Wednesday, January 8 2014
During our morning lecture, a Guatemalan human rights lawyer, Eric, talked to us about the current state of the trials against Rios Montt. He began by explaining the difference between material authors, those that actually pull the trigger, and the intellectual authors. It is the intellectual authors, the higher military officials like Rios Montt, that might not have stepped foot on indigenous land, but are just as guilty. Sexual violence and psychological warfare was discovered in military documents, and Eric talked to us about how right before the trial began it was sprung on them that witnesses no longer have a safe private space. This was difficult for the women who were promised privacy, as their testimony could not only put them in danger, but their family as well. Currently, with the Rios Montt trial overturned, there is a case against the State of Guatemala for their negligence. This is an inter american case of human rights to publicly denounce the state for not aiding or even recognizing the atrocities during the armed conflict.
Eric made me think about the issue of reconciliation again. As he said that it is quite impossible for people to to admit their involvement because they fear what their children will think of them. As a result lower ranked soldiers are those that face the blame and become some sort of scapegoat for the economically elite. Again, there is a lack of possibility for forgiveness when admitting fault for the crimes is near to unheard of. I admire the Guatemalan people for holding strong to their desire to see justice. Eric stated that the priority wasn’t money or goods that the Guatemalan people wanted, but justice.
Our afternoon was spent at a community, La Puya, outside Guatemala City. They are currently resisting an american mining company (KCA) from exploiting their land. In 1997, post-war laws were created that made international investment favorable. For about 2 years groups have set up camp at La Puya, with a rotational system put in place to make sure at least 15 people are present at all times. Before we came, a member of Nisgua highlighted the connection between the exploited land the the land that faced genocide, since an overlapping piece of agenda for both perpetrators were to displace people and to take their resources.
Something I have been continuously learning is land, and how it holds spiritual value to many people in Guatemala. Not only did survivors of the genocide come back to occupy their land, but the resistance never faltered their views on the mine (no matter the propaganda) because they could never accept control of their land taken. Not only does mining have social and environmental impacts, but they use a lot of water which makes it impossibly hard for communities who rely on agriculture to live.
Something brought up at La Puya is the divisions that this resistance creates in communities and families. A cause of this is the propaganda and psychological warfare used by those seeking to gain the most from the mines (whether it be the government of the mine owners). They would turn neighboring communities against the revolution, similar to the military telling communities turn in the guerrillas for they are the reason for their suffering. Hypothetically, there were trainings for jobs in the mines but instead beauty/cake baking lessons were given, then those people were put in “responsible mining” shirts and parading around as human propaganda. It is amazing, yet not surprising, the extent the economic elite will go to continue their wealth and further poverty and suffering.
When talking to members of the resistance, one described conflict within his own family. He states that there was no choice but to ignore the topic completely, because their disagreement was so strong. Even within the resistance, there were those that despised the police lounging around their camp sipping on tea, and others that didn’t mind. However, what remained inspirational was the strength, and resilience to crumble under the provocation. Not once, even when their leader was shot, did the resistance try to physically assault the police or damage the property on “private” land. Instead were the “mujeres valientes,” the women (old and young) that stood or lied in front of the riot police guarding the only entrance to the possible mine. The people we spoke to were so welcoming and genuinely thankful for our presence, and also urged us to bring this message home.
Before dinner we brainstormed a page of ideas on what we will bring back to Grinnell, and I am very excited to keep adding on the list, and then organizing amazing events. During dinner we were joined by alumni who spoke about social justice post Grinnell, and gave us great advice about joining more clubs, interacting with new people, and really taking advantage of our college years.