051309 10:37AM

The symbol of the URNG is an ear of corn, the primary food source of Guatemalan subsistence farmers. One Mayan creation myth says humans were made by the gods out of corn.

There are rampant rumors of a military coup in Guatemala. Violence has been escalating in the country, thought to be due to a rise in drug trafficking and gang warfare. There are 40 murders a week in the capital. Few are investigated. Bus drivers are killed for not giving bribes to gangs. In rural areas, many buses have been stopped, robbed, and all the women gang raped. Femicide is a serious issue in Guatemala, with every other day, a woman's body being found in a random ditch. Thousands of women have been killed during this supposed peace-time.

This weekend a friend said to me, "This is the most crucial time in Guatemala, more than during the war." It not impossible that the military is perpetrating this increase in violence in order to shore up support for their eventual takeover, via coup d'etat or the next presidential election.

Guatemala has a rich history of military coups, most notably when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected president.

In 1944, due to increased social tension, the military overthrew the then dictator and then stepped aside as Guatemala elected a president democratically for the first time. This president, Arévalo, began sweeping reforms: labor, health care, education, and agrarian. In a country where farmers were living in a feudal system, reform was looked upon unkindly by those who profited, namely the United Fruit Company. United Fruit (which you may recognize now as Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte) were known as the octopus at the time, because they owned most of the land, the electricity, the railroads, and the ports. People serving on their boards were also CIA members and were displeased by the reforms put forth by the new government.

When Arévalo and his successor, Arbenz, began the agrarian reform, buying back the land at the price United Fruit had devalued in justification of owning it, the US government response was to call them communists. The CIA overthrew this democratic government in 1954. The CIA had committed a similar move once before, with Iran. These 10 years of democracy are known in Guatemala as the 10 years of spring.

Previously Guatemala was run by Spanish colonists and Guatemala-born Spaniards, people who created a strong military oligarchy. This military oligarchy began to exert more force in the country after the 1954 coup, leading a faction to break off and begin fighting against them in the 60s. This faction became one of four guerrilla groups which eventually joined into one, the URNG (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity). The guerrilla fought the military for 36 years in an extremely harsh civil war. Today the URNG is the only leftist political party in Guatemala.

Guatemala holds the capital of the Mayan empire, Tikal. And unlike most history classes would tell you, Mayans are still very much alive. Guatemala has a mostly indigenous population and many people speak Spanish as a second language, their first being one of 22 Mayan languages.

During the 36 year civil war, these Mayans were the target of extreme human rights abuses at the hands of the Guatemalan military, funded and trained by USAID, the CIA, and the School of the Americas. Torture was common. Political discussion and art outlawed, a curfew set for 9pm, and leftists and students disappeared. 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, 50,000 disappeared, and over 1 million people were displaced, as internal refugees or in neighboring countries.

The violence peaked in the 80s, particularly under the evangelical dictator Ríos Montt, tied to Pat Robertson and funded by the Reagan administration. During his 1 year as president, he would claim to be purging the country of the atheist communist threat over the nightly radio. He enacted a scorched earth campaign wherein the military would enter a town, wait until a festival or a market day, round everyone up into a church or school, rape and torture them before killing them, and burning the town to the ground. Around 600 villages disappeared this way, most recently in 1997.

It was a "fish without water" strategy. In theory, the guerilla could not continue fighting without their peasant, rural base. But the fact is, the guerilla was never really supported by the rural civilians, and fighting the guerilla was really an excuse for exerting social control. The guerrilla never really had a chance at revolution.

80% of the victims were Mayan. The UN classifies this as a genocide. You can't walk 2 steps in Guatemala without meeting people whose lives were affected by this war - spanish teachers whose parents were disappeared by military in the middle of the night, tour guides who were tortured before fleeing to Mexico.

Ríos Montt is the most ruthless dictator in Latin America's history, more violent than Pinochet. Spain would like to extradite him for war crimes, but as he still holds office in Guatemala as a congressmen, under Guatemalan law he cannot be charged for any crime. His daughter is married to the Illinois congressman Jerry Weller.

Two studies, after the peace accords were signed, came out in 1998. One by the UN truth commission, the other by the catholic archbishop Gerardi. Both studies found that atrocities committed during the war were overwhelmingly caused by the military, as up to 93%. 48 hours after Gerardi presented his findings, he was murdered.

Today Guatemala has been clawing toward democracy, in spite of enormous voter fraud, widespread corruption in government and the courts, and powerful drug cartel. Guatemala has a 70% literacy rate, and the highest malnutrition rate in Latin America - over half of the country's children are malnourished. Many people live on less than $1 a day. However rumors persist of a coup orchestrated by the loser in the most recent presidential election, Otto Perez Molina. Molina is a ex-general who was responsible for one of the many death and torture squads and his party is rumored to win the next election - if they don't overthrow the government in the next coming weeks. The right in Guatemala is nervous, with its neighbor, El Salvador, electing a leftist president this past march under the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). The FMLN, like the URNG, were the guerrilla fighting in El Salvador's similarly horrific civil war (with an army also funded and trained by the US), and have since formed a successful leftist political party after the signing of the peace accords.

