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INJUSTICE, SURVIVAL, COURAGE & RESISTANCE in PLACES CALLED GUATEMALA, CHIAPAS & HONDURAS
By Grahame Russell, August 2004, Rights Action
In July, I traveled in Guatemala, Chiapas (Mexico) and Honduras, visiting organizations that Rights Action funds and works
with (indicated below ***) and leading a human rights activist-seminar of North Americans (law students, lawyers, professors and teachers)
that visited rural communities, learning of exploitation and poverty, repression and survival, courage and resistance, and of activism from
the local to the global levels.
At every turn, we are reminded that historical and global perspectives are needed to understand the structural injustices and
inequalities against the majority populations in places like Chiapas, Honduras and Guatemala.
“Open Veins of Latin America”, by Eduardo Galeano,
is increasingly the first book we recommend to anyone interested in learning about poverty, racism, repression and resistance in Latin America.
Rich and powerful people and countries obviously like the exploitation they benefit from and quite apparently do not like
the people and countries they exploit
**** A PLACE CALLED GUATEMALA ****
“WE DO NOT ASK FOR WHAT IS OURS” (July 4) So reads the banner by the door of the former “American Club”,
on 12th Street, zone 1, Guatemala City.
The Club was previously owned by the United Fruit Company, across the street from the US Embassy in the 1940s,
when many conspiratorial discussions took place about over-throwing democratic governments … specifically in a
place like Guatemala. In the 1980s, the Club rented the building to Guatemalan immigration authorities;
when people entered the building to get travel documents to flee the repression and genocide, some never came out.
The tattered and still splendid building sat abandoned since 1991, until June 2004 when the Bloque Anti-Imperialista,
comprised of community-based groups like HIJOS (*** Sons and Daughters of the Disappeared and Killed),
took it back for the people of Guatemala.
They hold educational forums and debates, tell the truth about the repression, demand justice for the crimes and
are trying to raise some money to repair and paint the building.
RITUALS TO END RITUALS
In the Kaminaljuyu arqueological site, zone 7 of Guatemala City, a group of Mayan and non-Mayan women participate
in a ceremony asking that violence against and rape of women and girls stop.
The few men who are found guilty of rape usually get off with a fine of Q3000 (US$375).
MAPS OF INJUSTICE
A United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism ends his visit to Guatemala concluding that racism
is well entrenched in Guatemala, that the map of racism is identical to the map of poverty, which is, by the way,
identical to the map of who were the victims of the genocide and repression, which is how things have worked
here since European imperialism initiated the “discovery” of the Americas.
Good intentions (and analysis) aside, the tens of thousands of dollars spent on this high-level U.N. investigation
and report could have been put to better use. More well-researched reports, documenting chronic and historic injustices,
are not needed. Funds need to be granted directly to community-based groups who have long been surviving and
resisting discrimination, exploitation and repression in this country, … and the Americas.
CHILDREN OF THE STOPLIGHTS
Along the avenues of the wealthier neighborhoods (zones 9, 10, 13, 14 and 15), children
- dressed in Mayan clothing or painted like clowns - run amongst the cars when the lights turn red
and perform tricks (juggling, “fainting”, “breathing fire”) and then scurry window to window for spare change.
Wait a bit. Light turns red, and out they run again. “Experts”, cited in the media, hold responsible the impoverished
parents of the impoverished children, and not the economic and political system that impoverishes 80% of the population.
CHIKACH FAIR TRADE STORE (***)
On 12th street, zone 1, the Chikach store sells honeys, jams, soaps, shampoo, fragrances, herbs, spices, pottery,
etc, produced in rural communities across the country. For over ten years, Rights Action has supported the community
development work of FUNCEDESCRI (*** Foundation for Community Development) in Mayan communities across the country.
Now, their products are competing with national and global marketing giants.
Small steps. This is fair trade: fair prices to local producers; use of local products and skills; community control over production, marketing and reinvestment.
Shop here. Your hair will shine brighter, your toast taste better, and you will help, with your dollars and consumption, build a better world.
THE CRIME INDUSTRY, July 5
Last night, a man ran up in the dark, pointed a stick at me and shouted: “Your money or your life.”
