Over the course of our nearly two weeks in Guatemala, the strength and the survival of the people was most evident. It did not matter whether the people we met were survivors of current mining struggles or survivors of the internal armed conflict and genocide. Through our readings in-class prior to the field section, one of the recurring themes was the personal aspect of the literature. Whether it was through Lovell’s work, the REHMI Report or any other number of articles provide recurring themes of personal aspect of conflict. We read about the stories of Beatriz and Genaro in Dr. Lovell’s book. These stories are both incredibly personal and yet provide academic reference for the field school. For a perspective of healing in Guatemala, the REHMI report is one on the most influential documents to come out of the recovery and memory process. Bishop Gerardi led the creation of a project that is both intensely personal and overarching of the themes throughout the internal armed conflict. Each of these documents and readings expresses the strength of the Guatemalan people in the face of so much tragedy and struggle. In this photo essay I hope to express, through photos, the strength of some of the people we met.
San Jose Del Golfo
With the development of Yoli’s situation since our departure from San Jose del Golfo, the strength of her survival, and that of the community is even more evident. Our arrival at the community blockade coincided with the arrival of the Metropolitan Archbishop. The large group of people there to celebrate the Archbishop, ended up with only a short visit from him, and an extended one from us. The community leaders, as well as Graham Russell, Emilie Smith and Dr. Nolin all spoke in turn of the need for support and solidarity. This was our first glimpse of the daily struggle of Guatemalans, and it provided an incredible bit of insight to the first-timers of our group.
Yoli, pictured here, was ambushed and shot three weeks after we visited her in San Jose del Golfo.
Milton is a member of the blockading community, and formerly lived in Canada. He is one of the community leaders heading the struggle against the mining company.
Of all the places in Guatemala, UNBC and Rights Action have had one of longest standing relationships with Rio Negro. Having suffered some of the worst massacres in the Rabinal region during the genocide, the survivors and community leaders have struggled, and continue to struggle for their rights. After hiking for over three hours to the massacre site at Pacoxom, we sat down with Sebastian to discuss the history of the community as well as his personal history. We sat there and listened to Sebastian as he told us of losing his family at Pacoxom, and hiding in the hills for two years, and the torture he suffered. Sebastian, along with Jesus Tecu Osorio, and Carlos Chen are now the faces of Rio Negro. Respectively, they represent the rebuilding of the community, the fight for justice for the massacres, and the reparations for the destruction caused by the Chixoy Dam.
Sebastian was sitting here at Pacoxom telling us about his personal story and that of his community. I caught him here in a moment of resigned silence, as Graham Russell translated. For someone who has suffered so much loss, he continues to be a source of inspiration as a community leader, father and husband. He exemplifies the saying that life goes on.
Cubertino is one of the survivors of the original community of Rio Negro. He, along with Sebastian, headed the resettlement at the current community and he continues to provide leadership in the community.
The final place of survival to be mentioned in photo essay is Lote Ocho. Located in the mountains high above El Estor, the community has suffered forced evictions and gang rapes at the hands of internationally-owned mining companies. The primary issue to be featured in this essay is that of the 11 women from the village who were gang raped in 2007. We met with them twice. The first time a more formal meeting to discuss the current state of their case which is working its way through the Canadian courts. In the second meeting, we hiked into the current village of Lote Ocho to meet with the whole community, and show our support and solidarity with the women and their families. The striking part of the community is that life goes on. There were numerous small children and babies who have been born since the rapes. Most notably, the men of that community support their women as most would never be able to. The strength of character and the strength of community was so astounding.
Here, she is standing among the supports of her former home. The community has since resettled an hour’s walk from the road. This offers a sense of protection and warning should any threats occur.
Some of the life that continues in the face of struggle in Lote Ocho. Here is one of the newer additions getting a lift to the village.
This is life in Lote Ocho. The family continues. The men support the women, and new life is constant. The hardships faced by the community continue, but so does life.
This man, Emilio, told us of the struggles of the community. He referred to the rapes, the evictions, the death of Adolfp Ich, and, here, he holds tear gas used against the community during the evictions. He shed tears as he told us of ‘la lucha’ (the struggle).
Guatemala is a remarkable place for many reasons. It has suffered greatly but its people still attempt to overcome the daily struggles. When the genocide ended, the natural resources struggle began. In many ways, it is not merely about struggle but survival. The people we met, their faces, their ability to personify these issues will continue to resound with me.
“Even remembering this makes you want to cry. You really feel what the people felt” (REHMI, 1999, xxxi).
For furthering reading on these issues, or references please refer to the following:
Rights Action NGO
Dr. George Lovell’s The Beauty that Hurts
The Recovery of Historical Memory Project (REHMI)