Colom, the current president, has been reported by the US news to be a leftist president in the vein of Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, but he is not. He has been historically backed by narco-traffickers and is a darling of international dam and mining corporations, taking out enormous world bank loans for free trade projects. There is a growing resistance to these projects in rural areas which may lead to violence soon. In February, four major military documents from the armed conflict were to be declassified. They are assumed to implicate several important political figures, including Ríos Montt and Molina. However, the two most damning documents were "lost."

Meanwhile, a scandal has broken in Guatemala this week. A lawyer released a video (translation in the comments of this article) where he claims the current president, Colom, is responsible for the murder of his clients, who were whistle-blowers in a financial scam. His video opens with "if you are watching this, I have been murdered." He was killed via drive-by shooting this past weekend.

Molina, the ex-general, has arranged protests against the president in the capital. Yesterday he asked for the president to step down. I guess this is how a military coup begins. And people scream about closing our borders.

[42] [post]
030909 09:22PM

I'm coming back to the USA on Wednesday. Do you, the internet audience, want picspam and mild commentary from the many places I have been?

[24] [post]
093008 12:57PM

organic coffee farm, ex-guerilla community

i don't drink coffeeCollapse )

061808 03:21PM

According to my profile, it's been 19 weeks since I last updated. Even longer if you think about an update like announcing something about my life.

I feel like blogging as a phenomenon seems to have an inverse relationship to actually having something to say. The more I experience, the less the impetus to make a statement about it. It's too complex, it takes too much time, I don't have the words, whatever. And now that I am home here I am, internet. Validate me.

I don't know how to describe talking to genocide survivors every day, like it's nothing, how they talk about revolution like it's a given, it's an obvious need, and I understand why Che is everywhere down there. A united Latin America, what a silly dream you had, Che.

And being home is an exercise in guilt. My country paid for and trained how to perform human rights abuses x,y,z. And someone said "go home and talk to your country's leaders, that is how you can help." As if my country's leaders are listening.

So I've been home almost a month exactly. I don't have a boyfriend anymore. I don't have a job or money. I speak Spanish better and English worse. Time to start over.

[55] [post]
110207 10:54AM

+++Collapse )

[25] [post]
101907 01:34PM

[8] [post]
100807 01:23PM

On April 19th, 1983, Don Pedro was captured by the Guatemalan army and tortured for 14 days. He was organizing a food coop and was a religious man, enough to be painted the enemy during the 36 year long civil war. He was interrogated for 8 more days, questioned about his guerilla ties before being let go, near death. He escaped to Mexico as a refugee and finally returned to Guatemala in 1998.


[9] [post]
100307 02:38PM

[8] [post]
092607 02:39PM

[29] [post]
041607 04:06PM

A month ago I went to Ecuador with a group of students to work with street kids; kids who had been homeless and drug addicted from as young as 6 years old. I became attached to the kids in a very short time - they were beautiful and hilarious. When I got home I couldn't talk about the experience without tearing up. I felt like I had come back from time-travel - I didn't understand why everyone wasn't an emotional wreck with me. ASA picked me up from the airport and told me it was good to see me. I cried in response. I cried for what those kids have to endure in their lives, for being another adult to leave them, and for my privilege. I cried because I didn't know what to do with myself anymore.

In the past year, a lot of things that I thought were true have changed. Instead of answers, all I find are questions. I question the point of protesting, the point of pacifism - something I was once very committed to. I question where I fit in, as an american, as a woman, and a person of mixed-race. I get so despondent sometimes I question if I should even bother. But as things become less black and white, I know that I don't have a choice. I have to do something that has meaning. I'm just not sure what, anymore.

I want my belief system to be more than how I interpret the world around me. Beyond an awareness that is self-satisfying, but a dedication to doing what I think is right.

I can only start with myself. Peeling an onion: The clothes I wear, the job I have, the food I eat, all products of a system that I don't agree with. I am envious of those crusty anarchists who live in illegal squats eating food out of a dumpster, their white skin allowing them to fly under the radar, their parents not immigrants who find dirty clothing disrespectful.

When I think about what I want from my life, I try to think about who I want to be. And I want to be someone who tried.

[41] [post]
032907 03:19PM

Goldie gets down to business pre-internet. Mom's rocking a semi-flat top with a tucked in turtleneck, and reaching for the stars.

