Event/Exhibit Reviews

The posts in this category are about conferences, events, and museum exhibitions that I have attended and found enjoyable, thought-provoking, and connected to the issues I discuss on my blog

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.

 

Commemorating genocide through art, museum and memory

During my recent trips to Guatemala and Israel, I had the opportunity to visit two very distinct museums that commemorated two different genocides. The museum in the collective farming community of Sant’Anita La Union honors the guerrillas who fought in Guatemala’s 36 year Internal Armed Conflict (from 1960-1996), in which approximately 200,000 Guatemalans were killed.  Yad Vashem, located in Jerusalem, commemorates the Shoah or Holocaust (from 1933-1945) in which 6 million Jews perished.

Visiting both museums led me to reflect on these devastating genocides, and ways that the two cultures memorialized such profound losses. The contrast of Sant’Anita and Yad Vashem had been percolating in my mind for a while, but emerged to the forefront following my recent participation in an activist art project called “One Million Bones,” which convened people to array one million paper-mache and cardboard bones on the lawn of the National Mall as a tribute to past and present genocide victims and survivors around the world.

I joined the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in placing bones to honor the Guatemalan victims killed in the Ixil Triangle region. I was surprised at how moved I felt placing the bones–which were made of cardboard, gauze, and paper mache–on the National Mall lawn.  Some bones were painted in rainbow colors and others were inscribed with messages such as: “stay strong” and “rest in peace” yet despite their cartoonish appearance, I felt overwhelmingly sad reading the names of the Ixiles as I placed one bone at a time in honor of each victim. Placing the bones on the National Capitol Lawn also felt like a complex gesture–acknowledging the United State’s past role in funding the Guatemalan military during the genocide, and asking the United States to pay attention now to Guatemala’s pursuit of justice in the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt, the dictator in power when the massacres in the Ixil Triangle occurred.

This photography by Teru Kuwayama shows the One Million bones displayed on the National Mall Lawn as a tribute to genocide survivors past and present

This photography by Teru Kuwayama shows the One Million bones displayed on the National Mall Lawn as a tribute to genocide survivors past and present

My visit to Sant’Anita la Unión

Santa Anita la Unión is an organic coffee and banana growing community formed by ex-guerilla combatants. I visited Sant’Anita with my language school, PLQ, and in addition to touring the fields where the coffee grew and the facilities where it was roasted and packaged, the residents of Sant’Anita showed us their “guerrilla museum.” The one-room museum had a cracked wall from the recent earthquake, visible as our guide gestured to the framed photos of “our fallen comrades.” On the floor, a guerrilla’s camouflage uniform and radio were neatly displayed. Newspaper clippings explaining the unfolding history of the armed conflict hung on the other walls. I was most moved though by how our guide brought this room of artifacts to life with his sincere appreciation for his fellow ex-combatants and his community’s collective wish to preserve their memory.

This closeup of one of the main buildings at Sant'Anita was taken from an article about Guatemalan activist and Desgua co-founder Willy Barreno

This closeup of one of the main buildings at Sant’Anita was taken from an article about Guatemalan activist and Desgua co-founder Willy Barreno. The link to the article is included at the post’s conclusion.

My visit to Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is physically imposing–built in the shape of an arrow to evoke how “the Shoah pierced our hearts,” our tour guide explained. The grounds are lavish, and surrounding the entrance are carob trees, planted in honor of the “righteous gentiles” who rescued Jews during the war. Inside, we walked a zigzag path from room to room, a route designed to mimic the unfolding years of 1933 until the establishment of Israel. What most moved me fell outside of tangible bounds, it was learning about how Jews used “trickster behavior” to help one another survive.

Trickster behavior can be explained as how people who are marginalized use their cleverness to subvert the rules that oppress them to attain power. Tricksters can span cultures, and examples of trickster figures can be found in Chinese mythology (the Monkey King), African American Folktales (Brer Rabbit), Brazilian Santeria (Eshu)–I could go on and on about representation of tricksters and how people can use trickster figures as metaphors to express and enact coded rebellion against the powers that oppress them.  Learning how Jews in Concentration Camps would subtly trick the Nazis to improve the living conditions for themselves and others so moved me because trickster behavior is a topic that deeply fascinates me. In fact, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on how Chinese and Latino immigrants  in three contemporary American works of fiction use “trickster language” to subvert the status quo and gain power. Because I have grown accustomed to thinking of myself as white and carrying around a knapsack of privilege whose contents I am oft ignorant of, I felt surprised and moved to consider trickster behavior in connection to myself and my own ethnic and religious identity.

