Friday, June 27, 2008

Human Rights Accompaniment Report: Simon Granovsky-Larsen

Originally Posted on September 2007

CCDA Update
Simon Granovsky-Larsen, short term accompanier for CCDA (leading up to elections 2007)

Dear Breaking the Silence friends,

I am writing with a few pieces of news from the Comite Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) in San Lucas Toliman, where I have spent the last three weeks as a short-term accompanier during the last stretch of the elections period. Apologies for the lengthy letter…I tried to keep it short, but there is so much to say! Below, find information on: responses to your urgent action letters, the status of threats and attacks against the CCDA, the local elections, the death squad in San Lucas, Hurricane Felix, good news on coffee exports, and Leocadio's next visit to Canada.

Many of you will have heard about the recent threats against Leocadio Juracan and the CCDA, as well as the attack against Amilcar Calel in July. Before explaining a little about the status of threats and violence at the moment, I want to pass on a huge Thank You! from Leocadio, Amilcar, and everyone at the CCDA for the letters and phone calls that many of you sent as urgent actions and in solidarity. In a very encouraging example of the effectiveness of urgent action responses, Ambassador Kenneth Cook of the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala contacted Leocadio for a meeting last week. The ambassador and Leocadio had an hour-long one-on-one talk, discussing the security situation that members of the CCDA face, and the ambassador showed that he has been following the situation closely, bringing up specific instances concerning the CCDA and BTS. So please do keep writing urgent action letters to the ambassador when there is need; he has shown us that they do not go unread. I think that the best thing that came out of the meeting is that the CCDA now has a formal institutional tie with the Canadian embassy that they can draw on in the future.

Over the summer, BTS received urgent actions from the CCDA regarding threats against Leocadio and the beating of Amilcar Calel. Amilcar has thankfully not been subjected to further threats or attacks, but his long-standing health problems have gotten worse since the attack. For their part, Leocadio and the CCDA havent received any more threats, but the general situation remains tense surrounding the CCDA, their ANN political participation, and "social cleansing" in San Lucas.

It turns out that the five murders that the CCDA reported earlier this summer (three in one community, two in another, within weeks of each other) do not appear to be linked to the CCDA's work. In one instance, two men were killed on a CCDA-affiliated finca, but they were also activists with the GANA political party, and Leocadio believes they were killed in that context (in other words, political murders but not related to the CCDA or ANN). In the other case, the three people killed were nephews of a man the CCDA has employed as a chauffer for nearly two years but were not themselves affiliated with the CCDA.

In the 2007 election campaign, which will come to an end soon with the vote on September 9, the CCDA has been supporting the Alianza Nueva Nacion (ANN), a left-wing political party running the former commander of Guatemalan guerrilla forces as its presidential candidate. Marcelo of the CCDA is also running for Congress with the ANN in Solola, and Leocadio is a member of the national party executive committee, so the CCDA is "bien metido." Here in San Lucas, the ANN has gained major ground in the race for the next mayor and seems to be a sure-shot for first place. (This is VERY exciting to watch, especially having been here four years ago when the ANN counted with very little local support.) Until now, the main concern has been with fraud, particularly with vote-buying by the FRG (a campaign which we seem to have debunked with multiple denunciations to election observers and the Guatemalan media!). While there have been no threats against the ANN, the party and the CCDA are on alert for potential violence in the period leading up to Sunday's vote or during the vote counting that night. If anything does happen, I will definitely write as soon as I can, but my gut feeling is that things will go smoothly on Sunday, at least as far as security is concerned.

The third area of threat that the CCDA faces at the moment comes in the form of the "social cleansing" armed group that formed in San Lucas and Santiago Atitlan over the last few years. A group of about 30 men from Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro have organized as a response to violence and gangs in San Lucas and the surrounding areas, but their modus operandi only includes assassination. They operate with a list of all supposed criminals in the area, and hunt these down one by one. Leocadio thinks the group has killed more than 20 people so far in 2007, and at least 3 people have been killed since I have been here. Although they are primarily a vigilante group, there also exist dangerous political ties, with the mayors of San Lucas (FRG from 2004-2007) and Santiago Atitlan reportedly financing the group. This means that not only does the potential exist for political manipulation of the group against social organizations such as the CCDA, but also that if the ANN wins the local elections on Sunday, the FRG could use their leverage with the group against the new party, or even that the ANN mayor could be made to choose between supporting or confronting the armed group in his security policies. In any case, this remains an area to watch in considering the safety of the CCDA, and is also a subject that could use some serious research if anyone feels like taking it on.

Many of you may be concerned about Hurricane Felix's trip to Guatemala, but from here it seems as if the storm is loosing force and won't have a major impact on CCDA communities or Guatemala in general. For two days we have been expecting the wind and rain to pick up, but there have been no signs of the storm other than a permanently grayed sky.

I'm also writing with some very exciting news from the CCDA's "CafĂ© Justicia" exports…a major super market chain in Canada (sorry, don't know which one) is working on a contract to carry their coffee in all of their stores across the country, and to advance the finances necessary to carry out the first shipment. The amount that they are requesting (1,500 quintales, I think) would double their current exports to Canada. This is a huge step forward for the CCDA and all of their members.

Leocadio is planning another trip to Canada soon, arriving in Vancouver in mid-November, passing through Calgary shortly after, and ending in Toronto in late-November or early December. I don't have any more details of the trip yet, but I thought I'd pass that on for those of you who are interested in seeing Leocadio as he passes through.

Finally, I have to pass on saludos and abrazos from everyone at the CCDA to all of you who have been supporting them in many different ways over the years. They are immensely grateful for all of the work BTS does with them, especially through accompaniment and urgent action responses, and they pass on their hellos to each and every one of you.

My time here in San Lucas is almost done, so this will be my only update on the CCDA. If anything does come up in these last days of the elections, however, I will email right away with details.

Take care,