The Butterflies of Buenaventura (Part 4): No Peace Without Women

Photo by Natalio Pino

Photo by Natalio Pino

Photo by Natalio Pino

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from their personal blog, Gathering Peace and is the fourth in a series.

Part One, Part Two, Part Three

Imagine the daily stress and fear of living in a neighborhood occupied by warring armed groups. You want nothing to do with them; you keep to yourself, going about your business. Imagine one day a group of armed men knock on your door, demanding that you give them something to eat. You know that the other group will most likely find out and accuse you of supporting the enemy. But, in this moment, the men standing at your door are threatening you and your family if you do not feed them. Imagine.

This was the very dilemma that a young woman in Buenaventura had to face, and she paid heavily for the choice she was coerced into making. She gave food to one group one day and the next she was shot in the back by another. Though she survived, she is paralyzed from the waist down.

On my last day in Buenaventura I went with Mari to visit this young woman who lives in a small community along the highway on the outskirts of Buenaventura. We sat with her and her husband, as their children played on the hard packed dirt floor inside their wooden shack.

With the highway expansion project underway, the encroaching road runs just a few feet from peoples’ homes.  A residen told me that it feels like an earthquake is shaking her home every time a truck drives by. Photo by David Sulewski

With the highway expansion project underway, the encroaching road runs just a few feet from peoples’ homes. A resident said that it feels like an earthquake is shaking her home every time a truck drives by. Photo by David Sulewski

Mari exudes a charisma that puts people at ease and easily earns their confidence. She listened empathetically, engaging the family with direct questions to fully understand their situation. She spoke encouraging words and then asked: Do you want to try to bring to justice the man who shot you?

As we left, Mari told her that the next step will be to share her situation at the upcoming case review meeting. Twice a month the Mariposas meet with government and non-governmental agencies to discuss cases and strengthen the legal, medical and humanitarian response to the crisis of violence. They also document cases of gender-based sexual violence to raise the visibility of this severely underreported crime.

Heading back into the city, Mari dropped me off at the entrance of a barrio where Rut, another Mariposa, was waiting for me. Mari informed me that this was one of the most dangerous barrios in Buenaventura. Here, the presence of the armed groups is strong and police have discovered casas de pique and unmarked, mass graves.

Rut and I jumped on the back of taxi motorcycles and sped down the dirt road, kicking up rocks and dust as we turned corners. We arrived at her house where she waved me in and sat me down at the table to eat a steaming bowl of fish soup with a heaping plate of coconut rice she had prepared.

“I, too, am a victim of the conflict,” She shared. Even now, as an outspoken Mariposa, she continues to receive threats. “They persecute me because I am like a stone in their path.” Looking around her home, resting her gaze on the photographs of her beautiful children hung on the cool cement walls, she said, “This is my home. I sacrificed so much to build it. I will never leave here.”

After lunch, we walked across the street to the community center (which she had built when she was president of the barrio) to lead a workshop for teenagers. For an hour she commanded the teenagers’ attention, leading them in community building and public speaking activities before facilitating a discussion about the Colombian laws that protect victims’ rights.

Photo by David Sulewski

Photo by David Sulewski

When the workshop was over Rut took me for a walk around her barrio. Indisputably a recognized and respected pillar of the community, she stopped to greet everyone we passed along the way. Further along, the road led to the barrio’s border at the forest’s edge. Waving her hand in the direction of the dense woods, she said, “Over there is the site of a massacre.” Just on the other side of the road, children played soccer on a dirt patch.  Despite the armed groups living in her barrio, Rut is committed to her community.  “This is my home,” she asserts, tapping her foot on the ground, “I won’t leave this place.” Like many of her fellow residents, Rut has already been forced from her home once in her life when she fled the violence in the neighboring region of Chocó back in the 1990s.

We looped back to her house to join up with a group of Mariposas to walk the rest of the way together out of the barrio to the main road where La Tremenda Revoltosa was preparing for their last demonstration. In the group I met Ana, Rut’s successor as president of the barrio.

Along the way, Ana called out to people sitting on their stoops, inviting them to join the rally. She stopped to introduce me to a young woman standing in the doorway. As we shook hands I noticed she had a tattoo of teardrops under her eye. “Come on, join us,” Ana encouraged her. “Maybe”, she replied flatly before stepping back inside. Once we were out of earshot, Ana leaned in to tell me, “Here, we respect everyone.” Respect is a good strategy for protection in a violent barrio, but it can also allow for an opening to a conversation that invites a decision to walk an alternative, peaceful path.