When a group of cars drove slowly by. I ran down the avenue, with the cars, and he remained behind. I walked quickly home, nervous.
Today, the front page of the Prensa Libre newspaper has a picture of the remains of a man kidnapped for ransom.
The family could not get the money together. The man was executed, hands tied behind his back.
This afternoon, the front page of the La Hora newspaper reports on “29 cadavers in the morgue this past weekend.”
With murders breaking records, the government does not have enough forensic doctors to keep pace.
A taxi driver roles his eyes and shrugs at the “solution” being offered.
The government is putting more soldiers onto the streets; the wealthy hire more security companies.
No discussion of exploitation, of 80% of the population living in poverty or extreme poverty, of discrimination,
of the impunity of the powerful, or that the very same Army is responsible for most of the atrocities of the recent past.
A MEASURE OF JUSTICE - The Plan de Sanchez Trial
Since 1995, Rights Action has supported development projects in the mountain-top,
Mayan Achi village of Plan de Sanchez (***), municipality of Rabinal (department of Baja Verapaz): exhumation
of mass graves, re-burial of massacred loved ones, construction of a commemorative monument,
a loan fund to help re-build their destroyed community, the pursuit of justice for the July 18, 1982 massacre
of 282 community members, participation in a genocide trial against leaders of Guatemala’s military regime of the early 1980s.
As the Guatemalan court system is most known for impunity, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
came down with one of its few concrete decisions, finding the government of Guatemala guilty of the Plan de Sanchez massacre!
Wow. There are 625 other massacres in the country (according to the United Nations Truth Commission report, 1999) that have
yet to receive even a measure of justice. No ranking political or military officer has gone to jail for the more than 200,000 people
killed and disappeared (some 85% being Mayan).
Many military and political leaders of the 70s, 80s and 90s - the worst years of State repression and terrorism
- occupy political positions in the various dominant parties, with whom the various actors of the “international community”
(other governments, IMF, companies and banks, CIDA, AID, etc) do business … but, nevertheless, a measure of justice.
“THE ARMY HAS ONLY BEEN USEFUL FOR ATTACKING THE CIVILIAN POPULATION”
The president of Guatemala, … representative of the local oligarchy, is more concerned about rewarding those people
[Army and Civil Defense Patrols] who protected their wealth ... than with providing reparations to the victims.
Ultimately, the racist President must be thinking [the victims] were only “Indians”.
Unfortunately the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights did not provide criteria as to how much money
the Guatemalan State had to provide to [the village of Plan de Sanchez for loss of life and damages caused during
the July 18, 1982 massacre of 268 Maya-Achi villagers].
The Guatemalan State should pay the survivors the equivalent of the budget that the Army used to kill.
This is the minimum that one can ask for. That their budget was very high does not matter.
Ultimately, this country, founded upon racism, owes more to the Mayan people and to the massacred ones
than to anyone else and the only success the Army has ever had has been attacking unarmed “indians”.
So what if this would undermine the Army’s budget?
When has this institution, called a “national army”, done anything to benefit the country? …” (Sam Colop, Prensa Libre, July 7, 2004)
THE LOGICAL CIRCLE GAME
In the past, people got assassinated because they demanded a minimum wage.
Western-backed military-oligarchy regimes killed more than 200,000 to quell a civilian movement and armed opposition
clamouring for an end to inequality and injustices.
Now, the Guatemalan people are being told, over and over, that they are living in a time of peace and democracy.
Logically, the poor are demanding a minimum wage.
Logically, CACIF (Comite de Asociaciones Agricolas y Fiancieras), that defends the interests of the ruling business elite,
is blocking legislation to raise the minimum wage to $145/ month. Logically, the protests will increase. Logically, so will repression.
A MEASURE OF JUSTICE - The Jorge Carpio Case
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights finds the Guatemalan government guilty of the 1993 military assassination of Jorge Carpio,
then editor of the mainstream El Grafico newspaper and presidential candidate.
The military officers who planned and ordered the hit are living free, attention is still diverted from the corrupted and dysfunctional legal system,
but it is a measure of justice and surviving family members feel a bit less sad.
***** A PLACE CALLED CHIAPAS *****
LOW INTENSITY CONFLICT
The wall of the office of CAPISE (*** Centro de Análisis Político eInvestigaciones Sociales y Económicas,
firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>) is covered by a map of Chiapas.
