Posts Tagged ‘violence in Guatemala’

Essay about Nebaj

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

I’m sharing this powerful essay posted on Coldnoon, Walking with Gaspar: Days in Guatemala, by my friend and fellow adoptive mom Gretchen Brown Wright. A few years ago, Gretchen, her son, my sister, my kids and I visited the town of Nebaj, in Guatemala’s western highlands. Along with Chajul and Cotzal, Nebaj is part of the “Ixil Triangle,” an area of great violence during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.

Gretchen met a tour guide, Gaspar, who took her to the Nebaj cemetery, where thousands of victims of the violence are buried and memorialized. Afterward, shaken and humbled by the experience, Gretchen thanked Gaspar for sharing his knowledge and insight. Gaspar said, “I gave you what I know. Now it’s yours. You must tell this story.”

And so she has.~


Guatemalan bus

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

You may be aware of the history of violence on the buses ridden by Guatemalan citizens, particularly in the capital. If you’re not, please be aware that the facts included in Guatemala: Extortionists Target Bus Riders are disturbing. The good news is that progress has been made on some buses, by instituting a system of prepaid cards that remove the need for the driver to have cash on hand. Here’s an excerpt:

Since 2004, 917 bus drivers have gone straight to the cemetery.

The deaths, which include 50 so far this year, are the result of gangs’ extorting bus drivers and bus company owners, according to the government.

Bus drivers often have to pay extortions three times a week to criminals working with gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio-18, and Los Paisas, who have burst onto the scene, according to Rony López, a prosecutor for cases involving organized crime. The gangs receive most of their orders from incarcerated leaders.

In a single week, a bus company owner may have to come up with $70,000 quetzales (US$8,879) to pay extortionists, according to López.

“The money we earn depends on the number of passengers that get on the bus. If we have to pay extortion, we earn only $40 quetzales (US$5) a day. Then, we still have to pay our bus assistant,” said Carlos Rosales, a bus driver who has been on the job for 26 years. “This situation has a huge effect on us.”

The most violent period for bus drivers in the Central American nation was from 2006-2009, when there were as many as five bus drivers killed a day as the result of extortion.

“Five bus drivers killed a day.” Astounding.



New film about civil war in Guatemala

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

A new documentary by Pamela Yates about the civil war in Guatemala, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, is due in theaters September 14, 2011. Here is the description from the website:

GRANITO is a story of destinies joined by Guatemala’s past, and how a documentary film intertwined with a nation’s turbulent history emerges as an active player in the present. In GRANITO our characters sift for clues buried in archives of mind and place and historical memory, seeking to uncover a narrative that could unlock the past and settle matters of life and death in the present. Each of the five main characters whose destinies collide in GRANITO are connected by the Guatemala of 1982, then engulfed in a war where a genocidal “scorched earth” campaign by the military exterminated nearly 200,000 Maya people. Now, as if a watchful Maya god were weaving back together threads of a story unraveled by the passage of time, forgotten by most, our characters become integral to the overarching narrative of wrongs done and justice sought that they have pieced together, each adding their granito, their tiny grain of sand, to the epic tale.

The cast includes 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigobert Menchú. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator… doesn’t simply relate history; it is also part of history.” Click on the website link here to watch the film trailer.


Archbishop of Guatemala on family planning and brutality against women

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I mentioned the two-part PBS television series on Guatemala, which focused on brutality against women and maternal health and family planning. The segments were hosted on March 7 and 8 by Ray Suarez, reporting from Guatemala, and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The PBS blog contains several interviews by Suarez that were not included on-air. One was with Guatemala’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales of Guatemala. The Catholic Church, along with Protestant churches, commands a position of influence and authority for many Guatemalans. I was pleased to read that the Archbishop acknowledges a need for family planning, including ”all the methods that within the family they decide is best for them.” The Archbishop also promotes the use of condoms to stop the spread of disease.  This is news not often reported. Here is the exchange between Suarez and the Archbishop:

RAY SUAREZ: When American officials look at Guatemala they see a country with the fastest growth rate in population in the entire hemisphere, and they see women who wouldn’t necessarily want to avoid having  children but would like to space them better.  Is there in the family context an acceptable reason for using birth control?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Our governments as well as other international institutions attack birth directly, but they never attack, or help us to educate people in a way which people start becoming conscious  of how many children they should have, because the church  is not opposed to family planning. It must exist and it must be compulsory in all facilities.

