January 2009 Delegation, Conclusion

January 20, 2009

Inauguration day! We had a day off, so the delegates could catch up on reading, shopping, and especially sleeping. It was inspirational to hear Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, while sitting in a country so strongly affected by U.S. foreign policy.

January 21, 2009

After a late start, we went to La Linea, an area of Guatemala City alongside the train tracks. The train no longer operates, but the tracks remain, and the street along the tracks is lined with small apartments used by sex workers. We were asked not to use our cameras there, both to protect our contacts, and to protect ourselves, so, unfortunately, no pictures.

We were there an hour or so discussing business, how women get into the business, and what it will take for them to get out. What struck this writer was the sensitive humanity and pragmatism of the women we spoke with. While we were there, there was a constant parade of men walking, riding motorcycles, and driving by, window shopping — gawking. This writer was left feeling respect for women sex workers, who were trying to earn a basic living wage for themselves and their children, and no respect for the male looky-loos.

January 22, 2009

Our final day of visits were to extremely emotional locations. The first was the Forensic Anthropology foundation (FAFG), who exhumes skeletons of victims of the armed conflict.


A scientist from FAFG explains the mission and purpose of the foundation

We were asked not to get photos of the skeletons, out of respect for the families of the deceased. The mission of the foundation is to exhume the skeletons, collect evidence related to their death, and provide reports to the Ministerio Publico so that they can prosecute cases if they choose to. So far, no cases have been prosecuted.

Most torture does not affect the skeleton so, while causes of death are often evident, there is not much evidence of torture. However there are exceptions: we were shown a skeleton where the shin bones indicated that someone hacked at the legs and shot and shattered his lower legs shortly before death.

Even though no cases are being prosecuted on the basis of evidence collected by the FAFG, the administrators of the center receive frequent death threats, which they share with their contacts.

In the afternoon, we got a very graphic experience of the pain of Guatemala’s poor; we visited the city dump, the largest dump (basurero) in Central America. Hundreds of families live around the dump and work

collecting recyclables from the trash. The price of recyclables is really low now, and that increases the economic pressure on the poor families.


We also visited Safe Passage, a center that provides a safe and beautiful environment for the preschool and grade school age children of the basurero families. The center also provides nutritious food for the children, and the representative explained that without nutrition, brains don’t fully develop and the chances of having a better life are greatly reduced.


The beautiful play equipment at Safe Passage


Just beyond the walls of the beautifully-appointed center is a very different world.


The kids in the center are friendly, interested, playful and affectionate. This young man:


had fun playing with my flash, suggesting various things to photograph around the center. I didn’t see any gun-type toys around, so I think my flash became a death-ray in his imagination. I remember reading that if boys don’t have toy guns, they’ll turn sticks or whatever into pretend guns. But a Nikon SB-800? Hey, wait, aren’t they sometimes called flashguns??

We ended the day at Jenny’s house. Jenny’s parents hosted us several times for lunches and dinners and provided a homey environment to help us process the challenging emotions we felt.


Here the group is celebrating her birthday. The girls went out later, but not very late: wake up time was 5:30AM on Friday morning to make the trip home.

The delegates / Soka University students set themselves out three projects: make a documentary, do writings, and make a photo documentation of the trip. We are really looking forward to seeing their work. Our Soka University students were from the California campus, but were originally from all around the world: India, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico and the U.S.

January 2009 Delegation continued, to Panajachel and Back

January 17/18, 2009

Saturday morning: after a very emotional week meeting with so many brave survivors and human rights defenders, we slept in then took off for Panajachel, on the shore of scenic Lake Atitlan. We shopped, ate and rested, getting a needed break from the stress of being in the capital city.


Fabrics in the marketplace/main street in Panajachel


Sunset over the Lake

Sunrise finds two fishermen chatting while they bring their nets into their simple boats.

A few of us took a boat ride to nearby Santa Catarina Palopo.

January 19, 2009

Monday morning: back to more about the horrible history of Guatemala at the Police Archives. The Archives focuses on a 10-year period of the armed conflict when the most human rights abuses were perpetrated. These police action records were found stored in dark rooms, tied in bundles, and just thrown in heaps like trash.