Entrance way to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Entrance way to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Learn more about the exhibitions discussed above 

1. One Million Bones. June 8-10, 2013. http://www.onemillionbones.org/the-project/ This link is to the official website for One Million Bones, and explains about the project and includes a photo gallery of people who have made the bones.

2. After participating in laying the bones on the National Lawn with the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC), GHRC received hateful comments from genocide deniers. GHRC has written this response on their blog. “GHRC Target of Hate for Commemorating Genocide Victims. Guatemalan Human Rights Updates. June 11, 2013.  http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/ghrc-target-of-hate-for-commemorating-victims-of-genocide/

2. Sant’Anita. May 24, 2013. http://www.santaanitafinca.com/ This is the official website for Sant’Anita farming collective.

3.  Mychalejko, Cyril. “Resurrecting the ‘Guatemalan Dream.'” August 31, 2009. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/2084-resurrecting-the-qguatemalan-dreamq  This article from Upside Down World is about Guatemalan activist and co-founder of DESGUA Willy Barreno, and also describes Sant’Anita la Union and information regarding the documentary “Voices of a Mountain.”

4. “Genocide in the Ixil Triangle.” Guatemala Human Rights Commission. June 13, 2013. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/resources/important-cases/genocide-cases/genocide-in-the-ixil-triangle/ This webpage from GHRC provides historical information regarding the massacres in the Ixil Triangle region during Guatemala’s Internal Armed Conflict.

5. Yad Vashem. May 24, 2013. http://www.yadvashem.org/ This is the official website for Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. The website contains a wealth of information about the Holocaust, including podcasts and a database to search for the names of victims and survivors as well as a virtual tour of the museum’s galleries.

 

Project Intersect: Health Disparities Research at the Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Disability

On April 25 and 26th, I attended the Project Intersect Conference, which convened advocates, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers nationwide to discuss health disparities experienced by people with disabilities from underserved racial and ethnic backgrounds. The Conference Summary defines “underserved” as “racial and ethnic groups who have not received the same opportunities, resources, and services as White people. These underserved groups include African-Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.”

The opening panel was an opportunity to learn first hand from people who have experienced barriers to accessing quality health care services based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds. The first speakers, the Lee family, were a Chinese American family whose adult daughter has Downs Syndrome. Her parents described the difficulties they experienced in getting their state’s health care system to approve the cost of treatment for secondary conditions from physicians who understand Chinese culture and language, important components to empower their daughter in her health care.

The next speaker, Wardell Kyles, was an African-American male with a spinal cord injury (SCI) resulting from an accident. He was quick to point out that in the greater Chicago area where he lives, the leading demographics of people with SCI are young African-American males who have been paralyzed as a result of gun violence. Walter described learning to navigate the health care system and advocate for himself, and how he draws on these experiences to mentor young men with SCI.

The third speaker, a Mexican man named Horacio Esparza, is host and producer of Radio Vida Independiente, a Spanish language radio show by and for people with disabilities; Executive Director of Progress Center for Independent Living that serves the entire suburban Cook County area; and author of a collection of poetry titled “Un Sueno y un Despertar” (“A Dream and an Awakening”). He became blind as a child, and believing his blindness to be a result of an accident, he was shocked when his two children’s retinas detached while the family was living in Mexico. It had never occurred to him that his blindness could be hereditary.  The family moved to the United States, where they believed they would receive better quality health care, but instead encountered racist and xenophobic doctors who accused the family of being undocumented immigrants “taking advantage of America’s health care system.” After a long ordeal, the family found a compassionate Cuban doctor to treat their children, who are now adults with successful careers. Horacio stated that has a result of his family’s experiences, he believed that health practitioners not only should have “knowledge of a person’s health care need, but should be sensitive in responding to that need.”