Emerging from the barrio we regrouped with La Tremenda Revoltosa for another festive, musical march for peace in Buenaventura. The march went down the main road and then looped back to the very entrance to the barrio where Mari had dropped me off only a few hours earlier that afternoon. As it began to grow dark, the rally concluded and La Tremenda Revoltosa piled back onto to their bus to head home. TheMariposas then began flagging down taxis for everyone else to get home. Sticking around here at night was not safe, someone told me. There, on the side of the road in the gathering dark, I said goodbye to the Mariposas, thanking them for their incredible hospitality.

As evening turned to night, I felt indignant at the darkness—and at the violence and fear that operate under its cover. Yet, what prevailed within me was the joyful spirit of hope and resistance that I witnessed animating the Mariposas. I thought, for these butterflies with new wings building a future, what does Buenaventura’s future look like? And, on a national scale, what can Colombia learn from the lessons of Buenaventura’s past, from its present state of violence and from the courageous example of the Mariposas?

After more than half a century of violence, the conflict in Colombia—one of the world’s longest civil wars—may come to an end in a matter of months. Yet, if the peace accords are signed, will they hold? Will there be peace in Colombia? Will the root causes of conflict in a so-called post-conflict era be addressed? Will drug traffickers continue to recruit ex-combatants, just as demobilized paramilitaries back in 2003 went on to form the very illegal armed groups terrorizing Buenaventura today?

A recent study demonstrates empirically that the best bellwether of a nation’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated. The higher the rates of domestic abuse, gender-based violence and femicide—crimes that often get dismissed as private affairs—the greater a nation’s insecurity.

The Mariposas are on the right track for building a peaceful future. By creating a network of solidarity, drawing needed attention to gender-based sexual violence and speaking out against the silence of impunity and indifference, the Mariposas are getting at the very root causes of violence, such as patriarchy, gender inequality, racism and sexism, to stop the violence against women and children.

Buenaventura’s peaceful future depends on the Mariposas just as Colombia’s peace hinges on women, on how well they are treated and how strong their presence and voices are in all sectors of society.

Photo by David Sulewski

Photo by David Sulewski

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Weekly Round-Up, June 26

Putumayo River, Colombia. AnnaVogt

Putumayo River, Colombia. AnnaVogt

Mexico takes lead to stem migrant wave, deports more Central Americans than the United States

Between October and April, Mexico apprehended 92,889 Central Americans. In the same time period, the United States detained 70,226 “other than Mexican” migrants, the vast majority from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That was a huge reversal from the same period a year earlier, when the wave of migrants and unaccompanied minors from Central America was building. From October 2013 to April 2014, the United States apprehended 159,103 “other than Mexicans,” three times the 49,893 Central Americans detained by Mexico.

Surge of Detainees in Mexico Suggests Violence Still Fueling Child Migration

On June 21, Mexico‘s National Immigration Institute (INM) announced authorities have detained 11,893 minors from Central America during the first five months of 2015, a 49 percent increase from the number of child detainees during the same period in 2014. The INM said the majority of the children stopped by Mexican authorities are from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala).

Why Honduras’s Judiciary Is Its Most Dangerous Branch

The administration should oversee how the money is allotted. It should earmark funds so that they are spent on measures that might prevent a Honduran congressional majority from stacking the court with its own members again. And it should push for the enactment of a sensible presidential term limit — one that will be resistant to political manipulation — to fill the void left by the court. In the absence of any term limit, Honduran democracy stands vulnerable to the threat posed by would-be authoritarians.

America’s Second Chance in Guatemala

Second chances rarely happen. Yet the United States is being offered one now. By publicly aligning itself with the diverse coalition of Guatemalan citizens seeking immediate democratic reforms, the United States has an opportunity to bolster a democracy that Guatemalans deserve and lay the foundation for a constructive relationship with an emerging Guatemalan political class. In helping regenerate a Guatemalan democratic spring, this time the United States can unequivocally stand on the right side of history.

