Follow our blog during the 2016 BTS delegation and hear updates from participants during their two weeks in Guatemala.
Sunday, May 1
As we arrived to Guatemala I felt a warm embrace. The love and energy that filled the air as people waited to see their loved ones get off a plane was beautiful. I was welcomed in with open arms; every person I have met is extremely friendly and full of smiles. Guatemala City is a busy place full of colour and character.
On our first full day we shared a delicious meal with many fresh fruits, we traveled out into the city to participate in some of the May Day celebrations that were taking place. The streets were full of vibrant people participating in the march. The park was full, children were signing and people were dancing, the energy in the air was beautiful and inspiring. I may not have been able to understand all of the speeches that were being shared, but you could really sense the passion in the voices of everyone around.
This was my first time travelling to Guatemala, in the afternoon we spent a few hours travelling. We got to see the country side and all of its beauty. There was a lot to take in, from the mountains to the valleys; this was truly and amazing experience. I can only imagine the how the rest of our journey will be, the people we will meet and the things we will see.
Monday, May 2
Our journey today was heavy on the heart and full of rich information. First, we began by travelling to a mining community where we met with a women’s organization who spoke passionately about their community and what negative affects that the Gold Corp mining cooperation has within it.
They were kind in accompanying us in the microbus and were able to share a lot of information about the damages to the land and fertility of the mountain soil. It was shocking to see how houses have been cracked in two by the mining corporation and what is taking place in terms of damage to the water supply.
The comparison of the land and mountain range in this particular area as opposed to others that we have seen was quite dissimilar. The mine has turned the mountains into almost desert like terrain instead of the beautiful forests and crops that once grew on them. It is sad to see the independence and hope being stripped away from the communities affected by the mining industry. Instead of being able to produce their own crops, contamination has cause a need to resort to other means of providing for their families.
Tuesday, May 3
“The people united can never be defeated” rang in my ears so many times this morning as we heard CEIBA and members of the Assembly of the Department of Huehuetanango (ADH) speak about their experiences defending their territory and life. They are organizing and mobilizing communities in the Department of Huehuetanango, and in other areas of Guatemala, for self-determination and in resistance to the intrusion and violence perpetrated against them and their land by transnational corporations for mining and hydroelectric projects. The strength, courage and determination of these people continues to inspire me and demonstrates the power of a people united.
The unity of communities and people seems to be one of the biggest threats to neoliberalism and neocolonialism, which is why divide and conquer tactics are yet again being employed by theGuatemalan government and transnational corporations. When communities are divided from within it becomes easier for them take advantage to extract resources and manipulate individuals. We learned that recently, the government is resurrecting the ex-civil patrols, which existed as a form of suppression within communities during the internal armed conflict, creating suspicion between neighbors. By threatening jail time, ex-civil patrols are influenced to intimidate members of ADH who are in defense of the land in order to facilitate the projects of transnational corporations. Once again, we see that access to land and resources is at the heart of this struggle.
However, the community consultations that ADH has been organizing over the last ten years has seen approximately 500,000 people participate and have served to reweave the social fabric of indigenous communities that was destroyed during the internal armed conflict, creating a reunification of communities. This participation and the self-determination of communities in the Huehuetanango area that members of ADH spoke about inspires great hope. They are redefining and reconstituting an understanding of development that reconnects people to Mother Earth and rejects an unsustainable way of life.
Key within this process has been the importance of relationships, within communities, with the land and with those in solidarity with people defending their territory through accompaniment, of which BTS plays a significant role. This reminds us of the interconnectness of us all and that we each have a role and responsibility to play to create unity for the ongoing struggle for justice.
Thursday, May 4
CCDA, San Lucas Toliman
The WHAT: Today we received a presentation at the CCDA’s offices and later a tour of their mixed system, biofabrica, and corn seed storing projects. In the evening, we had the opportunity to participate in a Mayan ceremony.
The SO WHAT: A question that’s been floating around my head a lot lately has been, “Why does it matter – are we really making a difference?” but visiting the CCDA today gave me a lot of hope. Hope not only for Guatemala, but for the future of our planet. It’s been clear during other visits we’ve made on the delegation so far that a huge chasm has opened up between us and Mother Earth, but the CCDA’s work reinvigorated my sense of hope. They incorporate so much care and consciousness into everything they do. It was hard not to hear about this and all of the wonderful work they’ve been able to do and not feel hopeful. From empowering and helping communities to organize themselves, to their community development projects (that actually take into account the community), to fighting for access to land, to combating power imbalances that exist in the country, the CCDA’s many members remain a united front in the struggle that I feel we as BTS members are now and have been a part of.
Not only did our group have an empowering morning as we heard and saw some of the CCDA’s work, but we also had a reverent evening of reconnection as we stood around a fire together participating in a Mayan ceremony. For me, this ceremony was able to make the chasm between us and Mother Earth seem a bit smaller, and lightened the heaviness of my heart. As I watched the fire consume the offering that was made I was reminded that all things have the potential to be good, even consumption in a world where capitalism and the divide and conquer ideology reign.
The NOW WHAT: It will be important for us to take the new knowledge that we possess and share it with others. At the beginning of the CCDA’s presentation, they used the Mayan phrase Ut’z Kaslema’l which means living well. As a common people sharing a common home, I think it’s time we start living well and reconnecting both with each other and with Mother Earth.