[9] [post]
021407 01:58PM

I will wait around all day for ASA to call me, and he will avoid me and I will feel alone and dumb and fat and when he calls me tomorrow, I'll be like "omg wtf" and he'll be like "wha, it's a fake holdiday" and I will be like "omg it's not ABOUT THATSAD*FG_SJN4O54098)" and breathe fire and extinguish it with my own tears.

[49] [post]
112906 02:45PM

[62] [post]
080806 10:44AM

[52] [post]
072506 11:40PM

Looks just like my mom.

[8] [post]
061606 02:27PM

I was sorting the mail at work just now, and I picked up a catalogue for some office supplies. I mumbled under my breath, "I'm just going to delete this," and tossed it in the garbage.

This is troubling.

[23] [post]
060106 09:40PM

[33] [post]
051406 11:05AM

[39] [post]
031506 01:16PM

[20] [post]
020706 02:54PM

[45] [post]
121205 03:19PM

Michelle is the woman who waited for me to be released from the Pentagon holding tank. She started out in college as an economics major, believing wholeheartedly in free market capitalism with her sights set on investment banking. She is incredibly brilliant and could be rolling in money right now. Instead, right now she's in the west bank, volunteering with IWPS. When she first told me about her right-wing past, I was shocked that one of my best friends, one of the most inspiring and driven people I know was almost someone else. Was almost working on wall street instead of a non-profit in Harlem. Was almost taking vacations in Cancun instead of volunteering in Palestine.

She left last Tuesday. I didn't think I'd get to hear from her until she came back, but she wrote.

so i made it to the west bank and spent some time in jerusalem on the way. the trip to the village took longer than expected because they closed our checkpoint after a palestinian had stabbed and killed an israeli soldier earlier in the day. but we made it to our little village, Hares, that evening. the village is 2km from the largest israeli settlement in the west bank which means that it will soon be enclosed by the apartheid wall which is diverting from it's path around the west bank to encase israeli settlements and essentially annex all of that land for israel. they've put up the "security fence" which is a chain link fence with razor wire indicating where the wall will be built and they've also built an enormous watch tower at the main entrance to the village. essentially the village will be closed off on three sides and the wall will prevent access to many villages that lie on the other side of the settlement.

on friday, we went to an anti-apartheid wall demonstration which basically involved going to a village where they have begun construction of the wall, interrupting the construction and attempting to plant olive trees in the space where the wall would be. internationals serve the role of both attempting to surround palestinians while they are planting the trees and standing back to document and observe human rights abuses. yesterday there was tear gas before the demonstration even began. the israelis now have guns that they use to shoot the tear gas canisters and can do it from 100 meters away. we waited a bit and then went ahead with the demonstration. we watched as they beat and attempted to arrest a boy who was no more than 10 years old. the palestinian activists have impressive strategies for de-arresting activists that the soldiers are trying to detain and were able to get the boy free. the soldiers hit and threatened many others but demonstrators were able to hold their ground for about an hour and a half before the tear gas began again. it's my impression that we (as IWPS volunteers) will spend more of our energy trying to stay out of harm's way to identify and document the human rights abuses. so no worries friends. i should be fine. you leave though feeling a bit defeated. i left wondering if this is really what needs to happen to build peace or even to build revolution. and of course after all of the abuse we had witnessed, i wondered if it made any difference for internationals to be there but a palestinian man told me that when there are no internationals they use live amunition in place of the rubber bullets. that's enough reason to go back on sunday.

it appears as though we'll spend much of our time visiting women in villages and women's organizations through out the west bank. we're on call through the night to go observe and document army incursions when called upon by palestinians in neighboring villages. we teach an english class twice a week. we're working with women trying to start a sewing cooperative. there's a lot of work to be done and this should be an interesting and busy 5 weeks.

i've already met some incredible people here, both international and palestinian. the palestinians have nicknamed me "the egyptian" which i'm into. i like being affiliated with the arab nation. and don't be fooled, we spend plenty of time dancing and laughing and smoking sheesha. this is a beautiful place to be.

[29] [post]
102505 12:54PM

I am white identified. Though I was raised by my black grandmother (who only spoke Spanish), going to an all white high school wins out. The only blacks and latinos I knew in town besides my family were a few black students in grades other than mine and servants of my friends. The black students were often called, "the whitest black guy you'll ever meet." I myself was once called a white-bread Puerto-Rican by an ex-boyfriend. It stung. I was thought to be mulatto by the majority of the student body. I heard a rumor that my father was a black panther. My mother's dreadlocks often receive stares.

Passing for white is remarkably easy. In the winter, I don't even need to straighten my hair. People ask me all the time, "What are you?" "Where are you from?" I could say Italian or Greek and no one would blink an eye. My last name is my fathers. It is English, and it is common. There are at least 40 of us in any phonebook. I don't worry about not getting interviews because of the last name on my resume. I can always get a cab. I've been called "nigger" only a few times.