El Salvador’s skyrocketing violence is being met by youth who risk their lives to treat victims

Gang violence is skyrocketing in El Salvador. May finished with more than 600 murders, more than any previous month since the country’s civil war that ended in the early 1990s. Young people are often the victims, but the members of the The Rescue Command are on the front lines in a different way. The volunteers sit lined up in the half open courtyard, watching some old movies on a TV screen. Some others have already decided to rest in a small room packed with bunk beds. In the office just next to them, the ones in charge for tonight keep control of the radio and listen for alarms. The ambulances are ready, but so far it’s been a quiet night.

Report: Few El Salvador Homicides Involve Gang Members

Given the government’s inability to address El Salvador‘s ongoing security crisis, officials may see some advantage in writing off the murders as gang-on-gang violence, with the implication that average civilians are left out of the fray. However, not only is this a highly questionable assertion, the justice system can’t deprioritize murder cases simply because the victims were known gang members. Although police have said they are “at war” with street gangs, they are still required to fully investigate all murders, and failing to do so in the case of dead gang members could lead to an increased sense of lawlessness in an already volatile situation.

Is Nicaragua giving FARC leaders citizenship as shield against US and ICC charges?

The FARC has long financed its war against the Colombian state with drug trafficking and many of its leaders are wanted by the US. One leader, “Simon Trinidad,” was convicted to 60 years in a US prison after he was extradited over pending drug charges, but later sentenced on different charges. A deal between the FARC and Nicaragua would provide the rebel leadership with a safe haven in case a peace deal with the government does not provide enough protection against them being extradited to the US or being prosecuted by the ICC.

A Haitian border town struggles with new rules in the Dominican Republic

In the days before the June 17 deadline for undocumented migrants to register for residency permits — if they could prove they had lived in the Dominican Republic before 2011 — many predicted police roundups and waves of deportations. So far, what has happened instead are voluntary departures by more than 12,000 Haitians who fear that such a crackdown could turn violent.

Black Bodies in Motion and in Pain

As many Haitian migrants and immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent now either go into hiding or leave the Dominican Republic out of fear, we are witnessing, once again, a sea of black bodies in motion, in transit, and in danger. And as Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the larger community of Charleston, South Carolina, prepare to bury their dead, we will once again be seeing black bodies in pain. And we will be expected to be exceptionally graceful mourners. We will be expected to stifle our rage. And we will keep asking ourselves, When will this end? When will it stop?

Colombia acts on massacres – punishing whistleblower and promoting officers

The Colombian military has received billions of dollars in American aid, training and equipment, making it one of the top 10 recipients of US assistance worldwide. US law, however, prohibits aid to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Human Rights Watch called on the US government to suspend the part of military aid to Colombia subject to human rights conditions. “The safeguard mechanisms have evidently failed,” said Vivanco.

Decision on sea access will shape Bolivia’s economic future

The economic upside is the most obvious benefit, but just as significant would be the nationalist support that could, and already has emerged, said Sinclair Thomson, an associate professor of history at New York University who specializes in Bolivian history and politics. “At stake is a principle of national sovereignty which is historically very deeply rooted in the country, with significant legal, political, and cultural implications, and one that unifies Bolivians over and above their sharp regional, class and ethnic divisions,” he said.

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Press Release: UN Panel Says Peacekeeper Immunity Cannot Equal Impunity- Yet Report Fails to Address Haiti Cholera

Nepalese troops arrive to provide security for a food distribution at a police station. Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by Ben Depp.1/20/2010.

Nepalese troops arrive to provide security for a food distribution at a police station. Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo by Ben Depp.1/20/2010.

UN Panel Says Peacekeeper Immunity Cannot Equal Impunity

Report Fails to Address Haiti Cholera, While Chair Separately Calls for Compensation

(New York, June 22, 2015) — On Monday, June 22, a High-Level Independent Panel appointed to review and propose reforms in UN peacekeeping publicly released its final report. The report calls for overhauls in the peacekeeping system, noting that it suffers from “chronic challenges.” Despite the mounting accountability crisis facing UN peacekeeping and prior assurances by the Panel Chair that it would issue recommendations to respond to the UN’s accountability failures in Haiti, the panel did not propose reforms that address continued UN impunity for cholera in Haiti.

“The UN’s lack of accountability for cholera in Haiti represents one of the greatest credibility crises facing UN peacekeeping today. The Panel’s failure to even mention it in its 111-page report is an inexcusable continuation of the UN’s policy of silence on cholera,” said Kathrine Garrison, Program Associate, Mennonite Central Committee.