The fourth and final speaker, Angel Love Miles is a young African-American woman with Spinal Bifida, earning a PhD in Women’s Studies from the University of Maryland. She described interactions with the academic and medical communities where her disability has been treated with disregard and disrespect. The academic community does not allocate funding based on the consideration that students with disabilities may take longer to graduate from a PhD program. Her doctor’s office is unable to accommodate her electric wheelchair, so every time she visits, she must leave her wheelchair outside before transferring to crutches and taking the elevator. She described recent incident when she was in the hospital, and in pain, requested a bedpan from a nurse, who responded condescendingly that she wanted to “motivate” Angel to use the toilet.  Angel’s response to this insensitive and prejudiced remark–“I’m in a PhD program, I don’t need you to motivate me.”

The next panel discussion featured professionals whose work addressed the intersections of race, ethnicity, and disability through social science research as well as legal and political advocacy. The speakers were tremendously informative, and I was very interested to learn that the Article 25 of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international treaty guaranteeing the human rights of people with disabilities, specifically declares that people with disabilities have the right to health care services of the highest quality.

The afternoon’s sessions provided an opportunity for all attendees to develop and vote on a research proposal to further document the “axis of inequality” experienced by people with disabilities from underserved racial and ethnic backgrounds. The  day concluded with a poster session, where I enjoyed having the opportunity to chat with attendees and panelists, and learn about recent projects that spanned an array of issues in the fields of health, race, ethnicity, and disability.

The second day began with Keynote speaker Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, who gave a stirring speech, which she opened by explaining: “in America, I am seen as black, but in parts of Brazil I would just as surely be seen as white, and in South Africa, I would be colored….And if I were to live in each of these places long enough, I would take on health outcomes based on the race I was perceived to be.” She expanded upon this idea by using a metaphor of a cliff to represent a health emergency, and described how certain groups, such as people with disabilities and underserved racial and ethnic communities are closer to the cliff than other groups. She defined the goal of a successful health intervention “to move people away from the cliff.”

Dr. Jones shared musings about key differences she had observed in how society perceives people from underserved racial and ethnic groups who have “fallen off the cliff” as compared to people with disabilities. She stated that for people from underserved racial and ethnic groups, “barriers [to accessing quality health care services] are unseen and ignored.” For people with disabilities, “barriers [to accessing quality health care] are often seen, but ignored.”She added that a person’s race is perceived to be unchanging, while anyone could develop a disability at any time that may or may not be visible.

To illuminate how people from underserved racial and ethnic groups and people with disabilities receive differential access to goods, services, and opportunities in society, she used an allegorical story based on her own experiences called “the Gardener’s Tale.” I found this story to be very moving and effective for understanding institutional racism and ablism, and rather than summarizing it here, I have linked to it at the post’s conclusion to give readers an opportunity to read Dr. Jones’s eloquent words first hand.

Dr. Jones concluded her speech by describing methods to reverse institutional racism and ablism that would result in achieving improved health outcomes for people with disabilities from underserved racial and ethnic groups, thereby “moving them away from the cliff.” She referred to the United Nations’s Convention for Rights of Person’s with Disabilities (CRPD) mentioned above, and also asked if the audience knew that the United States had signed and ratified an international anti-racism treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination on all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1994.

ICERD, which was written into force in 1969, is designed to protect individuals and groups from discrimination based on race, whether the discrimination is intentional, or is the result of seemingly neutral policies such as police profiling. According to Dr. Jones, the United States Government must submit regular reports to an independent committee of experts on how the treaty is being implemented. the US is due to release its third report to the Committee in  spring 2013. Dr. Jones wrapped up her speech with the message that disability rights and racial justice advocates “need to keep building with each other.”

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 11.59.06 AM

Image from Project Intersect’s promotional materials

Learn more about the Project Intersect Conference

1. “Project Intersect: Health Disparities Research at the Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Disability: A National Conference.”  Oregon Health & Sciences University. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/institute-on-development-and-disability/public-health-programs/project-intersect/upload/Conference_Program-FINAL.pdf and http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/institute-on-development-and-disability/public-health-programs/upload/Project-Intersect-Summary.pdf These are links to the official conference program and summary.

2. Jones, Camara Phyllis. “Levels of racism: A theoretic framework and a gardener’s tale.” American Journal of Public Health. August 2000.http://www.cahealthadvocates.org/_pdf/news/2007/Levels-Of-Racism.pdf  Keynote speaker Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones explains her theories regarding institutional racism, a framework could be applied to ablism, classism, heterosexism, and other “isms” and illustrates the framework using a story about a gardener.