The project is to clean, read, scan, and store these records, and cross reference them so that they can be used to possibly investigate crimes committed by officials. To date, though, the Ministerio Publico has not prosecuted any cases, but despite the lack of action, people are making death threats against the workers at the Archives.

Bianca washes the corn in the pila, a large concrete oudoor sink.


Next, she takes it down the street to be ground by machine into dough for tortillas. While not quite as old-school as the hand grinding stone we saw used to make our lunch earlier in the week, this is still pretty hands-on. The food was great, with tamales de chipilin, guacamole, frijoles, and more. We are pleased to see Bianca, whom we help with school expenses, studying in the morning two days a week, and helping her mom at their family restaurant.

After lunch, we took a short walk to the school
where we iniciated our “Hombres contra Feminicio” education program last March. The latest news on this program is that we have a connection to help us get our program into an institution in Guatemala, where it may be able to reach many, many more people. More about that later…


Next we visited a yoga and meditation center in the city that also provides day care for young children. The delegates delivered a workshop

for these children, part of our “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” program, promoting understanding between the genders.

January 2009 Delegation, thru end of Week 1

January 15, 2009


Olga Angelica Lopez whose 19-day old daughter was stolen from her.

The thieves faked DNA test results and put the baby up for adoption. The adoptive parents paid over $50,000 for her child, so there is clearly money to be made in this business. When she went to the Ministerio Publico (Guatemala’s equivalent of the DA), they accused her of selling her baby, and now having regrets about it. She is working to contact the family in the U.S. and have a second DNA test done.

The way the first test was faked is probably this: a woman posing as the baby’s mother, and her own baby show up together for the DNA test. But no other identifying data is collected from the baby, like footprints or handprints. Then, when it’s time to send the baby, a different baby is substituted for the one that was tested. Of course, once the baby is in the U.S. it is presumed to be a legitimate adoption, and it is hard to get a follow-up test.


After hearing from three survivors on Tuesday, and one more Wednesday morning, it was a welcome break to get out of the city, and visit San Juan, a small town about an hour away. We met a group of indigenous women who shared their lives with our student delegates.

Again, our delegates didn’t let any language barrier keep them from sharing their humanity with their Guatemalan sisters.

We got to hang out for a little while at the main market in San Juan. This market is not set up for visitors, it is the where the locals shop.

January 16, 2009

After hearing the stories of several survivors, we had a number of legal questions, and we got to meet two of the


staff attorneys from Fundacion Sobrevivientes,
an organization our founder, Lucia Munoz, worked with before MIA even existed.

Sobrevivientes’s attorneys gave us a small taste of the uphill battle they face trying to get justice for their clients in Guatemala, describing some of their past and existing cases. Several of their clients, finding no justice from the Ministerio Publico (like our D.A.), come to Fundacion Sobrevivientes. In Guatemala, a private party can prosecute a criminal matter, and this is a legal tool Sobrevivientes uses to fight impunity.


In the evening, we visited H.I.J.O.S., formed by and for the surviving family members of those killed in the armed conflict (1960-1996). In addition to advancing their own issues, H.I.J.O.S. helps other organizations advance their causes.


Filiberto gives us a briefing on what H.I.J.O.S. is up to these days.

January 2008 Delegation, continued

We got a tour of the Palacio Nacional in central Guatemala City, which is, like our White House, built to house the president. The president no longer lives there, though, and it is being transformed into a “cultural center”. There are some really cool art galleries which we got to see, but we didn’t get the opportunity to linger there.


This mural in the entrance to the palace stylistically depicts the conquest of the savage Mayan by the cultured Spanish. If we take the naked mayans as symbolizing todays indigenous population, and the spaniard as representing the tiny wealthy elite, this mural becomes a realistic representation of the power distribution in Guatemala today.


The grandeur of the main hall removes this space completely from the poverty in most of the country. The government is using the phrase “a palace for all”, as part of their program to reinvent the palace as a cultural center.


It’s a little hard to see from this picture, but the stonework is all a pale green. Beautiful draped in plants, the darker green exterior and soft green interior color give rise to the Palacio’s nickname the “Avocado House”.

We interviewed this woman whose 6-year old daughter was tragically kidnapped, abused, and killed. She shared her life and her story with us, and she is optimistic for the future, despite the tremendous loss she suffered.

