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Kim sent us this message in December 2007, from Guatemala City where she is working as an organizational accompanier.
Dear friends, family, allies and supporters,
Time is a strange concept. Some days I feel like it’s
been a very long since I’ve seen any of you… I miss home…
and I miss the regularities of life in the States and a culture that I
can relate to. Other days, I feel
These last two months have been very busy, considering I also took a quick trip to the states to give a deposition for a class action law suit against the City of New York. In 2004, I was arbitrarily and illegally arrested at the Republican National Convention (along with 3,000 other people) and am fighting for the City of New York to admit that the police acted preemptively and irresponsibly. While I was there, I thought a lot about the stark differences between the Guatemalan and US legal systems.
Looking at the justice system (and prison industry) in the States, it is clearly corrupted by racism and the newly popular “private prison industry” is making money off mostly low-income, minority groups who find themselves in trouble and cannot afford legal representation. It is fair to say that in both countries, if you have money and power you are basically immune from the justice system. But in Guatemala, large plantation owners, multi-national mining companies, the National Electric Company and ex-dictators guilty of genocide not only have immunity from the law, they are protected by it.
In Guatemala, if a crime is committed and the victim wants justice, he/she must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutors´ office. Their job is to then investigate the crime, find evidence, detain the criminal and serve as an attorney for the victim in the judicial system. Most crimes including assault, theft, armed robbery, carjacking, rape, kidnapping and murder are never investigated nor are the guilty punished. Worse, is the fact that massacres and crimes against humanity, both which fill this nation’s history and continue to happen today, go unpunished because of a weak an inefficient system.
Nearly everyday in Guatemala City a woman is raped
and murdered and her body is dumped along side an abandoned road. It has
become so common that there is a word for this very deed: “femicide”
(the killing of woman). Rape is also a common crime that simply goes unpunished
because the Public
There are numerous cases that show the discrepancy between justice for the powerful and justice for the poor.
Ex #1 Finca Nueva Linda:
In September 2003, Héctor Reyes, a union leader
and administrator on the Nueva Linda plantation and a member of the Landless
Maya Workers Union (STMST), mysteriously disappeared near the port of
Champerico, on the south coast of Guatemala. The plantation owner his
head of security were later identified by the police as the main suspects
to the disappearance. The following month, hundreds of workers from the
Nueva Linda plantation and the surrounding area occupied the farm to protest
against the lack of investigations into the disappearance. Eight months
later, on August 31, 2004, they were violently evicted by military force,
ending in a bloody massacre with 12 people dead. Four years after the
abduction of Héctor Reyes, his fate and the circumstances in which
he went missing are still
After the massacre, complaints were filed with the Public Prosecutor. No investigations were ever made in relation to the massacre or the disappearance of Hector Reyes. Since the family has been protesting on the side of the road, they have received threats and intimidations by the plantation security. Yet, a leader of the Justice for Nueva Linda Movement has a case against HIM for trespassing, filed by the plantation owner. It seems that a case of trespassing is more valid in the judicial system than a massacre of innocent people.
Ex #2 Marlin mine and San Miguel Ixtuahacán:
In 2002 Goldcorp (Montana Explaradora), a Canadian mining company, acquired the Marlin mine in the Department of San Marcos, Guatemala. It is an open-pit mine which uses cyanide to extract the gold, which is later released into the public water supply.
The initiation of this mine was significantly flawed
in many ways including failing to provide a community consultation process;
allegations of forced land sales through intimidation; the mine's unregulated
use of municipal water; fear and a lack of personal security in the project
With the help of the national and international community,
several complaints have been filed against the Marlin mine. Investigations
have been made but no cases have gone to trial concerning the negligence
of the mining operations. Yet, there is currently a trial in motion against
Mine company security officers have a history of violence and intimidation against people in resistance of the mine. Though the January 10, 2007 attack by security officers occurred in front of numerous witnesses, it has not been prosecuted. Following the response, over 600 villagers peacefully blocked the road into the mine, a protest which lasted 12 days. The seven farmers are currently on trial because two security guards were hurt during this event.