3. NARIC. “Health Disparities Research Meets Race, Ethnicity, and Disability at a National Conference.” Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC). May 1, 2013. http://naricspotlight.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/health-disparities-research-meets-race-ethnicity-and-disability-at-a-national-conference/ These blog posts provide detailed information regarding the speakers and organizations who led the Conference’s presentations and breakout sessions.

Highlights from GHRC’s 30th Anniversary Celebration and Update on German Chub Choc

From Left to Right: Rob Mercatante introduces the Alice Zachman Human Rights Defender Award, which Sister Alice Zachman herself presents to Alvaro Sandoval Palencia and Antonio Reyes Romero for their inspiring demonstration of peaceful resistance in their communities against transnational mining corporations.

Thursday, September 27, 2012 was 30th Anniversary Celebration for the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC). GHRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, humanitarian organization that monitors, documents, and reports on the human rights situation in Guatemala, advocates for survivors of human rights abuses and works toward positive, systemic change in Guatemala.  GHRC is also the organization with whom I traveled to Guatemala on their annual “Women in Resistance” delegation. In the year since I have moved to Washington, DC, my awareness of the human rights situation in Guatemala and the tremendous scope of GHRC’s work has grown. Eager to express my appreciation for GHRC’s staunch solidarity and advocacy on behalf of Guatemalan human rights, and how the three staff members balance their intense work in two countries with tremendous expertise and kindness, I volunteered at the Celebration. I enjoyed meeting guests and connecting with friends and fellow supporters, all of whom “have Guatemala in their hearts.”

The Celebration culminated in the presentation of an award named for GHRC’s founder Sister Alice Zachman to Antonio Reyes Romero from San Jose del Golfo and Alvaro Sandoval Palencia from San Pedro Ayampuc. The two communities–San Jose and San Pedro–are engaged in peaceful resistance against the transnational mining corporations that threaten to take away their land and livelihood. Observing Tonno and Don Alvaro’s reactions to receiving the award from Sister Alice herself, was such a beautiful moment.

September 27, 2012 also marked the three year anniversary of the date that German Chub Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi man from El Estor, was shot and paralyzed by a Mynor Padilla, a private security guard from HudBay Minerals and the date that Adolfo Ich Chamán, a community member from El Estor was brutally murdered.  A candle lighting ceremony took place in Guatemala City to commemorate Adolfo Ich on the evening of September 27th. Throughout the day, German Chub was on my mind, and having learned from people who have Spinal Cord Injuries that the anniversary of the injury date churns up strong emotions, I wondered how he was feeling on September 27th.

My concern and curiosity about German Chub’s feelings was met with an exciting update at the 30th Anniversary Celebration. Among the many supporters of Guatemalan human rights present at the Celebration was Annie Bird, Co-Director of Rights Action, the organization that raised funds to build German’s store and is now gathering donations to purchase land and a wheelchair accessible home for German’s family. Annie told me that on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, authorities had arrested Mynor Padilla, the former chief of security of the mine, for Adolfo Ich Chamán’s murder and the attempted murder of German Chub!

To share more about this news and what it portends for German Chub’s lawsuit against the mine, Rights Action has published a press release from KLIPPENSTEINS Barristers & Solicitors, the law firm representing Adolfo Ich’s widow and German Chub in their law suit against HudBay Minerals. I have copied and pasted the press release, published on September 28, 2012 below.

In James Rodriguez’s photograph from The Peoples’ International Health Tribunal, German Chub Choc declares: ““My life has changed completely, it is very difficult. But I will not give up. And above all, I will not remain silent about what happened to me.”

CHIEF OF SECURITY AT CANADIAN MINING COMPANY HUDBAY MINERALS’ GUATEMALAN MINE ARRESTED FOR MURDERING MAYAN COMMUNITY LEADER

Toronto, Canada: Almost three years to the day after the brutal slaying of community leader Adolfo Ich at Hudbay Minerals’ mining project in Guatemala, Guatemalan authorities finally arrested the former chief of security of the mine, Mynor Padilla, on charges of murder and attempted murder.

