Monday, March 26, 2012

Denuncian que violencia contra las mujeres prosigue en Guatemla

Activista guatemalteca dio charla en Toronto

Norma Herrera, coordinadora del programa No Violencia y Construcción de la Paz, de la Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas UNAMG, expuso la semana pasada en Toronto el tema: Violencia contra la Mujer y Feminicidio en Guatemala.

La charla tuvo lugar el pasado jueves 15 de marzo en la Universidad de York; como última actividad de la gira organizada por Rompiendo el Silencio de Nova Scotia, en donde desarrollo similar labor.

La violencia en contra de las mujeres en Guatemala se produjo durante el conflicto armado pero este flagelo se ha agudizado desde la firma de los acuerdos de paz debido a que las causas que dieran origen ha dicho enfrentamiento no solo permanecen sino que se han agudizado.

Ejemplo de lo anterior, según lo dijo la activista guatemalteca, son las 650 mujeres que en promedio fueron asesinadas anualmente en el ultimo lustro, además de la violencia sexual sufrida previamente.

En su exposición, Herrera se refirió a las herramientas utilizadas en la lucha contra el feminicidio las cuales han permitido hacer una vinculación entre las formas de violencia, en ese sentido y en el marco del conflicto armado se dio el Genocidio en contra de la población Maya. Sin embargo además de la tierra arrasada se produjo la violencia sexual en contra de niñas, jóvenes y mujeres adultas.

El informe de la Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico –CEH- registró 1.465 hechos de violencia sexual, de los cuales el 88% fue cometido contra mujeres indígenas y el 97% cometidos por los militares.

En los casos de genocidio llevados a los tribunales como los cometidos en Plan de Sánchez y Dos Erres no se incluyen los crímenes sexuales, los cuales se prevé presentar ante la CIDH con apoyo de la Universidad de York.

Las estrategias de UNAMG para enfrentar y prevenir la violencia se delinean en lo que han llamado Empoderamiento de las mujeres y Construcción de su Fuerza Social, lo que incluye: procesos formativos, de organización, cultural, acompañamiento psico-social y legal a través de otras organizaciones así como campañaspara enfrentar la impunidad, enfocando la violencia sexual contra las mujeres.

*Marco Antonio Castillo. Especial para CORREO Canadiense

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rios Mont will be tried for genocide

Doña Teresa

I met her in 2003 when she was giving her testimony to a social anthropologist, a psychologist and an Ixil-Spanish translator. Well under five - feet tall, she told the story of how she was gang-raped by soldiers of the Guatemalan army in her village just outside of the town of the Nebaj, El Quiche - the department where over two thirds of the massacres took place and the chosen region to demonstrate that yes, a systematic genocidal attack on un-armed populations took place.

I would see Doña Teresa (name changed) for the next several years through my time participating in the human rights accompaniment project, ACOGUATE, of which BTS is a long-standing and pivotal member. ACOGUATE has been accompanying the witnesses of the genocide cases since 2000 during their countless trips to give their testimony to the Attorney General's office in their local municipalities and their monthly and sometimes weekly trips to the capital to move forward with the endless administration of the genocide case. At every bi-annual gathering Doña Teresa was present. Even when there was no translation at the events she participated in, she listened intently and asked others to fill her in. Siempre presente en la lucha - always present in the struggle.

"You didn't kill the seed. We are rebellion" - slogan from the Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice, against Forgetting and Silence (H.I.J.O.S.)

In 2007, her eldest son became a member of the board of directors of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), the group of witnesses that Doña Teresa is a member of. The AJR is taking the 1982-1983 military high command to trial for the destruction of entire communities, the murder of families, the torture - including rape - of children and women and other crimes against humanity that they witnessed, lived through and survived.

Many sons and daughters of the community members who lived through the height of the Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt and Mejia Victores regimes often do not believe the stories of the violence. They are taught the ‘official history’ in public schools that states that violence did not occur against civil populations and that the army was merely protecting the Guatemalan nation from the threat of communist insurgents.

