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In the Land of Perpetual Spring, by Lucia Munoz
Guatemalan U.S.-based activist Lucia Munoz accompanied UUSC staff on a recent trip to Guatemala.
Called the land of perpetual spring because of its wonderful climate, Guatemala is about as big as Ohio, and is home to 11.5 million people.
Land historically held and farmed cooperatively by indigenous peoples was gradually appropriated by agribusiness until 1952, when president Jacobo Arbenz passed legislation transferring control of the land back to the indigenous. Agribusiness worked with the CIA to kill Arbenz and install a CIA-backed government to help make the hemisphere safe for capitalism.
The abuse and marginalization of the poor and indigenous population of Guatemala continues with the empowerment of global corporations that control the government and placate the middle class with promise of employment and the western consumerist lifestyle. Meanwhile, the poor are increasingly excluded from the bounty.
My particular interest is on women's issues, and there is plenty of work to do in this area! As of August there have been already 331 women murdered; a stark reminder of how far women's issues have to go.
If I wanted to go back to live in Guatemala, where I was born, I could do hands-on help for women and girls there, but I've decided that it's more important to live here in my second home in the "belly of the beast" and try to make a difference to women in my country. I'm in the process of setting up a nonprofit organization to help fund efforts for women in Guatemala.
I visited Guatemala in late July as part of a weeklong fact-finding delegation of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. This delegation focused on the risks faced by human rights workers since the departure a year ago of the U.N. Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), the increasing dangers to women in what is being called "feminicide," and the efforts of the communities targeted for removal or massacred during construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam to gain reparations. The film, "Discovering Dominga," is about one such community called Rio Negro.
Miguel Darrah y Ortega, Ph.D., who is a former deputy director of the Peace Corps in Guatemala, hosted the delegation. He is also enrolled in Meadville Lombard Theological School.
Our delegation started in Antigua, Guatemala, the colonial capital city. There, we heard
about a dozen speakers telling of the situation there. The speakers shared experiences ranging from torture at the hands of american operatives to inhumane approaches to displacing people from their lands during filling of Chixoy reservoir. We heard about and visited UUSC-sponsored projects including Association for the Integral Development of Victims of Violence (ADIVIMA), Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), Promotion for Women’s Rights (PRODEM) and Civil Political Forum for Mayan Unity and Fraternity (EPUM).
In Guatemala City, we visited the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation and CALDH. We also visited the monuments to the memory of the victims of the massacres in Rabinal cemetery, erected by ADIVIMA. Later we met with Juan Manuel Jeronimo, president of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.
We heard from witnesses of the death and destruction of the people of Guatemala caused directly and indirectly by the CIA. We saw the exhumed bodies of children and adults massacred in the name of free market capitalism. We heard about the economic and cultural assault on the native populations.
Historically, Guatemala has been a culture grounded in spiritual and family values, but the economic and cultural dispair following the long civil war has given rise to a community where materialism and violence are supplanting traditional values. Globalism and CAFTA will change the economic picture so that Chapinos (Guatemalans) will need to work harder and harder to make ends meet.
The Guatemalan government made 11 agreements with the people in the peace accords of 1996 and most of these promises are not being met. With the departure of the United Nations in December 2004, it is up to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to apply pressure to the government to meet the accords.