Dozens of dots represent military bases.
The war is not over in Chiapas; powerful political and economic sectors of Mexico, and the global north, fear the Zapatista social-indigenous movement.
CAPISE documents and works to remedy on-going military abuses, illegal expropriations of indigenous land, etc.
12,000 PEOPLE DISPLACED
Some 3500 poor, campesino families cannot go home to their rural villages.
Over the past few years, paramilitary groups, working under or with the acquiescence of the Mexican Army,
have attacked Zapatista supporters, killing hundreds, burning homes, property and crops, and then stealing the
“abandoned” lands. Thousands wait to return to their homes and communities;
wait for reparations for property and crops lost; for justice to be done for crimes committed.
No movement on this front. Low intensity conflict.
(***In the late 90s, Rights Action channeled thousands of dollars to support the needs of the displaced.)
WOMEN OF CORN in resistance (***)
From one hut to the next, one village to the next, women overcome huge obstacles - poverty, husbands,
God and the Church, racism, political parties -- and are receiving training and support from
Mujeres de Maiz en Resistencia. Some are part of the Zapatista movement; some are not.
Together they form economically viable cooperatives and receive education and empowerment in human rights and, of all things, women’s rights.
In Las Margaritas, they established a refuge for women and girls, victims of gender violence. … Resisting the old world order, a new world is possible.
THE MEDIA IS NOT THE MESSAGE
For generations, global information and media conglomerates - private and governmental -
have justified global economic, military and political power, often erring, distorting and lying.
COMPPA (*** Comunicadores Populares por la Autonomía, firstname.lastname@example.org
<mailto:email@example.com>) works with the Zapatista movement,
and other community development movements in the Americas
(like COPINH ***, Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras),
establishing their own information networks, producing their own news, videos and histories.
BULLETS FOR A BUCKET OF WATER
On April 10, Ruben, of the Red de Defensores Comunitarios ***www.reddedefensores.org < http://www.reddedefensores.org >
came to the town of Zinacatan to mediate a conflict between local authorities who had cut off water to local Zapatista families.
On April 11, Ruben came back with a video camera and a caravan of vehicles carrying tanks of water for the parched
families. Local paramilitaries opened fired on men, women and children.
Ducking and running, Ruben filmed most of the ambush, including the dozens of people hit by bullets.
And justice? The Red is carrying the case forwards in the courts, despite the impunity;
people trained by COMPPA (***) are preparing a documentary video; urgent actions have been sent internationally.
The bad news: the shooters live free today in Zinacantan, supported by local authorities.
The good news: all of the people hit by bullets will recover.
THE ZAPATISTAS -- Danger of a Good Example
Oventic is one of five Caracoles the Zapatista movement established to further their work for indigenous and community-controlled
government and development. The threat the Zapatista movement presents to the Mexican and global status quo is real;
the danger of a good example, like Nicaragua of the 1980s.
In Oventic, a snap-shot of a good example: primary and secondary school education, in Mayan and Spanish languages,
using a participatory pedagogy, teaching to educate, train, empower and dignify. A dental and health clinic that is actually
a small hospital, built and operated locally. An arts and crafts workshop operated by Mayan women, producing, selling
and exporting clothes, fabric and artesanry. A boots and shoes workshop producing and selling 1000s of top-quality
leather footwear per year. A coffee collective, producing and marketing organic fair trade coffee to junkies locally to globally.
A video production collective, documenting everything from recent aggressions in Zinacatan to Mayan history and spirituality.
An internet collective, with satellite connection to by-pass global corporate media manufacturers, linking Oventic to other
Caracoles and to national and global movements working for justice.
This is the threat of locally controlled development and human rights for all. Not perfect; many blunders and mistakes, but beautiful.
FROM OVENTIC TO NICARAGUA
Sitting in Oventic, remembering solidarity work in Nicaragua in the 1980s; memories of dreams, hard work and dignity, terrorism,
suffering and rage. Nicaragua (population 3.5 million; poverty 80%; national budget $500 million) was a danger of the good example,
and so the US and “the west” crushed it. US-Contras attacked Sandinista cooperatives, killing community leaders,
burning and destroying community designed and controlled development projects; the “international community”
crushed the country via economic blockades and “sanctions”, political isolation and the like.
