Tuesday, January 7th 2014
After breakfast we were joined by Victor, a professor who has worked with human rights and peace study issues for over 20 years. He asked us to put our religious or political beliefs aside because our discussion will be of history. I agree with his notion that sometimes our beliefs can put us in a box, and make it difficult to embrace fact as truth. History, he notes, is important for understanding poverty, inequality and todays riches. An example is the Vatican Bank that has 2 billion euros stemming mostly for the money extracted, by spanish conquests, from Latin American countries. The pope had to give permission for the conquests, and their economic agenda is irrefutable.
Also discussed was the invisibility of latin american conflict. The Cold War was a conceptual war, as the Soviet Union and the United States never stood on opposite sides of a field and fought. However, during that time there were wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba. Some of those countries (like Cuba) were pawns in the Cold War. Victor discussed how tangible the Hot War was for all those latin american countries (as well as the neighboring ones). Specifically, he spoke about the “scorched earth” where Rios Montt led a genocide where he attempted burned people in community centers, and cut open pregnant women. However, all those atrocities aren’t portrayed in Hollywood. There are so many movies and documentaries of the Holocaust, WW1/WW2, but none of the atrocities faced by Guatemalan (and latin american) people.
He asked us to always keeping in mind the right of determination, a declaration of human rights that states we, as a collective of individuals, have control over our own life. So, when the US said no one could trade with cuba, it was directing power over our life. Similarly, forbidding americans to enter Cuba tramples one own right (if able) to go where one pleases.
He spoke about the absence of good and bad, and not just because one is the oppressed, does it mean that they are the good people. In our day to day lives we interact with ignorance, some of which is inherited, but culture is formed, so inheriting isn’t an excuse. Although difficult to change views, they are important. As important are different views and young voices.
More Grinnell related was the issue of discrimination, disagreement, and minoritized voices.
He spoke of the culture of fear that we live in, a culture that is built on a concept of the weak and fearful being the easiest to rule over. I see how the culture of fear does cause people to be passive with their heads down, but I also see the opposite effect in that people will let fear drive violence. And even use fear as an excuse, and as the cycle continues nothing will be done differently until there are those other voices and bodies that demand change. We discussed the importance of changing one’s actions, never doing the same thing, and finding importance in who one is versus what one has.
Finally, I agree with the fact that youth must organize, and although I see immense privilege in radical actions, I find it important for radical actions and ideas. Similar in thought, after lunch we visited H.I.J.O.S, a radical art activist group that has taken their voices to the streets to combat the silencing of their past. They collaborate with another group dealing purely with los desaparecidos, the disappeared ones. It was common, as a form of psychological warfare to make community leaders, or family of leaders disappear off the streets. The not knowing affects generations after generations, and this organization helps support those searching for their loved ones.
H.I.J.O.S. is a post-war organization that believes in never forgetting, never forgiving and never reconciling. They spoke about how impossible it is to forget, and to forgive those who aren’t even asking for forgiveness. I believe in this motto, but I can also see why others would find it ineffective. In my life, I get critiqued for being negative or angry, but Flor and Paco talked about how never forgiving/forgetting/reconciling is a form of loving oneself. Of valuing one’s own anger and loving those that were lost. Their art consisted of I.D. photos of people made to disappear during the Guatemalan conflict placed all on the streets as a “public intervention.” When they began they created self described “ugly” murals, but it was the presence of the murals that was important They would occupy spaces as to physically and figuratively take back their space. They spoke about how people would often deny or refuse to be a part of the discussion on the disappeared ones, because of fear. Also, they might not participate because their are many other issues worth fighting for. H.I.J.O.S is proud of being a model where other organizations can see the benefits of radical thought and action.
During our tour, led by a member of NISGUA, we stood in front of where bishop Juan Jose Gerardi lived and died. He published Rehmi, documentation of the abuses of war 2 years after the peace accords (1968) and was bludgeoned to death 2 days later. In the park right across a statue stood homage reading “Guatemala Nunca Más.” The role of bishops and the church was brought up again as we stood in front of the national cathedral. On the pillars were names of the departments of Guatemala with some names those massacred listed below. This public display of acknowledgement and mourning seems to me like a step in the right direction. Also interesting was the transformation of the once “military day” (June 30th) as a day to remember and come together in solidarity for the lost ones. The march ends in the plaza in front of the national palace.
After the documentary, we had a group discussion where I was able see connection between topics discussed throughout the day, from looking at conflict through a peaceful and radical lens, and getting to see examples of real change in Guatemala.