The Panel did issue extensive recommendations for enhancing accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). While the Panel emphasized that “immunity must not mean impunity,” it did not extend that principle to harms suffered by individuals outside of the SEA context, despite the well-documented deficiencies in its civil claims system.

The Panel’s lack of recommendations on impunity in other contexts is particularly notable in light of prior commitments to address the issue. At a November 20, 2014, press conference, Panel Chair and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate José Ramos-Horta called the question of UN accountability for cholera in Haiti “absolutely legitimate.” Ramos-Horta told the media that the issue would be taken into consideration in the Panel’s discussions and recommendations, stating, “Human beings, human lives were lost…We cannot just gloss over [it].” Yet the final report makes no mention of the issue.

On June 16, Ramos-Horta notably told the press that peacekeepers were responsible for the introduction of cholera to Haiti. Ramos-Horta then drew an analogy with a case in Timor Leste in which a Brazilian peacekeeper caused the death of a child, and the family was duly offered an apology and compensation. “This is how we expect people working under the UN flag to behave,” Ramos-Horta stated.

Ramos-Horta also emphasized the need for the international community to come together and address the issue of remedies for the victims of cholera in Haiti.

“The Panel’s silence on the cholera situation in its final report is striking in this context, since the cholera case entails ongoing, systemic failures of the type the Panel was commissioned to examine,” said Meg Satterthwaite, Director of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law[1], which advocates for international organization accountability in Haiti.

The UN’s responsibility for the cholera epidemic has brought to light severe deficiencies in the UN’s accountability system that reach far beyond Haiti. In 2012, researchers at Yale University found that the UN has signed 32 binding treaties agreeing to establish claims commissions to provide a fair hearing for victims of peacekeeping abuses, yet no such commission has ever been created.

“The problem of UN impunity is not limited to sexual abuse. Civilians who are injured by UN peacekeepers have nowhere to turn for justice. They can’t file claims with the commissions because the UN won’t establish them, and when victims turn to the courts, the UN asserts immunity,” explained Joseph Champagne, Chair of the National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON).

The Panel’s report does call on the UN to carry out periodic environmental impact assessments of peace operations.

“Reducing the risk of future harms from peacekeeping is commendable,” said Brian Concannon Jr., Esq., Executive Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and lawyer for the cholera victims of cholera. “But it does nothing for the families of the over 9,000 people already killed or for the 720,000 sickened by UN cholera, and it will not stop the cholera from attacking thousands more each year.”

The High-Level Panel was appointed in October 2014 to undertake a comprehensive review of all aspects of peacekeeping, including an examination of the impact its operations have on civilians and the infringement of human rights. It is the first independent review of peacekeeping in fifteen years.

Numerous civil society groups have urged the Panel to address accountability for cholera in its report on several occasions over the past seven months. A submission provided to the panel, which spells out the deficiencies in the UN’s accountability system, is available here.

Logo 2 Logo mcc

Logo

Contact:    

Kermshlise Picard, Communications Coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti; media@ijdh.org, 617-652-0876.

[1] This communication does not purport to represent the institutional views, if any, of NYU.

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The Butterflies of Buenaventura (Part 3): A Rising Tide of Tremendous Troublemakers

Photo by Natalio Pino

Photo by Natalio Pino

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from their personal blog, Gathering Peace and is the third in a series.

Part One, Part Two

On a sultry Saturday afternoon in March, in the month that commemorates the International Day of Women (the 8th) and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the 21st), the Mariposas converged on a plaza in downtown Buenaventura for a peaceful march through the streets to raise awareness about sexual violence against women and children.

To passersby they handed out flyers that read: “A life free of violence against women and children is possible.”  Cars slowed to watch the gathering as the Mariposas waved their signs.  With the volume on their megaphones turned all the way up, they chanted, “Women have rights; we are with you.”

At that moment, a Bohemian bus painted with a mosaic of funky colors pulled up and out streamed a troupe of women outfitted with drums, trumpets and trombones. To enthusiastic cheers and applause, La Tremenda Revoltosa Batucada Feminista—The Tremendous Unruly Feminist Batucada —had arrived!