While this is an important first step towards justice for Mayan communities harmed by Hudbay’s mining project, Hudbay has not yet been held to account and Canadian human rights lawsuits against Hudbay over the same allegations continue in Ontario courts.

“Astonishingly, Hudbay continues to argue that mine personnel were not involved in the murder, despite the fact that the brutal attack happened in broad daylight in front of witnesses who say Mr. Padilla was at the centre of an attack committed by a dozen mine security personnel,” said Murray Klippenstein, Canadian lawyer for Mr. Ich’s widow.

“It is time for Hudbay to own up to what happened on its watch at its mining project. Now that the man that Hudbay allowed to be put in charge of security has been arrested for murder, we hope Hudbay changes its unsupportable position, makes amends, and takes real, concrete steps to ensure that similar severe human rights abuses never again are committed at one of its projects.”

It is alleged that Mr. Padilla was on duty as chief of security at the Canadian controlled mine when he, together with other security personnel, surrounded, beat, hacked and finally shot Mr. Ich in the head in an unprovoked attack.  On the same day, Mr. Padilla is also alleged to have shot and paralyzed German Chub in a similar unprovoked attack.  Shockingly, Hudbay has confirmed that its subsidiary continued to employ and pay Mr. Padilla for at least a year after the murder while he was a fugitive from justice.

Hudbay continues to face three related corporate accountability lawsuits in Ontario courts which allege that poor management and oversight by Hudbay and its predecessor corporation led to the killing of Mr. Ich, the shooting of Mr. Chub, and the gang rapes of 13 Mayan women committed by mine company personnel at the Canadian owned and controlled mine.

“We hope that Mr. Padilla is swiftly brought to justice,” said Mr. Klippenstein.  “But as a Canadian company, HudBay still needs to answer in Canadian courts the allegations of human rights abuse at its mines.”

The first major hearing in the Canadian lawsuits is expected in March 2013.

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Learn more about the Guatemala Human Rights Commission and the 30th Anniversary Celebration

1. Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. September 29, 2012. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/

2. Guatemala Human Rights Updates. September 29, 2012. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/

Learn more about the peaceful resistance efforts in San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc

1. “Winner of 2012 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award Announced.” Guatemala Human Rights Updates. September 17, 2012. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/winner-of-2012-alice-zachmann-human-rights-defender-award-announced/

2. Rodriguez, James. “2012-05. Third Month of Resistance Against a Radius Gold-owned Mine in Guatemala.” MiMundo.org. June 4, 2012. http://www.mimundo.org/2012/06/04/2012-05-third-month-of-resistance-against-a-radius-gold-owned-mine-in-guatemala/

Learn More about German Choc, Adolfo Ich, and the lawsuits against HudBay Minerals

1. Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors. Choc v. HudBay Minerals Inc. & Caal v. HudBay Minerals Inc. September 29, 2012. www.chocversushudbay.com This link is to the official website of the three lawsuits–for Adolfo Ich’s murder, German Chub’s attempted murder, and the gang rape of 11 women from Lote Ocho against CGN, the Guatemalan subsidiary of HudBay Minerals.

2. Rodrigues, James. “2012-09. In Memoriam: Adolfo Ich Chamán.” MiMundo.org. September 27, 2012. http://www.mimundo.org/2012/09/27/2012-09-in-memoriam-adolfo-ich-chaman/ This moving two-minute slide show commemorating Adolfo Ich is set to music played by Adolfo Ich himself. The Ich-Choc family provided the audio file to MiMundo.org.

3. Rodrigues, James. “2012-07-14. The Peoples’ International Health Tribunal: San Miguel Ixtahuacán 2012.” July 14, 2012. http://www.mimundo.org/2012/07/14/2012-07-14-the-peoples%E2%80%99-international-health-tribunal-in-images/ This powerful photoessay from MiMundo.org provides powerful visual coverage of German Chub along with a delegation from El Estor speaking out at The People’s International Health Tribunal about the atrocities suffered at the hands of CGN, the subsidiary of HudBay Minerals.

4. Schmidt, Rachel, Adele Hinkley, and Lee K. Toepfer. Defensora. http://www.indiegogo.com/defensora The upcoming documentary film”Defensora” documents the struggle of Mayan Qeqchi peoples in El Estor to reclaim their ancestral lands, to promote community development and environmental well-being, and to seek justice and remedy for the murder, shootings and rapes that HudBay Minerals committed. This link to the five-minute trailer is very powerful, and features German Choc speaking about his reasons for pursuing the lawsuit.