“This trial exemplifies Goldcorps’ disregard for the lives and wellbeing of the communities affected by the operations of its “Marlin” mine, and the biased manner with which the Guatemalan justice system persecutes social movements, while maintaining impunity for human rights abuses committed by economically powerful actors,” says Right’s Action.
Ex #3 INDE and the Chixoy Dam:
Between 1980 and 1982 some 376 people, mostly women
and children from a village named Rio Negro, were brutally murdered in
a series of massacres while resisting displacement and the construction
of the Chixoy dam. This project funded by the World Bank and constructed
and operated by INDE, the
The Witness for Peace report states that, 'the Rio
Negro victims died because they blocked the "progress" of the
Chixoy Project.' Many villagers believe INDE encouraged the violence so
that their officials could pocket compensation payments due to the villagers.
'I'll tell you the real reason
Also according to Witness for Peace, “Chixoy was not only a human rights disaster. Construction was beset with geological problems which – together with corruption - caused the dam's total cost to soar to some $1.2 billion, 521 per cent higher than forecast in 1974. The dam began official operation in 1983, but after only five months had to be shut down for repairs. It did not restart operation for two years. Since then it has been plagued with technical problems and a shortage of water in its reservoir.”
30 years later, the community of Rio Negro and 27 other affected communities are still seeking reparations for lose of their land, loved ones, culture and history.
Ex #4 Genocide Case Update:
Have you heard? After the national elections in September,
Ríos Montt (and his daughter Zury who is married to a US Congressman)
was elected to the Guatemalan Congress and is highly expected to be named
President of Congress. In my opinion, this is the most outrageous example
For example, the secret military archives, namely
“Plan Sofia,” are documents that prove Ríos Montt and
his high military command were responsible for massacres committed during
the early 80’s and are
The Spanish Genocide Case is also a slow-going process. In Jan, 2007, extradition and arrest warrants were made against Ríos Montt, but the Guatemalan government has ignored these international appeals. Good news: although Montt sits on the Congress, he is not immune from international law, so he can still be tried in an international court when the Spanish Case moves forward. This is what we are all working and waiting for.
Finca Nueva Linda:
San Miguel Ixtuahacán and URGENT ACTION:
Chixoy dam: http://www.centerforpoliticalecology.org/chixoy.html
Genocide Case and URGENT ACTION:
Thanks for all you do,
Kim wrote us again this month, August 2007
Dear friends, family, allies and supporters,
As you know, for the past six months I have been working
as a human rights accompanier for witnesses in the Association for Justice
and Reconciliation (AJR) in Guatemala. My time living in the beautiful
countryside of the Ixcán is ending very soon. I have decided, based
on the current political situation in Guatemala and the upcoming elections,
to continue working with NISGUA. Since the beginning of 2000, threats
I have and continue to appreciate all of your support from the US and around the world. I feel privileged to have such and amazing network of people in my life who respond to important action alerts and also inspire me through the incredible work that many of you are doing in your own communities. I am excited to report that members of NISGUA personally delivered 1,200 letters to the Attorney General last week, signed by grassroots activists from 23 countries around the world to demand that the Guatemalan government move forward with the genocide cases. These are the letters that y’all signed and I’d like to thank you for helping to make this action a success. To read about the meeting with NISGUA and the Attorney General, see this link: http://www.nisgua.org/news_analysis/index.asp?id=2977
I am always eager to receive e-mails and snail mail.
I will continue this work at least until February, so y’all will
be receiving these updates from me for the next six months.
PLAN SOFIA: THE CAT IS OUT OF THE BAG:
This month, the national genocide case against Rios Montt and his high command had an exciting move forward.
“Plan Sofia,” is an old military document
that outlines the plans for the eradication of indigenous communities
in the Quiché region of Guatemala in the years 1981-82. It reveals
that Ríos Montt signed the orders for the massacres of the towns
of El Quetzal, Huehuetenango and Chicamán, Quiché. More
than 300 died in El Quetzal, and 92 people died in Chicamán. After
these documents were leaked to the public in March, Rios Montt´s
lawyers filed a motion in April arguing to keep them classified so they
"The documents detailing Plan Sofia clearly illustrate an explicit chain of command, with Rios Montt at its head, through which orders of mass extermination were communicated at the height of the conflict" said Catherine Norris, an organizer with the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) in Washington D.C.