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La Tremenda Revoltosa is a recently formed, Bogotá-based, all-women musical ensemble that plays Afro-Brazilian percussion in opposition to machismo, heterosexism, racism, neo-capitalism, and all the effects of these dominating systems on the land, on the people, and on the very bodies of the women of Colombia, especially on Afro-Colombian and Indigenous women.

They had come to join forces with the Mariposas and to musically accompany their fearless cry for justice, for a stop to structural violence, femicide and ethnocide, and for a Buenaventura—indeed, a country—where all can live free of every form of violence.

Everyone stood in breathless anticipation as the ensemble got into formation. Motionless, with their instruments poised, the women fixed their eyes on their director as she counted down. On three their music shattered the silence—not just the physical silence, but also the silence of impunity, the silence that terror imposes on others.

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Everyone danced to the rhythm of the drums, moving their bodies in elegant, free expression. Animated by the higher power of music, the rally departed from the plaza and began moving down the street, stopping traffic as onlookers came out to watch—and even join in. The women of La Tremenda Revoltosa raised their voices in song:

La tambora haré sonar por la dignidad, de este pueblo que no quiere más feminicidios

Aquí vamos cantando, 

aquí vamos bailando, contra el machismo, el racismo también,

¡no lo olvide usted!

The drum will sound for dignity, for this people that does not want any more femicides

Here, we will sing, 

here, we will dance against machismo, and racism, too

Don’t you forget it!

To conclude the rally, they marched to the seaside park. The tide was high along the sea wall. La Tremenda Revoltosa formed a drum circle and the Mariposas danced in the center as the sun began to set, yielding to the new moon rising.

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As night fell, the Mariposas invited me to join them for a Lunada on the grounds of a nearby seminary. Beneath the soft glow of the new moon, these descendants of Cimarronas—enslaved Africans who escaped the chains of their bondage and fled to live free in the mountains—gathered to remember their heritage and to keep alive their ancestral practices that strengthen their identity as Afro-Colombians. Sitting on the earth around a fire, we invoked the names of women in our lives, living and passed, who gave us life and wisdom. Then, we blessed and shared a meal. The women recited poetry and told stories well into the night, relaxing happily in one anothers’ company before facing a new day filled with all its struggles and joys.

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Weekly Round-up: June 19, Special Focus on Haiti

Haitians face police while waiting outside the Ministry of Interior and Police to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

Haitians face police while waiting outside the Ministry of Interior and Police to register in Santo Domingo, June 16, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

The Dominican Republic (D.R.) is poised to begin the controversial deportation of hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrant workers and, potentially, Dominicans of Haitian descent who have been stripped of their citizenship. The impending crisis ushers from decades of tense relations between Dominicans and their Haitian neighbors to the east, and many observers believe international standards are being trampled in the process.

Dominicans of Haitian Descent Are Stateless: End the Crisis Now!

A controversial order of the D.R. Constitutional Court in September 2013 retroactively stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Dominicans who are of Haitian parentage. In May 2014, the Dominican Congress adopted a law that created two categories of people: those who at some point were registered in the Dominican civil registry (group A), and those whose birth in the D.R. was never declared (group B). The law provided for a period of permanent residency with the possibility of naturalization, but only 5% of individuals from Group B were able to register before a February 2015 deadline and benefit from the program.

Haitian Workers Facing Deportation by Dominican Neighbors

In addition to Dominicans of Haitian descent, an estimated 524,000 foreign-born migrant workers, most of whom are Haitian, live in the D.R. They are also affected by the Dominican Government’s increased immigration enforcement. The government created the National Plan of Regularization of Foreigners (PNRE) that would allow for the legal residency of certain migrant workers with the registration deadline set for June 17, 2015. Human rights groups had hoped the government would delay the registration deadline for the many who experienced difficulty in assembling the necessary documents and clearing bureaucratic hurdles to register. This delay did not occur.

Dominicans of Haitian descent fear mass deportation as deadline looms

For non-citizen migrant workers to benefit from the Dominican regularization plan, they needed to establish their identity and prove they arrived in the D.R. before October 2011. To date, 250,000 migrant workers have started the application process for residency. Migrant workers who successfully registered are being granted a 45-day grace period in which their applications will be verified. While the government has promised there will not be mass deportations, many observers are skeptical. Recent Haitian immigrants to the D.R. were vulnerable to deportation prior to the July 17 deadline and approximately 40,000 were deported in the first quarter of 2015. .

