Hello All, August 2012
I hope you are staying cool this summer as the struggles all over the world continue to heat up. I have been back in the US for a while now, and have been finding it challenging to balance staying involved with the movement in Guatemala, addressing the issues we face in the US, while trying to find employment as a college graduate in this current economic climate. Regardless of these parts of my reality, I have absolutely loved reconnecting and spending time with my loved ones, friends, associates, and supporters. It has been a reassuring and, well, a very fun experience hanging out and discussing, and describing my experiences while working with NISGUA in Guatemala. It becomes clearer each time I speak about them that they have affected everything I will be doing in the future. Powerful experiences, if processed in a healthy way, have the ability to make very powerful people. So, I’d like to thank everyone who has talked through my experiences with me and hope that we can mutually support each other to keep moving towards a more beautiful future.
Part of my difficulty readjusting back to US life is the fact that the very day after I left Guatemala for México, the region I was working in, Huehuetenango, entered a very serious crisis of justice. The municipality of Santa Cruz Barillas in the region has been fighting off the invasion of their lands by a Spanish hydroelectric company since 2007. It was then that they completed a community referendum in which 46,472 of 46,481 rejected the plan to build a hydroelectric dam in their territory. This company, Hidro Santa Cruz, is a Spanish owned subsidiary of Hidralia Energy, and is one of the many, increasing, and continuing examples of foreign capital investment trumping the rights and health of the local people. Once the referendum was completed, the company began a series of verbal and legal intimidations directed towards local organizers until May 2011 when the Minister of Energy and Mines authorized the construction of the hydroelectric dam.
In the time since they began exploration of the land, till now, they have usurped land on which people farm, live, and worship; there is an ancient Mayan sacred site within company property now. This last bit is what has people most enraged as they are now also living under a government which chose to remove the indigenous peoples flag from the National Palace in a country where a majority claim that identity. After months of vocal, and sometimes violent opposition from the people of Barillas, on May 1st, as community organizers Andrés Francisco Miguel, Pablo Antonio Pablo, and Esteban Bernabé returned to their towns, a silver truck of the same make and model that Hidro Santa Cruz uses, pulled up, shot and killed Andrés Francisco Miguel and seriously wounded Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Bernabé. The uproar that followed led the government of Otto Perez Molina to impose martial law on the region for a minimum of 30 days. This conveniently allowed security forces to jail 12 organizers including Antonio Pablo for crimes of sedition, aggravated robbery, ‘illicit association’ (under martial law any meeting of a group over 2 is considered illegal effectively preventing organizing), illegal detention, and various attempts of these crimes. Those charged are as follows: Ader Ríos Juárez 22 yrs, Carmelita Aurora López 43 yrs, and Esperanza Concepción Herrera, 74 yrs, Saúl Méndez, 39 yrs, Joel Gaspar Mateo, 36 yrs, Andrés Juan Andrés, 28 years, Diego Juan Sebastián, 34 yrs, Ventura Juan, 28yrs, Antonio Velásquez López, 40 yrs, Pedro Vicente Núñez Bautista, 38 yrs, Amado Pedro Miguel, 31yrs, Marcos Mateo Miguel, 38yrs. While martial law has since been lifted, the people of Huehuetenango made it very clear that those actions of the government and Hidro Santa Cruz are not acceptable. The military pressure in Huehue has been building for a while now and I doubt the fight is over even though martial law has been lifted. And sadly, Huehuetenango is not the only department that is facing continued state repression.
Very recently, the town of Cuarto Pueblo of the Ixcán in the department of Quiché, has also seen an increase in unwarranted military presence. As of July 15th, military personnel were reported interrupting classes at the local community school to carry out activities with the children and question about local community leaders and forms of organizing. This is worrisome to many because of the history of violence in the region and increase in natural resource exploration by various companies. As you can see there is a common theme of the military working in the favor of foreign owned companies who seek to export wealth from Guatemalan soils to their home countries and to the Guatemalan officials who allow them to do so. In addition to these two incidences, on June 12th, José Tavico Tzunun was killed in his home by two men for his work with the Kiché Peoples Council in Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Earth, and Indigenous Territory. He was targeted for his part in organizing his town’s referendum for a moratorium on mining and dams in the region. On June 13th Yolanda Oquelí was shot while driving home from a barricade against the proposed goldmine in her town San Jose del Golfo just northeast of Guatemala City. On July 4th, our independence day, Aura Lolita Chávez of the same organization as José Tavico, fell victim to an attempted lynching by backers of President Perez Molina’s government. Of the 116 mining licenses granted in Guatemala, a majority of them are on indigenous land.
In other current struggle news, there has also been a massive organized response to the Minster of Education’s attempts to increase the education requirement from 3 to 5 years for aspiring teachers. The students of Guatemala can simply not afford this. Teachers, aspiring teachers, and students of all ages have taken to the streets calling themselves the ‘normalistas’ to get the Minister of Education’s attention. In marches and confrontations with officials and police, a dear photographer friend of mine was seriously injured when a police officer threw a rock at his head giving him a skull fracture and causing several blood clots in his brain. He has since gone through surgery and is in the process of healing.
