Saturday, May 5, 2007

May 1, Workers' Day, Guatemala City

Guatemala City May 1 Dia de los Trabajadores (Workers' Day) 2007

This begins my third week as a member of the Nonviolent Peaceforce Guatemala (see my first blog for general description of my work here). We are known here as Fuerzas de Paz Noviolentas.

After living out of suitcases in a guest house for two weeks, we are finally settled in the house where the team will be for the next ten months. When I leave on June 30, a new volunteer will replace me. One volunteer will return next week and two more: one from Spain and one from Italy, will arrive, making us a team of four.

We now have a front patio for eating outside and hanging clothing with bougainvillea for a backdrop. In the back of the house a small patio full of flowers and high walls, room enough to sit and read or enjoy the morning. Potable water is delivered weekly.

It's a comfortable house. There is a dining and living room, kitchen with refrigerator and stove and we each have our own rooms. We have screens, so in the rainy season (starting now), we can close out the mosquitos. The patio gives us light; the outside door gives us security. The neighborhood is quiet except for an occasional barking dog and firecrackers. We are close enough to walk to work. It's quite safe (assuming you are watching out for traffic and potholes) during the day. We take taxis at night if we are out for an event. This week we will get internet capacity at home facilitating our reporting. Getting internet connection here has been an issue because the wireless company requires two months bank statements!! even though they can and do charge in advance and could cut off service for lack of payment. One can only surmise what they do with all those records.

To give you a snapshot of the work, let me provide you my daily vocabulary in Spanish: allanamiento (break in); ileso (escaped unharmed), amenaza (threat), involucrar (involve), analisis de riesgo (risk analysis), defensores y defensoras (men and women defenders),
sequestrado (kidnapped), vulnerabilidad (vulnerability), crimen organizado (organized crime), vinculado (linked to), viligancia (being observed), impunidad (impunity) , and denuncia, (official complaint) among others. NP Tee shirt

My work (and that of my Nonviolent Peaceforce colleagues) is as accompanier (acompanante) to the staff of the Unit of Protection for Defenders of Human Rights. (Unidad de Proteccion de las Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos). This group is a unit of the larger National Movement for Human Rights (Movimiento Nacional de Derechos Humanos) and is responsible for investigating human rights violations. When a person reports to the Unidad that he or she has been threatened or injured, or if a person has been killed, the Unidad does a series of investigations to determine if it is a genuine human rights violations or something else (lovers' quarrel or common crime of robbery or homicide); and it then determines if the persons or institutions are in need of protection. La Unidad also compiles statistics of human rights violations from this information.

To be accepted as a case of violation of human rights defenders, it must be in the context of a person defending human rights, such as people working to protect women and children from abuse, people working for community development, people seeking justice, truth about, and redress of grievances from violent attacks or abuses of power. See or a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and for a copy of United Nations Rights of Human Rights Defenders. The Unidad verifies if the human rights defenders or their institution is in need of protection. The Unidad works with them to file complaints to the appropriate government entities, and to monitor to see that the police and courts are prosecuting and adjudicating cases. In addition it provides security training and helps organizations to create a security plan. Urgent actions are sent when there are high level attacks on human rights defenders.

When the Unidad office was broken into in February, the UN Security Council condemned the attack. A copy of Amnesty International´s April 2007 report includes a description of the break in at the office of the Moviemento Nacional Derechos Humanos in December 2006 in Spanish.

So, every day we accompany staff of the Unidad to interviews, workshops and events. My work last week included accompanying a staff member to interview coworkers of a union leader who was murdered in February of this year. That same day, I went with Unidad staff to visit the
striking teachers who blocked the highway to Puerto San Jose. They had been beaten and jailed. I accompanied the Unidad staff members who were giving security planning workshops. I accompanied staff members to an event commemorating the deaths of the revolutionaries from the 1980s. One of the staff members of the Unidad was honored in memory of three family members who had all been murdered in 1982. Others in the Unidad and the Movement were honored for their work in defending human rights. We also attended the 60th anniversary of the Association of Guatemalan Newspapers. A picture of the NP team with a Unidad coworker.

This week, I accompanied Unidad staff to a meeting to celebrate the first anniversary of the Community Clinic of Good Faith of Ixcan (pronounced 'ish-kan'), Quiche. More than 20,000 people used the clinic in the 144 communities of Ixcan in the last year. The celebration was also the occasion to bring their concerns about the privatization of water in Ixcan.

The World Bank and the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines are supporting the building of a private electric company in Ixcan. The people of Ixcan were neither notified nor consulted when these decisions were made. In preparation for asking officials to halt this development, the Ixcan had a series of meeting in their communities in which they considered the development plans for the plant and oil drilling. They voted to stop the development. I accompanied the
Unidad staff member at the general session and to the Guatemalan Ombudsman for Human Rights. The Ixan representatives also met with the Guatemalan Congress, the National Institute of Electrification, the Constitutional Court and the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

A daily story in the newspapers, but one in which we are not involved, is the murder of three El Salvadoran deputies and their driver who were en route to the Central American Congress February 25. The presumed murderers – national police officers - were arrested and placed in a high security prison, where they were also murdered. The actions were traced quickly to the highest levels of the Guatemalan government and the Minister of Government resigned. The government Human Rights Ombudsman was reported in the paper this week to have affirmed that the government was derelict in its duty to protect the prisoners.

Tuesday is May Day, a day to celebrate workers of Guatemala and a national holiday. I was there with my camera to document. In addition to several national worker unions, there were groups of women and the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), a group that provides support to people whose family members are abducted. Pictures of the "disappeared" were prominent in the parade. The disappearances, threats, and murders continue with impunity. This past week there were celebrations of the life and martyrdom of Monsenor Gerardi who was murdered 9 years ago in his efforts to bring the truth to light about the decades of violence. The courage of many people to protect their human rights is evident.

One more thing: there is a vegetarian restaurant in Guatemala City. Rey Sol (Sun King) has delicious vegan and vegetarian meals and food to purchase!!

Hasta entonces, Ana

If you want to be part of this work, you can buy a peace bond or make a donation on line at . Donations from individuals and congregations from a church are doubled by the Samsara Fund in Minneapolis. Please contact for more information.

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