On July 16th, many co-workers and I, attended a public hearing of the genocide case, solicited by the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR). Arguments were heard from the legal representatives of the AJR and the lawyer representing the Ministry of Defense, who argued that the 25-year old documents should be kept secret for national security purposes. During the hearing, the judge asked lawyer for the Ministry of Defense, "If the acts were committed in 1982, why do they continue to be classified as state secrets?”
On July 19th, the First Court of Appeals in Guatemala denied the motion filed by Ríos Montt and said that archived military documents must be submitted as evidence in the national genocide case against him. According to the judge, the argument that “Plan Sofia” is a state secret is invalid because releasing them would not compromise the current security of the state and the crimes have already been committed.
Honestly, this news came as a shock to many of us.
The level of impunity in the government and disorganization in the judicial
system is a sad reality in Guatemala. There are no legal limits to appeals
filed against these cases, which makes the judicial process very slow
and long. But, with these documents in the hands of the prosecution, the
case is more likely to be successful in the end. With this turn of events,
THE COMMUNITIES OF SAN JOSE RIO NEGRO (SJRN):
In addition to living and working in Santa Maria Tzejá (SMT), every 3-4 weeks my partner and I embark on a hike to visit survivors and witnesses of the AJR who live in five different Q’eqchi’ communities. This excursion is an incredible opportunity to observe the spectacular rolling hills and extraordinary views of the Ixcán, full of trees and miles upon miles of cornfields, set on steep slopes. The rainy season is beginning here and traveling through the mud is also always an adventure. We have the good fortune to visit and spend time with families and communities whose lives and stories are so different from SMT. For example, in contrast to living with one hundred families in SMT, these tiny villages consist of 20-30 families each.
Since the communities of SJRN have little exposure
to outsiders, they have fewer resources and their homes and lifestyles
are much more humble. The survivors of the SJRN massacre and their communities
did not flee to Mexico during the conflict; rather they were internally
displaced. Community members hid in the mountains or were resettled in
model villages. The homes are smaller, the communities less organized
When I first arrived, I studied two weeks of Q’eqchi’ and have since learned more from the families that we visit. It is interesting to compare this language with the one spoken in SMT, K’iche’, because many words are the same, or similar. I feel the most out of my element when we are visiting these communities, but I have also enjoyed the opportunity to step completely out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to try to communicate. Even though I mostly receive smirks and laughter when I struggle to speak Q’eqchi’, I know that the families also really appreciate that I try. They are among the warmest people I have ever encountered.
This is a brief summery of their story:
In 1982, the victims of the massacre of San José
Rio Negro (SJRN) were working and living on two farms: El Remolíno
and SJRN. In March of that year, members of the Guerilla Army of the Poor
(EGP) arrived on the Romolíno farm and held a meeting in which
they demanded that the workers collaborate with them. After the meeting
they burned the farm’s cardamom dryer as well as supplies of rice
and beans, and returned to the jungle. The workers were afraid that the
army would blame them for the burning of
The workers on the SJRN farm were peasants who were
already displaced by the internal conflict and who were assured by the
owner that they would be safe there. However, in 1982 guerillas arrived
to warn the workers that the army was coming to massacre them. Unfortunately,
many workers were under the impression that only Catholics (often suspected
of being guerillas or guerilla sympathizers) would be targeted and killed.
An ex-soldier who claims to have participated in the
massacre says that some people were decapitated, some shot with bullets
and others chopped to death. Survivors report to have heard machine guns,
bombs and screams and seen smoke coming from the site of the massacre.
When family members returned after the soldiers left, they found that
their houses had been completely destroyed and discovered a freshly-dug
grave, encircled by
COMMEMORATION OF THE MASSACRE OF SAN JOSE RIO NEGRO:
“It is important to continue remembering what
happened to us in the past. Every year we gather so our children will
know what happened here. If we choose to forget, they will never know
In addition to accompanying witnesses of the AJR,
we also accompany and visit community members engaged in their locally
organized human rights organization. ADEREMCO stands for the Association
of Development of the Uprooted and Re-established Communities of the Micro-regions
of Q’iche and Alta Verapaz. Formed in 1999 during the exhumations
of the victims of the massacre, its mandate is to seek justice for the
victims of the massacre, exhume the bodies of the victims who have not
yet been found, demand reparations, seek to restore their communities
social fabric damaged by
Every year, these communities gather together to commemorate and remember the family members and friends who were killed during the conflict. As in SMT and the many other communities who suffered, this is an important occasion not only to remember the dead, but to reignite the ongoing fight for justice.