I remember being amazed that Doña Teresa, who was always so quiet, was indeed educating her children about the past, refusing to remain silent. She did this in ways that I had not yet learned and no doubt cannot fully understand because of language, cultural and geographical barriers and because we have lived different pasts. The important and courageous work of women such as Doña Teresa, which often goes undocumented and unrecognized, has played an important part in what happened yesterday, on January 26th, 2012.

Rios Montt will be tried for genocide

Some people said this day would never come. That justice for the crimes of the past - crimes against humanity - would never be served. That impunity, corruption and lack of political will would prevent the national genocide case against Efrain Rios Montt and his high military command from moving forward. Political analysts and experts would often tell us in their presentations on the socio-political context that the probability of Rios Montt sitting across a court room from the members of the AJR was next to nil. I always felt conflicted and confused when these 'experts' would tell us this because I would think of the ongoing commitment of the AJR members who continue to struggle daily despite the tremendous obstacles they face. I would think about how the first members of the board of directors of the AJR had aged and grown tired but yet never failed to speak out, to come to meetings, unless they were too sick to travel or were already overcommitted with family and community responsibilities. I would wonder how someone could say that justice was not possible when countless AJR members from some of the most marginalized families would continue to take great risks in their lives to travel to the capital, far from their communities and families, to hear the latest information on the progress of the genocide cases.

Following these conversations with experts, I would often ask various people from the AJR what their take on the situation was. And their response was always - ALWAYS the same: they would talk about the importance of talking about the past. They would highlight the necessity of continuing the struggle for justice. And they would say some variation of the following: "Pues si, vamos a seguir luchando hasta que haya justicia. O vamos a morir intentando." – “Well, yes. We are going to continue to struggle until justice is served. Or we will die trying."

So yesterday, when I arrived at the steps leading up to the Guatemalan court house and saw the crowd of mostly indigenous community members from the AJR waiting for the historic declaration of Rios Montt, I was reminded of the importance of holding on to hope and the possibility for change.

Rios Montt chose to remain silent instead of giving his formal declaration. But this did not matter. In her concluding remarks, Patricia Flores, the presiding judge, outlined the “horrendous” atrocities that took place under the clear knowledge and chain of command of Efrain Rios Montt. She made it clear that as official head of the army, it was highly probable that he knew that these massacres, rapes and forced disappearances were taking place and indeed, may have ordered them. She argued that he must have known about and authorized the military plans designed to partially destroy the Ixil population. And in that tiny court room, with the AJR on the other side awaiting his formal declaration, Rios Montt had nothing to say. He chose to evoke his right to silence. But the silence had already been broken.

At 8pm, the courageous judge concluded that there was enough convincing evidence to link Efrain Rios Montt to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and that he would be placed under house arrest until the first hearings. She stated that he will not be allowed to communicate with the other high military officials linked to his case and will have to sign in with the court every day to confirm that he has not tried to flee. He will have police surveillance around his home 24 hours a day.

The crowd outside the courtroom, which had dwindled as community members had to return in buses to their distant communities, began to fill up again as members of various human rights and social justice groups flooded in, after hearing the news on the radio and television. The air was jubilant and warm as AJR members who have been in this struggle for 30 years called their families in five different regions of the country and their supporters who have worked along-side them embraced and cried and cheered. People have been working so hard these past twelve years so tears of exhaustion, happiness and residual sadness for their memory of what they lost and what they have survived, flooded the area.

I didn't believe the judge’s decision until I looked over at Doña Teresa. She was smiling the biggest smile I had ever seen - without covering her mouth with her hand or her shawl. I watched her talk with her fellow community members and share in the joy and triumph of the historic moment. Don Jose (name changed) hugged me and said "thank you for all the accompaniment these past years" while Don Miguel (name changed) said, "Ya estuvo. Lo logramos! Ahora, le toca Otto Perez Molina – There you have it. We did it! Now, it’s Otto Perez Molina’s turn." Perez Molina is the new president of Guatemala with a well-known and documented military track record, including his time in the Ixil region and his alleged participation in forced disappearances and massacres.