As in Nicaragua, here in Oventic the wolves are at the door, which is a mean thing to say about wolves which can be ferocious but not greedy.
Like Nicaragua, the fear is not the minimal military power of the tiny Zapatista army; the fear is that the Zapatistas will successfully implement an alternative form of development and human co-existence that
will serve as a good example for the poor majorities across the planet, threatening the reigning local-to-global economic status quo.
PLAN PUEBLA PANAMA - Good Business, Bad Development
Governments of the region -- with billions of dollars from the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank), US and Canadian governments, companies and banks -- push ahead with large-scale infrastructure and
resource and cheap labour exploitation projects. In love with “free” trade, “development” is simply (and sometimes brutally) a
business equation - produce cheap, sell high.
HUMAN RIGHTS CARAVAN
As I leave San Cristobal de las Casas to return to Guatemala, the Red de Defensores Comunitarios (***) travels with a caravan of
human rights observers to the community of Chaban, in the autonomous municipality of San
Jose de Rebelia, to provide human rights and humanitarian support to local families who were attacked by men with rocks and sticks
associated with the PRI (the discredited Partido Revolucionario Institucional).
Low intensity conflict.
***** A PLACE CALLED GUATEMALA *****
SUBSISTENCE, SURVIVAL AND NOT SURVIVAL
In most speeches about “development”, “transitions to democracy” and “post-conflict re-building”, one hears almost nothing about
the fact that most people on the planet live and die in vulnerable levels of subsistence,
survival and not survival. Many of these speeches border on meaningless. ‘Planning for the future’: what is the “future” when
survival is week to week? ‘Vacations’: ah, that would be what? ‘Putting money aside for a
rainy day’: there is no money, and if only it would rain, then it would be more likely that subsistence crops of corn and beans would
grow and provide for survival through the coming dry months.
NORMAL STATES OF “EMERGENCY”
Central American countries are in a state of “emergency” about the spread of youth gangs, many of which are indeed violent and
desperate; about jails filling up with children born in poverty and exploitation.
Yet, for the power holders and decision makers, there is no state of “emergency” about
the conditions of exploitation, poverty and extreme poverty into which over
half the world’s population are born. “The future of children is always now, tomorrow will be too late.” (Gabriela Mistral)
Romeritos (***) works with children of the street in Guatemala City, seeking to give them a second
path in life, away from life on the street, gangs, drugs and violence.
THAT MAN CARRYING HIS DEAD DAUGHTER:
A STORY ABOUT FEUDALISM, SLAVERY & NORTHERN CONSUMERS
(Interview with Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Prensa Libre, July 11, 2004)
Q: “What is the problem with land in Guatemala?”
A: “It is a problem that dates back to the period of colonialism. …
The large latifundios have only benefited the owners. It is a system of land ownership that favors slavery.
I have visited fincas [large farms for exportation] in the department of San Marcos and I can tell you that the people live
there in a feudal system. … People on the fincas live lives of slavery.
They receive very low salaries because they are not owners of the land.
They work from the time they get up, til night falls, without ever seeing the benefits of their work.
They are condemned to do the same thing as their parents and grand-parents and their children will do the same.
“A few years ago, I visited the village of Tajumulco, San Marcos.
As I was hiking in, I passed a man carrying a large load on his back.
When I asked him what he was carrying, he told me it was his little daughter sick with sarampion, and he still had 2.5 hours
to hike until he would get to the health clinic. I told him I wanted to see how his girl was doing, and when we uncovered her,
I saw that she was dead … . He told me she had died a half hour before but that he did not return to his village because
he was going to bury her in Tajumulco. He told me that his wife and three other children were also sick.
After two days, he got back with some medicine, but he was only able to save one child.”
And what does this have to do with the global order?
All the large latifundios, where millions of poor Guatemalans work and barely survive, produce goods
(sugar, coffee, bananas, “non-traditional exports”) that are sold to North American consumers.
WANT TO EARN A QUICK $5000?
