Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happy New Year from Guatemala! Mark BTS AGM March 27-29 on your calendar

Feliz Ano Nuevo a todas y todos! Happy New Year to you all from Guatemala! Wilf and I welcomed the New Year with BTS members Lynne and Dave Duffy in Antigua. Of course there were fireworks, but also wonderful marimba bands and traditional music and dances.

On Tuesday Jan. 5th, Wilf and I set off from San Marcos with Jackie McVicar, BTS representative in Guatemala, to visit the communities of Sipakapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacan where the Goldcorp mine is located. We left San Marcos at 4:30am on a very cold morning, with frost in the hills. We traveled first to Sipakapa to meet with Mario Tema, the brother of Juan Tema who many of you met when he toured the Maritimes a few years ago. He welcomed us warmly and encouraged BTS to present a resolution once again to the Goldcorp AGM in May. We then traveled on to San Miguel Ixtahuacan, where we met with Javier de Leon. Javier invited us to the first meeting of the year of Indigenous Mayors in the Municipality, where mining and its impacts was a major topic. It as inspiring to see indigenous leaders from every town and village in the Municipality, each carrying his barra (something like a cane), a symbol of the authority given to the Indigenous Mayors by their communities. Each community chooses a new Mayor each year through a processs of consensus decison-making. That morning we also met with a with a community leader who had recently been threatened because of the stance of his organization regarding the mine. This encounter was a sobering reminder of how the presence of the mine has created social conflict. We also heard of other impacts from prostitution to water loss and water contamination.

We arrived back in Guatemala City Thursday afternoon. Friday morning Jackie, Caren Weisbart (BTS member, former Intern and human rights accompanier, now Coordinator of International Human Rights Accompaniment in Guatemala), Wilf and I set off for Rabinal, where we met up with Erin Wolfson, BTS Intern and member of the 2008 BTS delegation. Yesterday the five of us met with members of the New Hope Foundation and had a good meeting with a number of people related to the Fundacion. We had been in Rabinal in December as well, where Maria Dolores Itzep, lawyer with the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic confirmed that shecan attend the AGM at the end of March to share the ongoing work regarding the genocide cases.

Wilf and I also had the good fortune to spend a few hours with one of BTS' oldest friends, Josefina Martinez of the Kaqchikel Presbytery. Josefina was BTS' first guest from Guatemala in 1990, even before we sent delegations to Guatemala. She sends warm greetings to all of you who have connected with her. I look forward to a meeting with the Presbytery women's groups and teachers Eddy and Roaldo this Thursday.

Finally I want to say what a privilege it has been for Wilf and I to see with our own eyes the relationships that Jackie has built with all of our partners. We are thankful for Jackie's commitment, generosity and insights. She walks the talk!

I close by encouraging you all to mark on yoiur calendars now the BTS Annual Gathering Friday, March 27th, 7pm to Sunday, March 29th, 1pm. We are holding our Annual Gathering earlier this year because our terrific Interns (Becky MacMillan - I'jatz and IMEP, Colin Gusikoski - the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic, Erin Wolfson - the New Hope Foundation, Patrick Chasse - Kaqchikel Presbytery) are coming home earlier than in other years, having left NS in early Sept. Having met with Maria Dolores Itzep, we know that she will bring a passionate and inspiring message to us all. Not to mention that it will be great to have both Jackie McVicar and Caren Weisbart with us to share their experiences and insights in Guatemala! We also look forward to a BTS showing of former Intern Hans Olson's new documentary on the Kaqchikel Presbytery women's groups, which he produced for Sakharini, a small NGO that Hans connected with the Kaqchikel Presbytery a few years ago. Wonderful as it is to have such terrific resources persons with us, it is equally important to have your participation, as we recommit ourselves to solidarity with Guatemala and begin to think afresh about who BTS is and what we should be about in the coming months and years!

Abrazos, hugs to each of you.