Efrain Rios Montt, I wrote that “I aspire to be a bridge” in sharing stories about Guatemalan human rights struggles. This incident reminded me of how conscious I need to be in my efforts to build and traverse this bridge. Without careful consideration and consultation with Guatemalans themselves, the information that I wish to share can have grave consequences.