Haiti’s Government Unsure How Many Haitians Will Leave Dominican Republic (Audio)

Haitian and Dominican civil society organizations have been active in advocacy efforts toward their respective governments. One of the lead organizations on the Haitian side is the Support Group for Returnees and Refugees (GARR), and they have been active in planning to meet deportees at the border and provide reintegration assistance.

Haiti Braces for waves of deportees from the Dominican Republic

While much attention is fixed on the Dominican government’s preparations for deportations, less has been given to the Haitian government’s role in this potential crisis. Efforts to provide the legal documentation needed by Haitian nationals to regularize their status in the D.R. have been slow, and the Haitian government has struggled to build and staff facilities to meet deportees at two of the four official border crossings the countries share.

To hear the stories of those affected follow #HaitianLivesMatter or Amnesty International’s Twitter campaign #UncertainFate.

We encourage you to advocate. Several petitions are in circulation:

Amnesty International USA Action Alert:

Send an email to Dominican President S.E. Danilo Sanchez

‘We the People’ Petition to the Obama Administration (for U.S. Residents):

Sign the petition entitled “Pressure the government of the Dominican Republic to stop its planned “cleaning” of 250,000 black Dominicans”

A Haitian man sought legal residency in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after the government set a Wednesday deadline for worker registration. Credit: Tatiana Fernandez/Associated Press (from NYTimes article, above)

A Haitian man sought legal residency in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, after the government set a Wednesday deadline for worker registration. Credit: Tatiana Fernandez/Associated Press (from NYTimes article, above)

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In Times of War and in Times of ‘Peace': The Role of the U.S. Embassy in the Current Political Turmoil of Guatemala

Guatemala streets. Photo: Anna Vogt

Guatemala streets. Photo: Anna Vogt

By Tobias Roberts, MCC Guatemala. This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on June 1, 2015.

The United States government is no stranger to meddling in the politics of Guatemala. In 1954, the CIA almost single-handedly overthrew the reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz. During the 1970s and 80s the U.S. channeled military aid to the Guatemalan government through Israel and trained a good number of army officials that carried out massacres and politics of genocide against the Mayan population.

Bill Clinton, in a 1999 visit to Guatemala, even apologized to Guatemalan citizens for the U.S. role in supporting military violence in the country. “For the United States,”Mr. Clinton said, “it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake.”

Clinton ended his speech in 1999 saying, “We are determined to remember the past,” said Clinton, “but never repeat it.” Memory is short, however, because today similar occurrences are underway.

During the past month, Guatemala has lived a political earthquake. Cases of enormous corruption in different government ministries have been revealed almost on a daily basis. For the first time in many years, different sectors of the population have united in massive protests around the country demanding the renunciation of government officials, including president Otto Pérez Molina.

In the midst of this situation, the power and influence of the U.S. embassy has been patently clear. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN commission created to promote accountability and strengthen the rule of law while operating under Guatemalan criminal procedures, revealed the first case of government corruption in the Guatemalan tax ministry in April that lit the fuse to the beginning of the protests. For over two weeks, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanded the renunciation of Roxanna Baldetti, the vice president whose personal secretary was the head of the corruption scandal. Baldetti and President Otto Pérez, however, refused to respect the popular outcry for Baldetti’s renunciation, until the U.S. Embassy intervened.

On May 7th, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala together with officials from the CICIG met with Otto Pérez Molina to discuss the situation of political turmoil in Guatemala. On May 8th, Baldetti finally resigned. The question remains: Why did the U.S. Embassy exercise its power to demand Baldetti’s resignation and what strategic interests is the U.S. government after in this current political turmoil?

The government of Otto Pérez and Roxanna Baldetti was never very popular with the United States. Early on in his term, President Otto Pérez drew Washington’s ire by presenting a regional proposal to legalize drugs as a strategy to battle drug-trafficking through Central America. In 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala urged President Pérez to not nominate Blanca Stalling as judge of the Supreme Court due to her susceptibility to trafficking of influences. Pérez ignored the U.S. Embassy´s admonitions, nominated Stalling, and further debilitated Guatemala’s already very unstable judicial system. Recently, Judge Stalling’s son was implicated in the current corruption scandals.