So the struggle does not end with this victory. Rios Montt's lawyers will no doubt continue with the same tactics that they have used over the past twelve years to stall future hearings. They will no doubt file several court injunctions that will keep him out of the courts and in the confines of his private home-turned jail cell. As complicated as the concept of 'justice' is, it is a necessary step for countless communities to continue to heal and to work toward peace.

Within just under two weeks of taking power, the new Perez Molina government has already increased military presence throughout the country and rejoined police and military personnel in combined patrols that roam the streets. In his inaugural speech, he made it clear that his administration was more interested in moving forward into the global economy than confronting the past.

These next four years will be important for us, as BTS members, to keep our eyes on Guatemala. The long-term relationships that we have built and that we continue to develop are essential to garnering a better understanding of what it means to struggle and to be in solidarity. No expert can teach us that. We have to learn through believing and through hoping. Through daring to be close to the pain, the anger, the hope and the love.

In solidarity,

Caren Weisbart

Photos: All photos taken by Caren Weisbart on Jan. 26, 2012 in front of the Corte de Justicia in Guatemala City, Guatemala

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guatemala: Reconciliation or retrenchment?

Springfield, Massachusetts - Fifteen years after ending its brutal internal conflict, Guatemala is beset by gang violence, drug trafficking, an intolerable crime rate and near complete impunity for the atrocities committed during the war. Retired army general Otto Perez Molina, elected on an "iron fist" platform by Guatemalans weary of unrelenting violence, will take office on January 14. Despite his victory, questions remain unanswered both about his past and about the methods he will use to suppress the country's escalating disorder.

The 1999 United Nations Truth Commission report condemned the US role in Guatemala's dirty war. Bill Clinton subsequently expressed regret for the US government's unconditional support for successive military regimes in Guatemala, which contributed to the brutal slaughter of more than 200,000 unarmed civilians, the vast majority of whom were indigenous Mayans. Clinton declared that US support for "forces or intelligence units which engaged in violent and widespread repression … was wrong", and further vowed that "the United States must not repeat that mistake. We must, and we will, instead continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala".

President Obama made a congratulatory call to Perez Molina. According to the White House, the men discussed "the shared responsibility for enhancing citizen security in Guatemala and underscored the importance of institutional reforms, respect for human rights, and inclusive economic growth in advancing the well-being of all Guatemalans". Given the sordid US history of meddling in Guatemala, the US must be vigilant in ensuring that these commitments are honoured.

In deciding how closely to embrace the new president of Guatemala, the US should be mindful of credible allegations that Perez Molina committed war crimes. Evidence demonstrates that Perez Molina was a military commander in the Ixil Triangle during the period in which the UN found that the army had committed genocide, and 70-90 per cent of the villages in that region were razed.

A particularly damning piece of evidence is a videotape of Allan Nairn interviewing General Tito, said to be Perez Molina's nom de guerre, in which he stands over the battered bodies of four insurgents. Perez Molina had ascended to the head of the military intelligence division when Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, husband of US lawyer Jennifer Harbury, disappeared in 1992. Harbury's tenacious and gutsy campaign for truth and justice later revealed that Bamaca was captured, detained and tortured by military intelligence for more than two years, after which he was extra-judicially assassinated. (cont'd...)

Read full article on

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

International Civil Society Organizations Call for Justice for the Murder of Adolfo Ich Chaman

Guatemala City, Guatemala – Tuesday, December 13, 2011 – 27 organizations and networks from Europe and North America have signed on to a letter calling on the Guatemalan government to fully investigate the murder of Adolfo Ich Chaman in El Estor, Guatemala. He was reportedly killed on September 27, 2009 by private security employed by Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN).