Native Voices–Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness

My passion for disability rights advocacy emerged when I realized that disability intersects with all areas of life. One such angle of life that I am very interested in learning more about is health and health care. To be more specific, I am interested in exploring how to make information about health more accessible to people with disabilities as well as to people who have traditionally been outside the mainstream–whether due to race, ethnicity, immigrant and/or refugee status, sexuality, poverty, or other marginalizing factors. I want to learn how improving access to health information could give such groups a greater voice in advocating for their own wellbeing.

To explore options for achieving this goal, I recently visited the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. The National Library of Medicine is displaying an exhibit called Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness, that addresses these very issues. Native Voices is a compelling exhibit that features video interviews where Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians speak about wellness, illness, and cultural life, and how these three themes connect to one another. The exhibit also includes Native artifacts both historical and contemporary. I found this exhibit fascinating, and wanted to write a brief post sharing information about Native Voices as well as some of my favorite resources that convey Native Peoples’ perspectives.

To view the “Native Voices” Interviews online

National Library of Medicine. “Interviews–Meet Health Professional, Community Leaders, Traditional Healers, and others working to Improve the Health of Native Peoples.” Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness.
http://apps2.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/interviews/index.cfm. I stayed at the exhibit for an hour, and would have easily stayed all day if I had not discovered that all the video interviews were available online at this link. The interviews with Native peoples include perspectives from health professionals, community leaders, and traditional healers, and address five themes: Individual, Community, Nature, Tradition, and Healing.

Recommended novels by Native Authors that address themes present in Native Voices

1. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. http://www.amazon.com/Ceremony-Penguin-Classics-Deluxe-Edition/dp/0143104918/ref=pd_sim_b_3 Tayo, a young man of mixed Native and Caucasian heritage, returns to his home on the Laguna Pueblo following his service in WWII. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggling to adapt to his once-familiar surroundings. Ceremony intersperses Tayo’s voice with perspectives from other Native peoples and folktales told in collective narration. The blending of these disparate voices yields a mesmerizing cyclical story. In fact, Leslie Marmon Silko’s writing so mesmerized novelist Susan Straight that she got lost on a road trip searching for a scene in Ceremony. 

For me, Ceremony also has great significance in conveying the emotional effects of internalized racial oppression. I am especially drawn to re-reading a monologue of Tayo’s where the reader can see his mind churning through this very concept. A few years ago, I wrote out this passage in calligraphy, and designed a collage where Tayo’s words were strewn around an antique map of the world as a means of showing the global pervasiveness of this damaging ideology. If people are interested, I would be happy to revise this artwork in my Etsy Store. Due to my love of reading, much of my visual art speaks to the power of language. (more…)

Learning about Guatemala–Listening to the Echo of the Pain of the Many

During my delegation to Guatemala, I had a few internal questions I was hoping to answer. These questions ranged from the professional–what is living with a disability like in Guatemala? To the personal–why do eggs and beans taste better at breakfast? And to the photographic–how many advertisements for the documentary film “El Eco del Delor de Mucha Gente/The Echo of Pain of the Many” could I spot?

El Eco del Delor de Mucha Gente/The Echo of Pain of the Many is a powerful documentary film directed by Ana Lucia Cuevas. In “the Echo” Ms. Cuevas frames the story of her family’s search for the truth regarding her brother, Carlos Ernesto Cuevas Molina, a student activist who was disappeared in 1984, against the pain of many Guatemalans that suffered the deaths and disappearances of their loved ones during the internal conflict, which lasted from 1960-1996.

“The Echo” is approximately one hour in length, and interweaves historical footage from the 1954 Coup, interviews with Guatemalan activists and massacre survivors with the personal story of the Cuevas family. The blending of these diverse components forms a cohesive whole, and the artistry in the combination calls to mind Ms. Cuevas’s background as a sculptor and painter. Watching the Washington, DC Premier of “the Echo” on May 8, 2012, with a diverse group of people working in Guatemalan human rights, I felt the echo of the pain of the many not only projected onto the screen, but also refracted throughout the room.