The problem is how or the methods that are used in this planning, like forcing families and many times sterilizing them for life. In regard to this matter  I think we should insist and the foreign governments should insist  not that much on family planning to have less children, but in that conscious planning in each family in a responsible manner.

Therefore, they should insist more on education, health, work that our families need so much in our Guatemala.

RAY SUAREZ: You say that the Church is not opposed to family planning. What methods would be ok, what methods would be approved and which are not?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: The method we approve is the one we all know as the Billings method, and all those methods that  within the family they decide is best for them. For example, the condom, many times it is an obligation for people to use it. And it is an obligation for people who have AIDS or any other disease.

In that case, it is not that this is a sin, but it is a sin not to do it, because other people are being harmed. In all this methods what must always be present is respect for the human being, for it not to be harmed. We do not accept any  methods which may harm the human being.

In another part of the interview, the Archbishop recognizes that any conversation about family planning or violence against Guatemala’s women must begin with Guatemala’s men. Without a change in attitude among men, no real and lasting change can begin to occur.

RAY SUAREZ: I ask about the Catholic church because there is also a great problem that is violence against women and girls, and in fighting them, can the Catholic church tell men, order them: stop beating their wives,  their mothers their sisters the women of this country?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Yes, constantly, be it through the sermon or preparations| that we have in the parishes, we are insisting on this issue. Even more, in each church we have the so calledPastoral de la Mujer  [Women’s Pastoral] to help them on this matter.

In fact they are becoming more conscious of their own rights, by attending these groups that have been created. Now, not only do we help change the heart but the mind of us men who, many times  don’t know how to treat  women, because of that culture, in other countries they would call “machista” , and that certainly also exists here in our country.

A man is the first who has to attend this Pastoral de la Mujer, to know how to treat her and give her the place she really deserves.

As the PBS series illustrates, to live free from brutality and to control reproduction are two rights not possessed by all women in Guatemala. May this unfortunate reality change soon.


Violence in Guatemala

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Violence on public buses in Guatemala has increased as reported by Reuters photographer Daniel LeClair in this BBC post. In the past few years, some 450 bus drivers have been killed. LeClair writes:

“The scenes were chaotic and similar. A driver would be on his route, his bus full of passengers. Suddenly a young man would stand up, approach the driver shooting him at close range in the head, then jump off the moving bus to a waiting motorcycle.” …

“Gangs began to take hold in the 1990s, attracting impoverished and uneducated young men and women. Now they’ve become organized money-making enterprises, extorting businesses, including bus companies, for regular payments and assaulting people on the streets for cash. Narco traffickers have cemented their presence in Guatemala, taking advantage of the authorities’ inability to cope.” …

LeClair ends the article with this:

“I’ve been covering Central America for a decade – coups, riots, hurricanes and so on – but never seen violence like this. I have never seen so many innocent people caught in the middle. The tragedy is that Guatemala has so much to offer. It’s so beautiful and so full of wonderful people. As much as I love this place… the future here is very uncertain.”

Again, please read the entire article here.


About a father who lost his son

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

This past February, I had the privilege of meeting Tom Heaton in Panajachel, Guatemala, where he lives and works as a United Methodist Pastor from the Indiana conference. I had known about Tom and his work for a few years through my membership in online adoption groups.

Tom is the adoptive father to two sons, Jose and Manuel, both born in Guatemala. Several years ago, Tom started “Mayan Traditions,”  featuring fair-trade crafts to benefit orphanages and child-related ministries in Guatemala. In 2008, he was appointed business administrator of Project Salud y Paz, a United Methodist-related ministry that operates clinics and a preschool in the Guatemalan highlands. Last year, Tom formed Mission Guatemala, a nonprofit organization founded to improve the quality of life for the country’s indigenous population. For the past decade, Tom has dedicated himself to Guatemala and its people. (more…)