Friday, May 6
May 6th, 2016
We had stayed the night at our host families. Our hosts that night were Sandra and Damien who were blessed to have 4 beautiful children, 3 girls and a boy. It was great getting to know them and sharing some gifts, stories and photos with them. We started off that day we had a nice breakfast consisting of chicken and rice with a tasty sauce.
We got picked up by the van driven by our trusted driver Martine and made our way to Labor de Falla school where we met with the teachers and students and were treated to some great performances by the elementary students. They performed dances, had costumes, sang songs, etc. We too did our performance consisting of the Hooky Pooky, Saint Ann’s Reel with some dancing and Kayliegh doing some gymnastics moves.
We were treated to a lovely lunch with the teachers and also played some basketball with the students. We then packed up and headed to Antigua. There we checked into our rooms, did a reflection and had some free time. Some toured around, some rested and still others attended the local church for mass. Later that evening we met up for supper at the Cactus restaurant and lounge. There we were treated to some live music and some delicious food. From there we went to another spot where a band was playing some live salsa music. It was indeed another busy but fun day.
Monday, May 9
New Hope Foundation and Education Centre
We were welcomed by Gloria, who is in her first year as Director of the New Hope Education Centre. In her presentation we learned that the Centre is defined by their work in agriculture and the values of Mayan Achi culture. We learned that there are 80 students in the basic program of Grades 7-9 and 43 in the diversified program which are the older youth. (35% are female students). She took us on a tour of the Education Centre : the infirmary where we met Sister Martha who told us lots about the medicinal gardens; large gardens where the students were preparing to plant the corn; two female students told us about the amarynth crop that was soon ready to harvest; we toured the cattle and hens.
The school has expanded in the past years and now includes dorms for the boys and girls who live so far away. They have dreams to expand to have programs to help the elderly, single women and orphans. But seeing this centre today makes me really believe that dreams do come true.
The visit ended with a presentation from the students reciting poems about Mother’s Day and Mother Earth. The BTS delegation sang Go Now in Peace, danced to St. Anne’s Reel played by Marcel on his harmonica. We presented the school with a new soccer ball. The students wanted to sing us a few songs after they were encouraged by our presentation. It was great fun being together and a little sadness leaving.
Monday, May 9
It is really hard to summarize our bloody history and my part of this story. When we were walking in the cemetery and visiting the various monuments, it was profound to see that there was a place to visit and honour our loved ones. Before, they lay in clandestine graves, which for Mayans creates so much pain; for us, it is so important to have a place to connect our spirits with those we have lost. Now, we can bring the marimba, candles, and flowers to their graves to celebrate life and so that our spirits can come together once again.
Jesus Tecu’s explainations throughout our visit were so gentle. He has such a kind and humble spirit, which I respect and Jesus’ struggle for justice is so meaningful and powerful. As a survivor of these massacres, I know that it isn’t easy to talk about it but, at the same time, the sharing of these stories is so important so that future generations never experience something like this. It is important that younger generations know what truly happened in our communities. Nunca mas.
It was also hard to hear about the PACs (Civil Defense Patrols) from the community of Pichec, Rabinal and how the army tricked innocent people. Members of the community heard gunshots and when they went to report them at the military base, they were accused of being guerillas which led to their torture, being marched around the town of Rabinal, and used to instill fear into the population. They were used as an example of what would happen if the army found out that people were guerillas. My uncles were victims of this massacre and their names are listed on the monument we visited in Rabinal.
We talk a lot about the various massacres and clandestine cemeteries, but how many people here are still looking for their family members? This was the story of my mom. Until her death, she searched for my two disappeared brothers, during which she was beaten, jailed, and probably sexually abused. Through all of those years (1981-99) her hope remained strong. I saw great courage in her as well when I accompanied her on many occasions. She always went to military bases without fear in search of my brothers, in search of her sons. Rest in peace, Doῆa Pedrina Quisque Ic. Even though you never found your sons on this earth, you are now reunited with them.
Just as we celebrate Mothers’ Day in Canada, we celebrate it in Guatemala every year on May 10th to celebrate our courageous and brave mothers, like my mom.
Tuesday, May 10
Pilgrimage to Rio Negro
What if you lived in a peaceful village on a beautiful river that provided all that you needed – fish to eat and excellent growing conditions on rich bottom land?
What if the government said we’re going to take your land to give to a large European Corporation to build a dam to provide electricity to large industry?
Would you be upset? Would you resist?
The people of Rio Negro did resist and were massacred for their resistance as part of the genocide against the indigenous Mayan people. This massacre was carried out by a combined force of Guatemalan Army and Civil Patrol. The Civil Patrol were actually neighbours forced to do the dirty work of the government. First the men were murdered as they were accused of supporting the rebels during the civil war. Then 70 women and 107 children of Rio Negro were marched into the mountain high above the village and were humiliated, tortured, raped and murdered in the most horrific manner imaginable.
I first visited the site of the massacre 10 years ago and was left with a sickening memory of man’s dark and godless side. This took place on March 13, 1982. The pilgrimage today was still emotionally difficult but a bit more positive as some families have returned to their homeland and are practicing their Mayan culture in their ancestral home. During the civil war between 250,000 and 300,000 Guatemalan citizens were killed, the majority of whom were indigenous Maya. News of the Guatemalan Civil War was virtually non existent in Canada.