It’s an unusually drizzly and gray day here in Guatemala City.
Which, upon further reflection, seems right. We’re at a crossroads, a time of change. The rainy season is coming to a slow end. The next six months will be almost completely free of rain. No need to lug around the umbrella anymore.
Since Thanksgiving is a uniquely North American holiday (bonus points for remembering that it is also celebrated in Canada, albeit in October), in Guatemala there is no break between the All Saint’s Day celebrations and Christmas. It’s one quick, slippery slope to Santa Claus.
Do I exaggerate? Yesterday, while sitting in my favorite Guatemalan coffee shop, Roque Rosito, the playlist abruptly transitioned from Dean Martin singing “Volare” (oh oh oh oh) to Dean Martin singing “White Christmas” (oh no no no!)
When I gestured to one of the waiters about the choice of holiday tunes, he simply rolled his eyes as if to say “yes, this will be my personal hell… having to listen to two months straight of geographically-inappropriate songs about snow in Guatemala.”
The year is quickly coming to a close.
Immigrants are made in the image and likeness of God and deserve to be treated with respect grounded in the dignity of our shared humanity. Words against immigrants matter, and hate speech has dangerous consequences. They stir the darkest forces of nativism, white supremacy and prejudice — often times masquerading as patriotism.
The greater danger for our country is the normalization of this hate, which reinforces an “us vs. them” mentality that further polarizes communities.
Immigrants are not the problem, and the caravan does not present a crisis or a national emergency. Root causes for contemporary responses deserve deeper exploration. Unjust and unequal trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA are detrimental to the survival of those who are impoverished.
Decades of U.S. interventions in Central American countries supporting oppressive regimes and corrupt governments helped foster ongoing cycles of violence. Migrants and refugees flee their homelands in search of a sustainable life for their families beyond the reach of drug cartels, poverty and the negative effects of climate change.
Monsignor Arturo J. Bañuelas, National Catholic Reporter
The immigrant caravan is a wave of hope for America
On March 7, 2017 a group of teenage girls attempted to escape from a state-run shelter near Guatemala City. The shelter, ironically-named Hogar Seguro (“Safe Home”), was actually an overcrowded, prison-like place where the girls suffered verbal and physical abuse, as well as rape and forced prostitution.
After being rounded up by the National Police, 56 teenage girls were caged like animals for nearly 7 hours in a tiny room, no larger than 23ft x 23ft. There was no bathroom.
At 8:45am the following morning a fire broke out in the confined space. Despite the screams and pleas of the girls, the police officers refused to unlock the door. 41 girls died nightmarish deaths in the flames; only 15 survived. Of those, many suffered terrible burns resulting in emotional and physical scarring, as well as the loss of fingers, toes, ears, and limbs.
The tragedy occurred on March 8th : International Women’s Day.
The families of the dead, as well as the girls who survived, now face the interminable task of healing and trying to rebuild their lives. Bringing to justice those responsible for this heinous crime is part of that process.
But Guatemala can be a cruel and unforgiving place. This past week served as a reminder that the Hogar Seguro tragedy occurred in a context of poverty, marginalization, crime, and violence.
On October 26th Carlota Paz Siquin, the sister Yemmi, of one of the victims of the “Safe Home” fire, disappeared from her home. Her body was found shortly thereafter. She had been stabbed to death and left in a sewage ditch. She was 13 years old.
The Paz Siquin family, still reeling from Yemmi’s brutal death, now must cope with another unimaginable loss. (The Human Rights Defenders Project helped cover Carlota’s funeral costs, in solidarity with the suffering family.)
A Note to Donald Trump
When the families in the migrant caravan say they are fleeing from conditions of terrible inequality and insecurity in their countries of origin… they are not exaggerating.
Poor communities have been battered by crime for so long that many are past the breaking point. Extortion and kidnapping by gangs are gouging the economy, while fragile justice systems are overwhelmed as reports of violence continue to pour in. According to the Wilson Center, some 95 percent of reported crimes currently go unpunished in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
These countries need more assistance, more courtrooms, more judges, more prosecutors, more vetted and trained police, more child welfare authorities, more rape crisis centers, more witness protection, and more community assistance for victims.
These migrants are so desperate that they are willing to leave their own countries to walk more than a thousand miles for safety.
These mass caravans are going to be the future of Central America if the justice systems there are not reformed to more effectively protect citizens and restrain and deter predators.
By Gary Haugen, contibuter to The Hill
Sending aid is key to solving the Central American migrant crisis