If you're tired of hearing about Rosa Parks, fuck you. I would have sat on the back of the bus.

[44] [post]
072705 03:37PM

It has come to my attention that people on the internet(s) are completely insane. This is not news by any means, considering some people fake being attractive, or having dead babies, or dying in the world trade center, or fake entire lives with satellite characters whom you have interacted with.
I had always assumed that crazy people flocked to the internet for some reason, but it is slowly dawning on me that being completely fucking nuts is a very key element in internet use. Someone might, in life, hallucinate talking water bottles, speak entirely in non-sequitur, or subscribe to scientology, and still seem perfectly fine on the internet.
Witty, even.
This becomes apparent when the real life habits of people intersect with their internet habits. More often that not, these two pieces of the puzzle will fit together in a way that you NEVER WANTED TO SEE. But once you do, you can't forget, so the question becomes: do I go on pretending that I don't know you're fucking psychotic, or do I remove all traces of you from my life, internet(s) or otherwise?
The most important conclusion is that I am also insane. Here I am, using the internet, so I must be crazy, and unplugging my computer isn't going to make that go away.

[279] [post]
011105 02:19PM

I hate it when people with little white asses complain about their fictional big black/latino asses. Stop pretending to lament over a big fat ass that you wish you had. Some of us really do have big fat asses. Before it was J Lo and trendy, some of us had to endure being called fat ass in high school science class by a guy with a rat stache who later threw his girlfriend down some stairs. Some of us had to endure racial slurs inspired solely by the size of our ass. Some of us had to smile gracefully when older female relatives slapped, pinched, and grabbed our big fat asses at Thanksgiving, remarking "Ai, what a figure!"

[117] [post]
070304 09:20PM

When I was 16 and first got my driver's license, I would go out of my way to pick up friends from after-school activities, just so I could drive, drive. Since I was an incredibly lazy high school senior (and junior, and sophomore, and freshman) and had no after-school activities of my own, driving friends around in my brother's beat-up metal boat was, in my mind, worthy of any college application. The sun roof was wide open, we were eating ice cream, and depending on the mood of the passenger, the radio was tuned to Hot 97. Blazin' Hip Hop and R&B!

Since perma-shotgun went to my friend Danielle, her anxious station switching ensured that we couldn't hear a song for more than a minute before she was bored by it. She even made mix-tapes this way, cutting off the song halfway through because she was bored. She was impossible to get along with, and I felt it was my duty to be her friend for the sake of history. She would get into these fights with people, these spiraling, hostile, seething, frustrating fights where it seemed that she would disagree for the sake of disagreement, and nothing more. It was literally trying to reason with a mad person, and she would make these incredible statements like how reading was a waste of one's life to passively insult me because I read constantly. If she felt irritated or angry with something (namely her parents who hated her for not fitting into their suburban definition of perfection) she would express this consuming anxiety into insulting large groups of people with sweeping statements, and when rejected by the very people she was insulting, she would get vegetatively depressed at being unloved.

One fall afternoon, I went with her to pick up a friend of ours and drive him home, where we began to get in an argument about Young Life: is it or is it not a cult? What began as a joke quickly turned into a battle with her in the back seat. To signal the end of the conversation, I turned up the radio. Dramatics, dramatics. At this moment, I was getting onto the highway to travel one exit where I would drop her off, but not even really near her house. There was no logical reason for me to get on the highway then. I remember bits and pieces after that. Changing lanes, swerving, rush-hour traffic. It was like waking up from a dream: I saw the front end of the car crumbled up against the meridian, and asked what had happened. According to Danielle, a tear of blood escaped from my eye. Apparently I was out for a good minute or so. They told me "You got in an accident, it'll be okay." I immediately began to panic, saying over and over "My parents are going to be so mad at me!" Then I was in the ambulance, crying because I couldn't remember where my parents worked or my own phone number. What was wrong with me? Did I have brain damage? Then I was in the hospital vomiting and freezing cold. They kept putting blankets on me and I just kept vomiting. By this point, my friends and then boyfriend were alerted to my situation and were in the emergency room, waiting for me just outside the curtain, and I was embarrassed that they could hear me vomiting. I got a cat scan and went to bed with my mom asleep in a chair next to me. I don't remember that part either.

I had smacked my face against the steering wheel, breaking the paper-thin bone that held my eye up. I had a black eye for weeks, and it was a bit sunken into my skull. Every time I looked up, I saw double, and it hurt. It strains a bit, even today. A slight pull at the edge of my left eyesocket. I was adamantly against getting surgery to fix it, and everyone was telling me how foolish I was to permanently damage my vision at such a young age. It healed on its own, thankfully.

[22] [post]