The film opens with Ms. Cuevas seeking out Political Analyst Noam Chomsky in order to understand how her country was plunged into violent turmoil that culminated in the death and disappearance of 200,000 people, including her beloved brother. Noam Chomsky gives a brief yet balanced explanation of how the United States backed coup in 1954, which was carried out to protect the land interests of The United Fruit Company, led to a 36 year Civil War between the military and Guerilla groups. Noam Chomsky’s analysis provided a helpful introduction for someone such as myself, who has limited understanding of Guatemalan history. From Chomsky’s overview of the armed conflict, Ms. Cuevas seeks out specific information, and speaks to National Security Archive Senior Analyst Kate Doyle, who describes “the Military Diary,” a logbook that the military kept complete with photographic entries of those they tortured and killed. In the Military Diary, Ms. Cuevas discovers an entry for Carlos, proof that the Guatemalan government tortured and murdered her brother and “soul mate.”

Sadly, the pain of the Cuevas family ripples outward beyond the loss of Carlos Cuevas. Carlos’s wife, Rosario Godoy de Cuevas, became a leader of GAM, the mutual support group for families of the disappeared. When Ms. Cuevas spoke with GAM founder Nineth Montenegro, I felt a gnawing twinge of fear. I recognized Rosario’s name, and realized that Ms. Cuevas was bringing to life a tragic incident I had read about in “The Art of Political Murder.” Rosario had captivated author Francisco Goldman with her vibrant spirit. Photogenic, she appears on the banner above bearing a megaphone. In April 1985, Rosario herself was disappeared.  An investigation discovered the lifeless bodies of Rosario, her 21-year-old brother, and Rosario and Carlos’s infant son in a wrecked car. However, a car accident contradicted the stories of violence the bodies told. Human rights defenders reported that the baby’s fingernails had been torn out.

The Washington DC premier of “The Echo,” was followed by a panel, in which speakers shared how the events captured in “The Echo” affect present day Guatemala. The panelists were:

  • Ana Lucia Cuevas,  Director of “El Eco del Delor de Mucha Gente/The Echo of Pain of the Many”
  • Iduvina Hernandez Batres, Guatemalan journalist, human rights activist, conducting a Speaker’s Tour with the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission
  • Kathryn Johnson, Development and Advocacy Coordinator of The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, translating for Iduvina Hernandez Batres
  • Samuel Villatoro, founder and director of the Amancio Samuel Villatoro Foundation
  • Representative of Amnesty International

Journalist Iduvina Hernandez introduced herself by pointing out a painful fact that united her, Ana Luisa Cuevas, and Samuel Villatoro–each of them had a loved one featured in the Military Diary. Listening to the panelists share their individual histories, which echoed the pain of many Guatemalans, and also braided together tremendous resiliency in pursuit of justice, was a powerful experience. Perhaps an antidote to the “Military Diary,” opening the book and giving an echoing voice to lives lost and stories untold.

Many thanks to all those involved in the screening, and to NSA Research Associate Emily Willard for convening this moving event.

Source Notes

1.  Trailer. “The Echo of Pain of the Many.” http://vimeo.com/11162712

2.  Perkins, Laura. “Notes from the Evidence Project:  ‘The Echo of Pain of the Many.'” National Security Archive Blog. April 24, 2012. http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/the-echo-of-pain-of-the-many-2/

3. Willard, Emily. “Notes from the Evidence Project: Premiere of ‘The Echo’ a Smashing Success.” National Security Archive Blog. May 11, 2012. https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/notes-from-the-evidence-project-premiere-of-the-echo-a-smashing-success/

4. Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. El Quetzal Issue No. 12. page 3.  July, 2012.  http://www.ghrc-usa.org/

5. Doyle, Kate. Death Squad Dossier: Guatemalan military logbook of the disappeared. July 1, 2008. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/guatemala/logbook/index.htm

6. “El Eco del D0lor de Mucha Gente/To Echo the Pain of the Many.” Facebook Page. 2012.  http://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Eco-del-Dolor-de-Mucha-GenteTo-Echo-the-Pain-of-the-Many/119073521447246

7. Doyle, Kate. “Guatemala’s Police Archives: Breaking the Stony Silence.” Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. 2011. http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/publications/revistaonline/fall-2010-winter-2011/guatemala%E2%80%99s-police-archives