Mario, a member of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and a resident of SMT, spoke at the ceremony which consisted of a Catholic Mass, a community dinner and a dance featuring a live marimba band. “We cannot stay silent. We are not animals. We are human beings!” He was speaking about the fact that 200,000 Mayan people were killed in a bloody war in which the heads of State at that time have still not been punished.
In September, the 2007 presidential and regional elections will take place in Guatemala. It’s an interesting time to be in the country because, although some people have written off the government as corrupt and not worth their time to vote, many people are still talking about politics.
There are about 16 major political parties running in the presidential and municipal elections. Each one is differentiated by a different symbol, and when arriving at the polling stations, the symbol is what the population will actually vote for. Of course, this means that most uniformed or illiterate voters will simply check the symbol they have seen the most… which are everywhere… on posters in stores, gigantic billboards and even painted on trees and rocks along the highways.
I have recently attended several talks about the current political situation in Guatemala in relation to the upcoming elections. One conversation that keeps resurfacing in discussions, and which I find very interesting, is the question: “Who funds the political parties?”
Guatemala has a very high concentration of income
and wealth in a few hands, which makes it one of the most unequal in the
world. With no effective distribution mechanisms, and with low wages and
low employment, the majority of Guatemala’s population lives in
extreme poverty and exclusion from resources like education. This concentration
of wealth has produced increasingly powerful economic groups that use
their power to influence the political scene and exercise control over
the State. These
Together, these businessmen allied with foreign interests, own the 30 largest companies in Guatemala. The two front-running parties, Unidad Nacional de Esperanza (UNE), National Unity for Hope, and Partido Patriota (PP), Patriots Party, have each received around $5 million from these two families. Encuentro por Guatemala, (EG), Gathering for Guatemala, the party of Rigoberta Menchú, has also received a large sum of money from these two families. This very basic look at the financial foundation of the elections implies that no matter who wins, these parties continue to be controlled by the same big-business interests.
I hope that all of you are happy and healthy in your
Here is Kim's friends and family letter written in June 2007.
Dear friends and family,
These last four months living in Guatemala and working
as a human rights accompanier with the Association for Justice and Reconciliation
(AJR) has already been an amazing experience. The relationships I have
formed, with other accompaniers from around the world and especially the
The Story of Marta
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Marta about children and childbirth. The average age for a woman to become a mother here is 15, so obviously, a 27 year-old woman with no husband or children is very strange. Nine times she has experienced the excruciating pain of giving life, but today she only has seven children. When I asked what happened to them she told me her story…one of many similar stories:
“When the army came that day in 1982, we ran for our lives though the jungle… some people had no shoes… we couldn’t see anything in the dark… the branches tore our skin… but we couldn’t stop, it was life or death so we kept moving,” she remembers. For months and months, Marta and the group she traveled with roamed blindly though the mountains of northern Guatemala, escaping many close encounters with the army who was constantly hunting them. Most of the time, they had no idea which direction they were going.
After wandering for weeks and months, she remembers being at an encampment of people who saw the army coming and they decided to move the group, yet again. She was so weak, she couldn’t go. “I decided that I wouldn’t walk anymore… I couldn’t walk anymore… I was starving. I sat down on the ground with my two babies and said this is where I’m going to die, me and my babies.” She doesn’t know exactly what it was that made her lift herself up and keep moving, but she suddenly found the strength to keep going.
The decision to flee to Mexico was a point of conflict among the wandering group. Many people thought the war would end soon or the army would give up searching for them. Many people suffered terribly and two of Marta’s children died in the mountains of malnutrition during those months of indecision.
