Category Archives: Guatemala

Transitions & Borders

Transitions

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.

Borders

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

Pain

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.

The funeral of Carlota (c) Stef Areaga
The funeral of Carlota (c) Stef Areaga

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

 

All Saints Day

The Walking Dead

Yesterday Guatemala City seemed like a scene from a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. The streets where I live were completely deserted… well, except for the house-to-house shoe repairman and myself.

Day of the Dead

The rest of the residents were visiting departed family members in cemeteries throughout the country in celebration of All Saints Day, or the Day of the Dead. Or perhaps they had returned home to enjoy a plate of fiambre, a national plate consisting of a thousand ingredients (slight exaggeration) including: cold cuts, sausages, chicken, baby corn, cheese, olives, beets, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, onions, peas, capers, asparagus, etc.

A subtle flavor? No, not remotely. Delicious? Oh my, yes.

Puente

Today should be another quiet day. (I wince as write those easily-cursed words.) Since yesterday’s holiday fell on a Thursday, many businesses are offering Friday off as a “puente” day… literally, a bridge to the weekend. Those of us without the bridge will wade through the day like so many migrants crossing the border rivers in their trek northward.

Speaking of Which

Donald Trump’s latest threats against immigrants include:

  1. Denying any possibility of asylum to migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally.
  2. Sending between 5,200 and 15,000 troops to the border
  3. Detaining migrants in tent cities indefinitely
  4. Denying citizenship a right to those born in the United States
  5. The use of lethal force if migrants throw rocks in protest

Someone should read “The New Colossus” poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty to Trump. (Probably while explaining the big words to him.)

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

If I were France, I would request the return of Lady Liberty. “if you’re not using it, you might as well send it back.”

If you dare

If you’ve read this far, there’s a chance you might have a more nuanced and critical assessment of the push/pull factors which drive Central American immigration to the United States. You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that U.S. policy, politics, and actions have greatly impaired the growth of real democracy and genuine development in the region. If you’re nodding yes, then you’ll be richly rewarded by reading this fantastic article:

How US Policy Created the Refugee Crisis in Central America

United Fruit Company

Back in Guatemala… mostly.


After nearly six months in New York, I’m finally back in Guatemala.

Leaving my family was heartbreaking. It always is. You’d think that, maybe, after almost 30 years of traveling between NY home and Guatemala home, I’d be used to it.

Nope. I was as sad and anxious, stressed and depressed this time as I was during my first trip in 1989. (My first visit to Guatemala was in 1988, with a Habitat for Humanity workcamp. I didn’t start living there, though, until the following year.)

I often feel that my return to Guatemala happens in three stages:

1.  My tired body arrives in-country, complete with plane-face and aching luggage-shoulders.

2.  In the following days my mind catches up, finally allowing me to form complete (and semi-coherent) sentences in Spanish.

3.  The last to appear is my heart. I’m not sure how it travels (United Airlines, perhaps?), but it always arrives beaten, bruised and incomplete. It always takes a while to heal.

During these times of transition, I wonder: “why do I keep doing this to myself?!?”

(When I have the answer, I’ll be sure to share it with you.)

Why Does Latin America Have the World’s Highest Female Murder Rates?


“The difference in Guatemala between the death of a man and the death of a woman is that the woman is raped before she is killed, she is mutilated … This does not happen to men… It is clear to see how misogyny is present up until the moment of a woman’s death.”
-Thelma Aldana, the Attorney General of Guatemala-

Latin America is the region with the most female murders on earth, a phenomenon partly due to organized crime activities such as human trafficking and gang violence. Just how do these criminal activities increase the victimization of women?

A recent report by a number of international organizations revealed that seven out of the ten countries with the highest female murder rate in the world are in Latin America. El Salvador heads the list with a rate of 8.9 homicides per 100,000 women in 2012, followed by Colombia with 6.3, Guatemala with 6.2, Russia with 5.3 and Brazil with 4.8. Mexico and Suriname are also in the top ten.

Read more at InSight Crime: Why Does Latin America Have the World’s Highest Female Murder Rates? 

Sepur Zarco Article

Guatemalan soldiers face civil war sexual slavery charges in historic trial

www.theguardian.com

For the first time ever, sexual slavery will be prosecuted where the war crime took place, 30 years after 11 Mayan women from Sepur Zarco were raped and enslaved.

It was 1982, one of the bloodiest years of the country’s civil war as counter-insurgency operations against ethnic Mayans intensified under the rule of the military dictator and evangelical Christian, Efraín Ríos Montt.

More than 30 years later, two former military officers will finally face charges of sexual and domestic slavery and forced disappearance in a landmark trial which opens on Monday.

The trial marks the first in the world that sexual slavery perpetrated during an armed conflict has been prosecuted in the country where the crimes took place.

Read more: Guatemalan soldiers face civil war sexual slavery charges in historic trial | World news | The Guardian

Photograph: Jorge López/Reuters

Mujeres Indígenas: Resistencia y Respuesta


Mujer_Indigena“La violencia que sufren hoy las mujeres indígenas tiene múltiples dimensiones: sociales, políticas, económicas, culturales o familiares, donde la condición de género constituye un agravante.

La elevada conflictividad social que genera la explotación de los recursos naturales en los territorios indígenas, las situaciones de conflicto y pos conflicto, los desplazamientos forzosos, la pérdida de los territorios, la pobreza, derivan en una violencia estructural hacia las mujeres indígenas.

Pero las mujeres indígenas no son únicamente víctimas de la violencia, sino que son también un símbolo de resistencia y de respuesta, hecho que se manifiesta en el liderazgo de las mujeres en el reclamo por de sus territorios.”

– Ponencia de la Sra. Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Representante Regional del Alto Comisionado de Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos, durante el VII Encuentro Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de las Américas. Guatemala, 17 noviembre 2015. Lea el discurso completo.