In the 1980s, Jose Antonio Solares was a Colonel in the Guatemala Army, in charge of the Baja Verapaz military zone,
in charge of massacring thousands of Mayan Achi people in Rabinal … that is to say, in charge of the western
world’s “war on communism” in the Mayan regions of the Verapaces.
Since that time, like all people in the chain of command (all the way to Washington), Capitan Solares has lived free and easy.
In the few trials that have proceeded, it is low ranking soldiers and civil defense patrollers who are taking the fall.
Our human rights activist-seminar group visits the offices of ADIVIMA
(*** Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of the Violencia, Maya-Achi).
Since 1995, Rights Action has funded a wide range of development projects designed and implemented by ADIVIMA,
in benefit of genocide survivors. ADIVIMA is offering $5000 for Solares’ capture.
Mugshots appear in newspapers, want ads across the country.
Solares is being protected by colleagues in the Armed Forces and oligarchy, but the net is closing.
Go ADIVIMA go, and be careful!, for as human rights activists get closer to the military and political sectors that planned
and gave the orders for massacres and genocide, the chances of repression go up even further.
SACRED BOXES, July 15
At the offices of the FAFG (*** Fundacion de Antropologia Forense de Guatemala), our human rights activist seminar group
shuffles by tiny wooden caskets, waiting for the remains of the exhumed ones.
Inside, stacked to the ceiling, are boxes. Written in black marker, we read: “FAFG 353-1.
Antiguo Destacamento Military, Rabinal, BV, 09/07/04.”
Recently shipped from a former military outpost in Rabinal, these boxes contain the physical remains of the 72 cadavers
carefully exhumed from an abandoned water well that went over 20 meters straight down.
A difficult dig. The FAFG will now carry out forensic studies of the remains to determine identity and cause of death.
This information will serve as evidence in criminal trials against the material and intellectual authors of the massacres …
if ever impunity ends.
Early on July 19, our human rights activist seminar group drove in the back of a pickup truck steeply up
from the town of Rabinal, to the mountain-top village of Plan de Sanchez.
We are here to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the July 18, 1982 massacre of 282 villagers.
(The same Capitan Solares, profiled in the $5000 ‘want ad’, was in charge of this massacre as well).
Incense burns and smoke twirls, as Mayan priests speak with dead community members and family
members and visitors mingle, talk, eat atol and read the names of the dead from the walls of a
small chapel (***) built on top of where the loved ones were reburied (after the exhumation and forensic study of the remains), which is where they were massacred, all of
which has transformed this most dreadful of spots into the community’s most sacred of spots --- changing crime and injustice into truth and memory.
GOING AFTER THE WITNESSES
I see Salvador. We first met in 1994 at the time of the initial exhumation (***) of the Plan de Sanchez mass graves.
Over the years, we have met at different occasions related to remembering and justice - like today.
Salvador tells of the death threat he just received for being a witness in legal cases seeking justice for the massacres.
Two nights ago, he heard a motor-bike; strange in such a remote community.
The next morning, in a box by the door to his hut, Salvador found a note (beside a defused bomb):
“Soon you will be dead for being a witness to the Plan de Sanchez massacre and for being responsible for the sentence against the
State of Guatemala; for all this, a dear prize, soon you will be killed; happy anniversary of
July 18.” “Pronto seras muerto, por ser testigo de la masacre de Plan de Sanchez y por ser responsable del condena del estado de
Guatemala; esta es tu querido premio; pronto seras asesinado. feliz aniversario del 18 julio.”
THE WAY THINGS ARE DISTORTED
The United Nations Development Program published its annual Report on Human Development,
‘ranking’ 177 countries around the globe in terms of quality of life.
Once again, the United Nations condescendingly reminds the poor countries they are poor.
Once again, the United Nations analyses “development” issues in a “national” framework,
ignoring relations of north-south exploitation and interventionism.
Guatemala ranks 121 on the list, the worst of Central America.
Yet, you will not read in the report that: northern countries (United States, Canada, etc) impose on the global south
- via the IMF, WB and IDB, via foreign “aid” programs, via the WTO and “free” trade agreements
- an exploitative economic model that favors northern investors and businesses, consumers, travelers and tourists;
the top 15% of Guatemalan society exploit and live off the avails of the 85%;
the United States maintains military relations with the Guatemalan military that works with
the Guatemalan oligarchy to keep in place this unjust order.