We visited San Carlos University guided by the students from Organizacion Rojelia Cruz. Rojelia Cruz was a beauty contest winner who used her fame and influence to be a voice for the poor and downtrodden in Guatemala. She was tortured, raped, and killed in 1967 by a paramilitary death squad, and symbolizes the continuing struggle for fairness and prosperity in today’s Guatemala.

This image of Rojelia Cruz carries her words: “Woman, in our struggle, we don’t have a gun”.

Our students got structured opportunites to interact with their Guatemala counterparts. In some cases it was difficult because of language issues, but they always managed to have meaningful interactions.

January 14, 2009

We started the day with Rosa Franco, whose teenage daughter was kidnapped and killed in 2001.

She has been struggling to get her daughter’s case investigated and prosecuted, but there is very little progress in the case. Amnesty International wrote her case up in detail, and our delegates got to hear from her first hand, which was a moving, inspiring, and chilling experience.

Rosa Franco’s 15-year old daughter disappeared and is pictured in this watercolor, which Mom showed us with pride.

Cops were on the move outside our hotel because of the potential for conflict during a demonstration against a proposed cement plant in San Juan Sacatepequez, a small town about an hour from the capital.

One of our clients lives near the capital, in a house where things are done the old fashioned way. Shown here is the “stove”; wood fired…

and here is the garbage disposal. The indigenous people of Guatemala know what sustainable living is, and practice it as a matter of course. Sadly, life in the country is not safe, and this family lost a teenage daughter to the society’s pervasive violence.


Schooled by the lady of the house, our delegates practiced making tortillas.

Our final meeting of the day was with Jorge Alvarado, whose 19 year old daughter Claudina was killed four years ago. Jorge


creates a very vivid picture of his beautiful, popular, intelligent daughter who planned to become an attorney. As a way of getting out of their duty of investigating the crime, the police said “she had a belly button ring, so she was a slut”. Blaming the victim is the first response to crimes here in Guatemala. Jorge read us a story that his daughter might have written, and keeps the memory of his daughter alive by fighting against the impunity that pervades this beautiful country.

January 2009 Delegation Starts!

A special delegation was requested by Soka University professor Sarah England for January 2009. Soka University is sponsoring “learning clusters” for students, giving a dozen students the opportunity to travel abroad during the brief session between Fall and Spring Semesters.

The delegation arrived early Saturday morning, and after breakfast and exchanging a few dollar for Quetzales (at the improved rate of Q7.70/$) we went to Antigua for some sightseeing.

Antigua Church, no flash We were in Guatemala to learn about femicide and the people that work to end it, but winding down after an overnight flight in beautiful Antigua, plus doing a little souvenir shopping, was well recieved.

Sunday happened to be the birthday of one of our scholarship students, so we took her for a birthday celebration to Nais, reportedly the largest aquarium in Guatemala.

20090111DSC_1386 This was a really unusual establishment: you pay to get in, and it is basically a restaurant. We had drinks and dessert, and celebrated the birthday girl’s special day.
The aquarium was pretty cool, with sharks and angel fish and many of the species that are familiar to divers of Caribbean waters.
20090111DSC_1487 What I found strange was the ubiquitous advertising! Sure, corporate sponsorship is needed to fund the labor- and technology-intensive task of keeping the aquarium viable, but is it necessary to put the ads in the tank??

Monday was REALLY full: we saw Claudia from Fundacion Sobrevivientes, Norma Cruz spoke to us briefly, we visited Cafe Artesana and heard from Sandra Moran, then ended the day learning from CICIG’s Claudia Samayoa. The delegation got their school’s moneys worth that day!!

Norma Cruz 1
Norma Cruz on Sobrevivientes (Survivors)

Sandra 3
Sandra Moran co-founded this restaurant to make a place where artists could gather and eat healthy food.

Claudia Samayoa gives the big picture of the recent history of Guatemala like nobody else!

Delegation Nov 2008, International No Violence Against Women March

The No Violence Against Women March this year comprised about 40 groups and 3000 participants, slightly smaller than last year, but this is probably not because there is less violence, but because people are afraid of violence. One group we work with told us that they didn’t participate this year because of recent death threats.