The organizations, based in numerous countries including Canada, USA, Austria and France, also specifically ask that the Guatemalan government carry out the arrest warrant for Mynor Padilla Gonzales, who reportedly shot Adolfo Ich Chaman in the neck. The warrant was issued shortly after the murder but no action has been taken. Earlier this year, company officials confirmed that Mr. Padilla Gonzales continued to be on paid leave from his work as head of security for CGN. At the time of the incident, CGN was a subsidiary of the Canadian company HudBay Minerals Inc., which sold its interest in the Fenix Project in September 2011 to Russian-owned Solway Investment Group.

Adolfo Ich Chaman was a respected Maya Q'eqchi' community leader and an open critic of human rights violations and environmental damage caused by corporate mining activities in his community particularly in relation to the Fenix mining project. Jackie McVicar, of the Canadian-based Breaking the Silence Network, noted, "We are very concerned with the lack of advancement in this case. It’s been two years since Adolfo Ich was killed, and there has been no justice for his murder."

The open letter asking for a criminal investigation in Guatemala follows a lawsuit that was launched last year in Canadian courts by Mr. Ich Chaman’s widow, Angelica Choc, against HudBay Minerals for the murder of her husband. In December 2010, Ms. Choc announced that she is suing Hudbay Minerals and its subsidiaries in Canadian courts to seek reparations for the death of her husband.

The organizations who have signed on to this letter express solidarity and concern for the safety of the family of Mr. Adolfo Ich Chaman. They also express solidarity with the Maya Q'eqchi' community of El Estor and all those human rights defenders who defend their land, land rights, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Hi Friends! We are working to update and beautify our blog which we hope will be more user friendly and full of information about our work in Guatemala and the Maritimes. We are also looking for original pieces - articles, reflections, photos, photo-essays, etc. If you are interested in posting something, please be in touch!

Happy Holidays to you all! May the struggle for justice and peace guide you in 2012!

Breaking the Silence

Friday, November 11, 2011


Dear Breaking the Silence Friends,

We thank you for your support and once again seek your aid in order to nurture and deepen Breaking the Silence’s solidarity work with Guatemala. As you know, BTS has been working with Guatemalan partners and friends for 20 years. In this time of economic imbalance and poverty, more than ever before we want to ensure that our critical support is maintained. In this, the work of the BTS Coordinators in the Maritimes and Guatemala is critical! We are seeking to raise $200,000 over the next three years to support the work of Jackie McVicar in Guatemala and Wyanne Sandler in the Maritimes.

Over the past 20 years, BTS has:
  • Developed lasting relationships with our Guatemalan grassroots partners.
  • Participated in human rights accompaniment. BTS continues to strongly support human rights accompaniment in Guatemala. Accompaniment training will be held in June 2011. We are pleased to have three accompaniers in Guatemala at the present time, with more departing soon.
  • Hosted more than 60 Guatemalan visitors/speaking tours in Canada.
  • Held numerous public education events throughout the Maritime.
  • Sent 18 BTS delegations and 60 interns to Guatemala.
  • Acted on and responded to numerous Urgent Actions affecting partners and related organizations in Guatemala.
  • Supported the development of Breaking the Silence Coffee in partnership with the CCDA and Just Us! Coffee (over 30,000 lbs. of coffee over 8 years).
  • Carried out advocacy and lobbying in Canada around concerns of Guatemalan communities and organizations, including mining, maquilas and free trade.
BTS members talk about why our work is important:

· As a health care worker in an emergency department, I use values I learned in Guatemala every day. Justice and injustice in Guatemala doesn't happen randomly; health inequalities in Canada don't happen randomly.—Aaron Bates

· Being involved with Breaking the Silence is losing your sense of ego. This is a generational struggle, this is hundreds of years. In BTS's work, the small things quickly fit into the big picture.—Jeff Carolin

· Being with people in a transformative journey changes us. BTS has created a space where we can be together and help each other in political action & resistance, in love & creativity, in our deepening relationships with friends in Guatemala & here.—Wyanne Sandler

BTS needs ongoing support:
Our work depends on the time and energy of hundreds of BTS volunteers. Over the years, the volume and scope of BTS’s work has greatly increased. To continue this incredibly effective work, our many volunteer efforts require the support of our Coordinators in the Maritimes and in Guatemala. With such a large network of volunteer support, the organization and direction our Coordinators provide is invaluable in maintaining our strong, grounded and energetic initiatives.