THE CIRCLE GAME
Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic and Maria Tomasa Bulux Mejia,
members of the Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Mujeres de Quiche, receive death threats
- by phone and in the streets, from men, of course -
for the work they do investigating and denouncing violence against women and girls. (Prensa Libre, 04-07-16)
GOOD BUSINESS, BAD DEVELOPMENT
”(BNamericas.com, Friday, July 2, 2004
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), private sector arm of the World Bank, is providing a US$45mn loan
to Montana Exploradora de Guatemala to develop the Marlin gold project in western Guatemala.
Montana is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nevada-based Glamis Gold (NYSE, TSX: GLG).
This will be the country's first major mining investment in over 20 years, the IFC and Glamis Gold said in statements.
The US$120mn open pit and underground mine is slated to produce an average of 217,000oz of gold
and 3.3Moz of silver annually over 10 years … .
The mine has a projected life of 10-15 years. Glamis also has the Cerro Blanco project in Guatemala,
the San Martín gold mine in Honduras [in the Siria Valley], two-thirds of the Marigold mine in the US and is in the process
of building El Sauzal in Mexico, due to enter commercial production in 4Q04.”
Rights Action regularly publishes urgent actions and reports documenting human rights violations and environmental damage due to
North American mining operations … . “Open Veins of Latin America”, by Eduardo Galeano, revisited.
FOUNDATION NEW HOPE (***)
Inside an airy school, constructed recently (with some Canadian solidarity carpenter support)
on the edge of the town of Rabinal, our human rights activist seminar group watches a play put on by students,
children of poor Mayan-Achi families, survivors of the genocide.
They act out a chapter from the testimonial book “The Rio Negro Massacres”, by Jesus Tecu Osorio (*** published with funds from Rights Action).
Jesus, founder of Foundation New Hope, watched a while, then wandered off to tend to some cows grazing on the property
the Foundation bought with international support (***), where they now have built this wonderful school, providing a bi-lingual,
multi-cultural education. Jesus - who lost his whole family in the massacres of the 1980s - looked at the students:
“That is what I live for, now. Look at their pride and sense of self-worth.”
DON’T LIKE ‘EM? JAIL EM or … KILL ‘EM
In the Morales banana lands, 200 campesinos protest the illegal jailing of Transito Ramirez, legal representative of CUC
(*** Committee of Campesino Unity). Jailed on (false) charges of murder, environmental destruction, fiscal fraud,
and rape, if only Transito had not been a local leader, fighting for the rights of farm workers, then he wouldn’t be sitting in jail.
Since October 2001, 9 men from the Lanquin 2 community (in this same region) have been killed by men with guns in the
hire of local landowners who produce bananas for the Del Monte fruit company, to be sold to northern consumers.
Not even a trumped up trial for these 9 men.
MINING COMPANIES AND COMMUNITY NON-RIGHTS
From El Estor, on the lazy north shore of lake Izabal, our human rights activist seminar group drove 2 hours in a 4-wheel drive
pick-up over a precipitous mountain range, to the Maya-Q’eqchi’ community of Rio Sauce Sexan,
where we listen to a meeting between leaders of isolated communities (most inaccessible by road) and activists
from AEPDI (*** Asociacion Estorense de Poblaciones y Derechos Indigenas).
To the dismay of the local communities, AEPDI activists inform them that their lands have been given, in multi-decade
concessions, to Canadian and US mining companies who have, after (non-existent) “extensive consultation”
(as they assured international investors like the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank,
Canadian government’s Export-Import Development Bank, etc), obtained rights to explore every inch of these communities.
If valuable minerals are discovered, the companies have the right to “relocate” local communities, use as much water as
the mining company so decides, for as long as … .
*** A PLACE CALLED HONDURAS ***
THE LIE, MANIFEST
Same day, same newspaper. On one page of the Prensa Libre (July 27, 2004), the reader learns that the Washington-based
IMF (International Monetary Fund) team has met in Honduras with the economic and political elites,
concluding that “Honduras is advancing on the right path” strengthening its economy.
On another page, one learns that in 19 regions of Honduras the government has declared food alerts given
the “situation of hunger that people in 19 municipalities in 6 States are living through.”