Our delegates dressed in black with red capes to signify mourning, bloodshed and hope. Mourning for our fallen sisters, the bloodshed that led to their loss, and hope for a better future. A future where women can walk without fear of violence.

We waved the banner of our sister organization, the Guatemala Peace and Development Network, which our founder, Lucia Munoz (shown at right), co-founded in 2001.

This young man was selling nuts and candy on the street.

The delegates talked with one of the police officers patrolling the march route and explained what we were doing there.

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Delegation Nov 2008, Sobrevivientes and Antigua Guatemala

We visited our friends at Fundacion Sobrevivientes http://www.sobrevivientes.org who gave us a rundown on some of the cases they are presently dealing with.

Sobrevivientes supports the victims and their families in femicide cases, providing social and legal services, holistic health care, and counseling. They also accompany witnesses to court and provide safe shelter when needed.

A generous organization in Sweden gave Sobrevivientes money to purchase a new home/headquarters just around the corner from their old home. Unfortunately, they are involved with some high-profile cases and there are people threatening them and telling them to stop their work.

All the intense human rights work is satisfying but exhausting, and it’s important to unwind sometimes. We went to Antigua Guatemala, the old capital, which is surrounded by scenic volcanos.

Colonial architecture gives the visitor to Antigua a sense of traveling back in time.

Markets in the city have hand made fabrics available for purchase. This display was in Guatemala City in the market downtown, but all the major cities have areas where hand crafts can be found.

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Delegation Nov 2008, Safe Passage and the City Dump

These children are in the day care at Safe Passage, an organization formed by a U.S. American woman who saw the need to provide a better life for the kids who live in and around the city dump.

Several hundred families live at the dump. Until recently, they were able to gather recyclables, e.g. plastic milk jugs and get a dollar for 100 pounds of plastic. But the bottom fell out of the market for recyclables when the recession hit hard in Fall 2008, and now they are basically working for nothing.

It is not clear how they are managing to sustain themselves in this situation.

One of the schools where we deliver the “Hombres Contra Feminicidio” program, in Z. 18, one of the worst parts of Guatemala City.

Near the school lives one of our scholarship clients, Bianca (center) who is in high school now, and we are planning to help her with tuition and expenses to go to college next year.

Her mother runs a small store and restaurant where we ate breakfast. Several delegates said it was the best meal of the whole trip; tamales de chipilin, handmade tortillas, and other hand-crafted foods made it a great meal.

Delegation Nov 2008, Police Archives & Lola

During the 36-year armed conflict (aka. Civil War), many people simply disappeared. A lot of these disappearances were at the hands of the army, others were at the hands of the well-known “paramilitaries” — contractors acting on the orders of the military or local public officials. Others were at the hands of the National Police. Unlike the others, the police in many cases kept detailed records of what they did, where and when. These records were mostly tied with string, and thrown into a big pile in a building near downtown Guatemala City.

The Police Archives Project is unbundling, scanning, and organizing these records so that more can be learned and understood about what happened during the Armed Conflict. The information they gather is forwarded to the Ministero Publico, which makes the decision whether to move forward prosecuting any cases or not.

Inside the police archives with Director Alberto

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Alba Maldonado aka. Ex-Comandante Lola

Few women attained leadership positions in the people’s struggle against the installed military dictatorships during the armed conflict, but Alba Maldonado managed to do so. She also led a coalition of left-leaning organizations in recent years. Here’s an article describing the general state of the left as of 2002, which mentions her role:


Delegation Nov 2008, Ombudsman Office and Xela Aid

We arrived at Guatemala early in the morning, and had breakfast. Right afterwards, we headed to the “Procurador de Derechos Humanos” or Ombudsman’s office, which has the job of trying to get the government to protect the rights of the people.

The morning after we arrived, we drove to Xela (Quetzaltenango) and met with a representative of Xela Aid, a non-profit that works to help with economic development in the areas in the countryside around Xela. These young men were returning from a morning of helping their parents in the field.

These women told us about some of the agricultural, medical and other projects Xela Aid is promoting. It is impressive how far a few dollars of contribution can go to making life healthier and safer in the poor areas of Guatemala.

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