How you can contribute? Over the next three years, we need to raise $200,000 to provide decent, living wages to our Coordinators and to support our ongoing work. Your charitable donation (along with grants we are seeking from organizations, churches, unions, and foundations) will help ensure the continuation of BTS solidarity work in the coming years.

We want to thank our institutional donors who have given us significant funding in 2010-11, the United Church of Canada, the Congregation of Notre Dame, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Just Us! Coffee Roasters. We deeply appreciate this vote of confidence. We also encourage you to strongly support Breaking the Silence coffee, as well as all Just Us! products.

Whether you are a past delegation member, intern, accompanier or Breaking the Silence Network friend, we ask that you consider an ongoing pledge or a one-time donation. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We would also like to ask you to consider increasing your monthly or yearly donation. We know that you, as BTS members and friends, vary in your ability to give. We want to assure you that we greatly appreciate both large and small donations and pledges. Such a monthly pledge might, for example, be the equivalent to a few cups of coffee (Breaking the Silence coffee, of course!)

Your donation, however big or small, will help the BTS network to respond to urgent human rights and development challenges alongside our Guatemalan partners. Your gift will help to ensure that our work—firmly grounded in principles of solidarity and social justice—will continue to be effective and sustainable for years to come. Please fill out the accompanying donation form today. Your gift is eligible for a charitable tax receipt. Donations made in the name of a friend or family member also make a great gift! If you do not feel comfortable mailing the donation form, please call 1-800-218-2220 with your credit card information stating that you are pledging to the BTS Coordinators Fund.

In friendship,

BTS Fundraising Committee:

Kathryn Anderson, Marie Claire Brisbois, Sheena Cameron, Janelle Frail, Bonnie Pero, Moira Peters, Jackie Race

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*cheque: For monthly donations, please include a voided cheque OR for one-time donations, please make cheques payable to Tatamagouche Centre with BTS Staffing Campaign on the memo line.

*cheques are preferable as we receive a greater portion of the donation.

Online donations can be made at www.tatcentre/donate (please write: “BTS Staffing Campaign” in comments section of donation page)

Donations to Breaking the Silence are charitable and you will receive a tax receipt at the end of the year.

Please mail this donation form to:
Tatamagouche Centre
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Your donation will support the work of Breaking the Silence.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Electing for Forgetting the Past - Guatemalan Elections 2011

As many of you know, the final round of the elections in Guatemala took place on
November 6, 2011. Tension was high leading up to this date given that the two
contenders, Manuel Baldizon and Otto Perez Molina, represent right-wing interests the former calling for the return of the death penalty. In the case of Perez Molina, he is well-known for his leadership in the Guatemalan intelligence branch of the army during the mid 90s and was on the CIA payroll. Before this, during the height of the violence 1982-1983), he operated the military base in Nebaj, Quiche. There are several allegations against him regarding the detainment, torture and disappearance of several people, some of whom Breaking the Silence, through their work with the Coordination of International Accompaniment in Guatemala (ACOGUATE) have accompanied over the past several years as part of the genocide cases. Also, at the beginning of this year, a case was filed against him regarding the illegal detainment, torture, disappearance and murder of Efrain Bámaca, a guerilla commander whose disappearance and murder remains in impunity.

Two hours after the polls closed throughout the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Suprema Electoral – TSE) called the vote in favour of former General Otto Perez Molina with 56% of the votes. It is important to note that voter turn out was under 50%. In other words, 50% of registered voters (there are 7,000,000 registered voters in Guatemala from a total national population of 14,000,000) or just over 3,000,000 people voted. To put it in a different way, 17% of the total population of Guatemala voted. Voter turn out in the second round is often much lower given the costs of travelling to voting centres and the fact that local mayors and congress are already elected during the first round. Despite the fact that since the previous elections, efforts have been made by the TSE to decentralize voting centres so that people who live in villages do not have to travel
long distances to vote, the recent rains that once again washed out roads and caused large-scale structural damage also destroyed many schools and community centres originally slated to be used as voting centres. As a result, many people had to travel into the larger municipal centres in order to cast their vote.

