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

Name: ______________________________
Address: ____________________________________________________
Phone number or E-mail: _________________________________________
Monthly Donation: __$50 __$30 __$20 __$10 _____other
One-time Donation: __$1000 __$500 __$300 __$200 _____other
Payment Method: __Credit Card __Cheque*
Credit Card Type: __Visa __Mastercard
Credit Card Number: _____________________________________________________
Credit Card Expiry Date: __________________________________________________

*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
RR#3, Tatamagouche NS
B0K 1V0

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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Update from Intern Laura Fanjoy following Rainy Season in Guatemala

I had the opportunity to visit Salvador Xolhuitz this week, the CCDA-affiliated community that was most affected by the recent rains. The members of the community showed me the damages suffered on their property, and requested that I put together an article for their English-speaking friends to convey the impact of the damages and their concerns for the future.

The people of Salvador Xolhuitz have been through their fair share of struggles, since gaining access to their finca (plantation) through the government's land fund in 2004. They have worked to build their community, overcome internal conflict and attempt to meet the annual payments required to pay off their debt. Despite all of these challenges, residents are grateful for the land they now live and work on, and are determined to make their story a successful one.

Just as the rainy season was drawing to an end, the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz were presented with another challenge. After days of heavy rain, the earth gave way, and their finca suffered numerous landslides. Thankfully, there were no injuries or deaths, since the lanslides occured in the part of their property designated for production. The result however, is the loss .352 hectares of productive land, in the middle their harvest. Their losses are principally banana trees, coffee and trees used for wood. It is estimated that the cost of the damages is over Q 800,000.00 or $101,105.81 Canadian dollars.

The effects of the landslides would be devestating to any community, but in Salvador Xolhuitz there is an additional challenge, their debt. Altogether, Salvador Xolhuitz owes Q 2,740,123.28 (345,883.97 Canadian dollars) for the land they bought through the land fund in 2004. This figure represents an immense challenge, considering that each benefactor earns approximately Q 20 ($2.50 Canadian) a day[1]. As interest accumulates on their debt, benefactors find themselves further and further away from paying off the finca, with their payment plan to expire in 2016.

Guatemala's land fund was founded in the 1996 Peace Accords for the purpose of addressing the unequal access to land that plagues Guatemala. The land fund adheres to a market-based approach to land reform, which means that it serves as an intermediary between groups of campesinos interested in accessing land, and landowners interested in selling their property. Unfortunately, this program has failed to alleviate the problem of landlessness, as only 253 communities have succeeded in buying land since the land fund began its operations in 1998. Among land fund benefactors, the majority live in conditions of poverty, due to the poor quality of land accessed. It is common for fincas bought through the land fund to be remote, lacking infraestructure such as roads, potable water and electricity, and to have been long abandoned with land that is no longer productive. Since the creation of the land fund provoked a surge in demand for land, with few landowners willing to sell, the land accessed is often overvalued, leaving benefactors with a large debt. As the result of this situation, it is predicted that 139 of the 253 communities that accessed land through the land fund, will be unable to pay off their debt, and therefore are at risk of loosing their land. To date, three communities have lost their land after finding themselves unable to repay their debt.

Despite being among the 139 communities at risk of loosing their land, the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz are fortunate. The land they accessed is of good quality, and they have been able to build a school, install electricity and enjoy access to water. Since accessing the finca, they have had several good harvests, but have so far not been able pay the full amount outlined in their annual debt payments. Now, having lost approximately half of their coffee harvest, as well as other crops, they find themselves worrying about making ends meet, nevertheless fulfilling their debt payment. The damages suffered to the finca are yet to be acknowledged by the land fund, which has failed to provide any assistance to the community.

Aside from the land fund, the government has also failed to provide assitance to the community of Salvador Xolhuitz or other small producers affected by the rains. Unfortunately, when natural disasters strike Guatemala, emergency relief is often channeled through the government, where it rarely reaches campesinos. It is for this reason that the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz have turned to the CCDA their international partners, in this time of need.

In my conversations with the governing council for the community of Salvador Xolhuitz, I was told that any help received would be directed replanting lost crops and repairing damages, all of which will help them make this year's debt payment. Residents expressed their frusteration, that they have been forced to turn to organizations such as the CCDA and international partners for assistance, in times where it is the government's responsibility to come to their aid.

Donations can be sent to CoDevelopment Canada at #260 2747 EastHastings St., Vancouver, BC, V5K 1Z8. Any donation over $20 will receive a tax receipt. In order to ensure that your contribution is directed to the CCDA, please write "CCDA relief" on the memo line of your cheque. For more infomration, please write:

I (Laura) would be happy to answer any questions. I can be reached at Please pass this information along to your communities!

[1] This figure is based on an estimation of their daily wages, using the approximate annual income of the finca divided by beneficiaries and days worked.

Please see attached for some pictures and a video I took during my visit.

Take care,