Her strength to move forward, not just that day in the mountains but her constant positive activity in her community, is an inspiration to me. She is a woman who was never given the opportunity to receive an education so she cannot read or write. But she broke away from her expected role as a soft-spoken woman and mother and became a leader in her community. She says, “I have a lot of opinions and think they should be heard.” She is inspiring to other women in the community as well because she isn’t afraid to stand up and speak, something which she, as in indigenous woman, has worked to overcome her whole life.
Before the massacre, she was married to a man who was physically abusive and never let her get involved outside of their house. He was killed the day of the massacre and as a refugee in Mexico, Marta was introduced to a woman’s organization called Mama Maquin. From this experience, she brought back a wealth of knowledge to SMT and is a strong force in the woman’s union there. In Mexico, she also found a man who is extremely supportive of her community activity and she created a new life and a new family with him.
Rios Montt runs for Congress…again
Unfortunately Rios Montt, a man who currently has
an international genocide case against him in the Spanish Courts, inscribed
to run for the Guatemalan Congress on May 18th. This, of course, is major
news here on the ground and work will continue around the national cases
against Rios Montt and his military high command.
If you have already signed, it would be helpful to send this link to five people that you think would like to support the people who suffered terribly during a brutal civil war and are fighting for justice.
Another interesting piece of news came out in the
national newspaper, “Prensa Libre,” which undeniably links
Rios Montt to several massacres that took place in 1982. This link, called
“Plan Sofia,” is a military
Another accompanier wrote a detailed article about
this plan and the effects of this news on the case. You can read it here:
Consulta Comunitaria (Community Referendum)
On April 20th, a very interesting and exciting action took place here incthe Ixcan region of Guatemala: a vote concerning the construction of new hydro-electric dams (namely the Xalala Dam) and the exploration and exploitation of oil by foreign interests. Since a majority of land is owned and utilized by indigenous communities in the Ixcan, a popular vote was taken to see if the people that would be most directly affected by these projects were in favor of them or not. After many information sessions and talk throughout the region, a vote was taken and 91% of the region said “NO” to the projects.
The day of the Consulta was an inspiring day for SMT.
Everyone was very excited to be part of this historical process and have
their voice heard. In Guatemala, the government never asks their opinion
on anything, so this vote made them feel very empowered. I felt privileged
to be present as an
You can read an article I wrote about the Consulta
Semana Santa (Holy Week)
Semana Santa is extremely important here in Guatemala. In SMT, the students that are usually away studying high school or college all return for this one week festival extraordinaire. At first, when everyone was talking about Semana Santa, I thought it was going to be more of a party, but with religion so deeply intertwined in the local culture, I should have known better. I went to Catholic mass more times in the last month than in the last ten years.
Other than going to mass and participating in processions of the Stations of the Cross, the two main traditions here in SMT are making bread and spending a day at the river. These two traditions also mirror the traditions of the church. Bread is made early in the week to eat during the time between Good Friday and Easter (many people in the states fast during this time). On Thursday (the Last Supper), everyone goes to the Tzeja River all day with their families and cooks enormous amounts of food.
On the Tuesday of Semana Santa, I was invited to make
bread with a family. The bread is prepared in small portions with unique
swirls or other decorations. At 7am we stared a fire inside a huge cob
oven. It is about
The smell of fresh bread is only slightly beat by the taste. While we were outside baking the bread, another family had come to mix their own batch. Only three families have cob ovens, so they are shared with the neighbors. The tradition is to eat the bread with honey, but there is also another topping called panela which is derived from sugar cane. I prefer the honey, myself.
On Thursday, we packed three horses with pots, pans, watermelons, food and hammocks and headed to the river to relax. When we got there around 8am, we gathered firewood and started making soup which cooked slowly all day. Until then, people ate bread and watermelon, fished in the river, swam and bathed, played games, listened to music and caught up with family member’s home for the holiday.
I definitely missed my family a lot during this week, seeing all the smiling, laughing families together. But I am feeling more and more comfortable in SMT and have found people I consider friends to talk to about anything. I miss you all very much and talk about home considerably more than I should. Everyone just loves to hear about Texas… which they say, “casi es Mexico”(“it’s basically Mexico.”)
Follow the link to read Kim's other writings about happenings in the Ixcan