Official figures show that 7200 people die of starvation per year.
Just like that. The government and IMF affirm that the development model (read favorable business climate for national
and foreign investors) is doing well, even as death by starvation and chronic poverty characterize the lives of the
vast majority of the population.
THE STORY OF THE FORMER RIVER BABILONIA
Where once a lovely river flowed (municipality of Gualaco, department of Olancho), where once glorious water fell,
where once communities lived and irrigated their plants, animals and lives, a business idea gelled,
some international investors contacted, some palms greased and laws re-written or side-stepped,
and then some men with guns hired to protect the investment, killing Carlos Flores a member of the local community
development organization CEPAVEG (***), and … presto … call it “development”, and pocket all the profits of the
privatized river and hydro-electric production …… and the astute backpacker will notice that the most recent
“Traveler’s Guide” no longer refers to the Babilonia Waterfalls as a wonderful natural attraction
(because water no longer flows over the now privatized river and falls), and the same travelers will not even notice
that the poor local communities are even poorer, and Carlos Flores is dead for opposing this globally funded “development” project.
A LONG WAY TO GO … TO REPRESS A POOR COMMUNITY
Up to the Montana Verde community (departments of Intibuca and Lempira), our human rights activist seminar group
hikes 4 hours along the same path that heavily armed men with guns (police, soldiers, masked individuals, etc) marched,
January 8, 2003, to carry out a mid-night raid, beating, burning, terrorizing and capturing and torturing Marcelino
and Leonardo Miranda … who are still in jail 18 months later.
Citing a series of trumped up charges, the “security forces” terrorized the community and captured the
Montana Verde Indigenous Council (***) leaders because wealthy landowners want the land.
As the community owns communal title to the land, it is best to use force and manipulation of the legal system.
WHO IS NELSON MANDELA?
In Gracias (department of Lempira), our human rights activist seminar group gathers in the empty courtyard of the Gracias prison.
Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda have been here since the January 2003 midnight raid of their isolated,
poor Lenca-descendant community when gun-totting bad men (police, army, masked particulars, etc.)
made infants and elderly lie face down in the mud all night, beat men and women, tortured Marcelino and Leonardo,
… before dragging them down the mountainside to vehicles below, and who tortured the brothers in their jail cells in April 2003.
And all this because the brothers and the community --
with the support of COPINH (*** Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations)
-- are resisting being forcibly displaced by landowners with deep pockets and military connections,
who want their mountain top lands for cattle-crazing, water sources and possible mining concessions.
The brothers speak softly, determined not to give up the fight for their land and community rights, hoping more noise
will be made internationally about their case.
They have been found guilty of trumped up charges of murder and sentenced to 29 years jail.
WHAT TO DO?
From La Esperanza, Honduras, our human rights activist seminar group drives back to Guatemala City.
We talk of ‘What can one do?’
There is much to be said about ‘What can one do?’
Rights Action has lists of ideas of how people can get involved in work for global justice and equality
… but the most important starting point is that each person needs to understand and have the
conviction that each person can do so much, right where they are, in their home community, religious centre,
education institution, work-place, etc, to help make this a just global community for all people to live in, in harmony
with the environment. This is not a “pipe-dream”; it is a fact and possibility.
In the Gracias prison, we spoke with two campesino men, unjustly and illegally detained (tortured too), looking at the
possibility of 29 years in jail, and all they really talked about was that their struggle for the well-being and dignity
of their community - present and future generations -- will continue.
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RIGHTS ACTION is a multi-faceted development and human rights organization that raises funds for community
development and human rights work in Mexico, Central America (mainly Guatemala & Honduras) and Peru,
and educates and is active about global development and human rights issues.
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
Are you interested in: inviting Rights Action to give an educational presentation? Being on our e-list and newsletter list?
going on an educational delegation to Mexico, Guatemala or Honduras? being a human rights accompanier in the south?
TAX FREE DONATIONS FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT WORK:
Please make checks to "Rights Action" and mail to:
USA: 1830 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC, 20009;
CANADA: 509 St. Clair Av, W, box73527, Toronto ON, M6C-1C0.
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-654-2074, www.rightsaction.org http://www.rightsaction.org