This may all seem like terrible news compounded into one long depressing letter, but it is an unfortunate reality we cannot choose to ignore. Being back in the US I can’t help but think how our consumption habits fuel many of the conflicts that I saw people struggling against in Guatemala. The most obvious example that comes to mind is gold. If there is a market for new gold, then the water, air, and skin of San Marcos will continue to be polluted causing irreparable damage. A simple solution to this is, if you must have gold, get a beautiful antique or something else. In truth the transition back for me has been difficult because I cannot forget what I’ve just encountered. In the US we are not confronted with it everyday, but we are confronted with the latest celebrity gossip, with brand new cars whose gas mileage is fit for the 1950s, with the latest error of our candidates and politicians, with news stories on animals at the zoo instead of those becoming extinct everyday because of climate change. As a nation, we are systematically distracted so we don’t have to face the very real problems of the world. What I’m asking is for us to make changes in our personal lives to live together better on this planet.
I have met people who saw their entire family, wife, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles killed mercilessly by a greedy force of evil, who still got up the next day, kept going, and are still surviving, strong, and in the struggle today. They have made huge changes in their lives after truly tragic loss. Whats our excuse? We can go out to the protest, we can chant our chants, and we go home. The real important part is what we do the next day, and the day after that. The conversations we have with people, and the weight of their content.
I, in part, went to Guatemala to see how others around the world are fighting against injustice. I have been deeply moved by my experiences. And it is hard to return here and see that most resistance feels empty because the majority is uninformed and participating in practices that drive this destructive economic model forward. I to am guilty of this. But when our thoughtless consumption forces thousands of people a day to go unfed and in fear of their lives because they are not beneficial to a company’s profits, I feel the need to speak up. And I feel that in order to change this situation on planet earth, we all need to speak up. I don’t necessarily mean go out and protest and get on a soap box, but I mean most literally to speak. Talk about it, hold conversations. Be self-critical, and examine your ways, ask others to. If you have time to watch TV and sit in traffic, then you have time to educate yourself and others on how this world got to be the way it is. Where my friends are having fellow citizens living under the same oppressive regime giving them skull fractures in the name of men who would never give them a dime or quetzal of their wealth. In a world where people know the horrors of genocide committed by their fellow humans. In a world where hundreds of children suffer illness that prior to a company’s arrival, never existed, and all for the sake of a gift to a loved one, or a symbol your own personal wealth. In a world where the US has the highest per capita imprisonment rate funneled into by a racist ‘justice’ system. In a world where millions travel thousands of miles in search of work in wealthier nations because the entire economy of their homelands has been sucked dry by foreign debt and private interests. In a world where some die crossing the desert to get here, but most become part of the workforce in the shadows, unnamed and unthanked as they maintain the convenient lifestyles that come with being born on this soil.
I saw 90-year old women carrying 40 lb. loads on their heads up a mountain with no shoes, because that’s just the way they do it there. We are all very powerful humans, and I think we’ve been made to forget that. As Americans, we forget so much. In Guatemala it is common for people to be able to name their entire family tree 10 generations back. I’m not sure I even know all of my great-grandparents names. Do you? And if you do, do you know what an Adidas symbol looks like? Do you know what recently happened to Katie Holmes? Do you know who gets to keep all the profits made from the exploitations of dozens of countries, including Guatemala? If there is anything I learned from my travels and work in a country where traditions have been maintained for over a thousand years, it is this: The US is young.
Legally, 236 years to be exact. Look at all that has happened in that short time. We hold more wealth, munitions, and decision-making power than countries hundreds of years our senior. Now imagine what could happen if together we decided to change the aforementioned situations. If we chose to turn off the TV and instead go out and make connections with strangers. To talk about real issues instead of inconsequential gossip. To not be afraid to speak up and talk about what you think is really important. To address the fact that maybe all of our brown dried lawns have something to do with the very real effects of human driven climate change. I might just be some 20-something with a lot of passion and time to write but, I also hope to keep on living in this world, and frankly the way we live as Americans is neither economically nor ecologically stable. You are not your car, you are not your job, you are the decisions you make and the impact you leave on this world. So make it a positive one. You might not agree with me but, the least you can do for both of us is talk to me about it.
So please, lets make a change. Consider your ways and work to change our world. That is true solidarity. Put yourself in this big messy puzzle because whether each and everyone of us likes it or not, our actions and consumption have real weight and consequence. Lets make them positive actions and consumption. Educate yourself and others, and simply just keep talking about it. Its pretty simple. Don’t you think it would be worth it if it could stop 6 people fighting for their own basic human rights, from getting shot, beaten, or killed? You have that power. Use it.
Thank you for all of your support over the past year. I truly appreciate the affirmation that the work I was/am doing is important to you. It has been a heck of a journey that is still ongoing. Please feel free to contact me if you’re interested in speaking one on one or a group setting. I am in the process of setting up a few dates for a short speaking tour in Chicago and Oberlin. Please let me know if you have any ideas regarding event planning.