The first round of votes held on September 11thwere characterized by high levels of
violence, intimidation and allegations of fraud at the local, municipal level. As a result, five municipalities had to re-initiate their vote for mayor during the second round. According to the official press, this repetition was carried out with measured calmness throughout the five regions. I spoke with people in San Lucas Toliman where our partners, the Comite Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) are located and they said things were fairly calm. Partido Patriota, the party of Otto Perez Molina, won the mayoral vote there which was what the agitators of the previous round wanted.

Manuel Baldizon´s party, Lider, won in the majority of departments with Partido Patriota winning only 7 highly populated departments including the department of Guatemala. It will be important to watch what happens in the departments where Lider won over the next couple of months although some analysts argue that the support for Lider would have been less if the party was up against the National Unity for Hope (Unidad Nacional de Esperanza - UNE) which currently holds the presidency under Alvaro Colom, as opposed to Partido Patriota. Also, it is interesting to note that Baldizon did not give his official speech on election night. Normally, both candidates give their final speeches following the declaration of the winner of the elections. Balidzon cast his vote in the northern department of Peten and indicated that he was going to return to the capital to wait for the
results - which he never did. According to the pattern in Guatemala, the candidate who comes in second in the elections is often elected president four years later so this will not be the last we see of right-wing candidate Baldizon.

One of the municipalities where the municipal elections were repeated was Chinique,
Quiche. As a TV reporter was coming back from the town after covering the elections,
he arrived in Santa Cruz del Quiche, the site of the main military barracks of the Quiche region, an area where over two thirds of the massacres took place during the violence. At 5am, he and his camera man were attacked by body guards of Congressman Mario Rivera originally from Rios Montt´s political party, the Guatemalan Republican Front (Frente Republicano Guatemalteco – FRG and currently with UNE. The recent news coverage about this attack is more focused on his recuperation and the fact that his wounds were not serious enough to file charges against the body guards than questions about the motives behind the attack or Mario Rivera´s involvement.

In terms of the capital city, there was a notable increase in ‘security’ forces in the form of the police and army presence. The ‘combined forces’ (police and military ‘fuerzas combinadas’) were peppered throughout the capital on the days leading up to the elections and especially on election day. Reports from friends of BTS who travelled around the city, indicated that the streets were ominously quiet.

During its elections coverage, TV news reiterated that the TSE was extremely efficient taking less than two hours to count the majority of the votes. They failed to mention or even allude to the plethora of complaints that were emitted following the first round where it took an entire week to post finalized figures. It is clear that the media is painting a picture of organized, ‘democratic’ Guatemala with their new peace president who signed the peace accords in 1996. They have referred to him as ‘el presidente de la paz’ (the peace president); however, they continue to refer to him as General Perez Molina as opposed to ‘President Elect’ which is the typical way of addressing someone after they have been elected president and before they officially take office. Nonetheless, today, two days after the elections, Perez Molina is also being referred to in local newspapers as President Elect.

Meanwhile, current president Alvaro Colom, who will be carrying out government
transition meetings with Otto Perez Molina over the next few weeks, just announced in an interview in the news daily El Periodico that he will continue to support his political party, UNE, but will be turning his attention to work on ‘regional security’ issues. Following these elections, the UNE has lost significant political control over important regions where resource extraction, hydroelectric, African palm and other lucrative commercial industries are highly contested and, profitable.

For those who can speak Spanish, there is an excellent website that will no doubt be coming out with several analytical essays from about the elections. Authors to look out for include: Gustavo Porras, Marielos Monzon, Sandino Asturias, Claudia Samayoa (who visited BTS at the 2011 AGM) among others.