Furthermore, the corruption in the customs and ports of Guatemala worried Washington. Osama Aranki is Jordanian citizen who was discovered to be involved in the structures of corruption affecting the ports and customs of Guatemala. His links to possible terrorist organizations in the Middle East led Washington to fear that corruption in Guatemala could eventually lead to the illegal importation of weapons from the Middle East to Central America.

These and many other incidents eventually led the U.S. government into pressuring the government of Guatemala into accepting reforms it deemed necessary. The resignation of Vice President Baldetti was only the beginning. Interior Ministro Mauricio Bonilla also recently resigned (most surely due to pressure from the U.S. embassy) and has been replaced by Eunice Mendizabal, a strong ally of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), another influential player of the U.S. Government in Guatemala.

The protest movement against the government of Otto Pérez Molina has clearly divided into two different sectors. On one side of the coin, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations of Guatemala (CACIF) which represents the economic, business elite has partnered with the position of the US Embassy. They joined the popular calls for Baldetti’s resignation but have since focused on pressuring Pérez into calling for the renunciation of certain government ministers and replacing those ministers with those that fit their interests.

The popular movements of university students, peasants, labor unions, indigenous Mayans, and others, however, are calling for a National Constitutional Assembly to re-create a political system that they believe cannot be simply reformed. These sectors obviously represent the majority of the protestors, but receive very little press coverage. Their intent to reconstruct the Guatemalan State is feared both by the U.S. government and by the CACIF, both of whom are seeking to escape from the current political crisis with more power and influence over the institutions of the Guatemalan government.

In January of 2015, Vice President Joe Biden visited Central America to promote the“Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.” This U.S.-designed plan intends to spend over a billion dollars in the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that make up one of the most violent regions in the world. Biden was also a huge proponent for Plan Colombia, a similar plan that the U.S. implemented in Colombia during the last decade.

The Plan for Prosperity, if passed, is to focus its investment in three main areas: promoting security, good governance, and economies open to foreign investment and international trade.

Promoting security means, among other things, more sales of U.S. manufactured weapons to the Guatemalan police and military forces. It would also, presumably, include a wider influence of the U.S. armed forces within Central America. The promotion of good governance would follow from the current actions being taken by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala where the United States government would have a hand in determining who is to be nominated to positions of judicial power in Central America.

Lastly, the opening of Central American economies is the backbone of the deal. In a January op-ed in The New York TimesBiden states his belief that “Central American economies can grow only by attracting international investment. That requires… protections for investors; courts that can be trusted to adjudicate disputes fairly; protections for intellectual property.”

Since the negotiation of the Central American free trade agreements a decade ago, the United States’ main political interest has been the continued opening and de-regulation of Central American economies. These policies have caused untold disaster for Central American communities, both rural and urban. Even the issue of national sovereignty has come under fire, as international tribunals have ruled against Central American governments fighting against U.S. mining companies claiming a “right” to operate in the country despite popular and governmental refusal.

The current meddling of the U.S. government in the political turmoil of Guatemala of the moment is not coincidental. It is the result of a dogged determination to control the geopolitical sphere of Central America, a determination that dates back hundreds of years. The United States government is not so interested in combating the corruption affecting the Guatemalan government as in assuring control and its continued hegemony over a region that it has historically considered its own.

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The Butterflies of Buenaventura (Part 2): Our project in life is to be happy

David Sulewski, together with his wife Tibrine da Fonesca, works with MCC in Quito, Ecuador, coordinating the Refugee Project, a ministry of the Mennonite Church in Quito to refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from the armed conflict in Colombia. This post was taken from their personal blog, Gathering Peace and is the second in a series.

 Part 1 

In mid-March I traveled to Buenaventura, Colombia, to visit the Mariposas con Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro.

From Cali I made the bus journey out of the Cauca Valley and over the Western Cordillera mountain range before descending down to the tropical, humid Pacific coast. At each turn in the winding road vistas of dramatic, natural beauty unfolded. Though Buenaventura is located only about eighty miles west of Cali, the trip took four hours. Traffic periodically slowed to a standstill whenever we passed construction workers laboring beneath the sweltering sun to widen the narrow, heavily traveled road or came to a military checkpoint where soldiers were on the lookout for smuggled drugs or guns.

Crossing the bridge that connects the port of Buenaventura with the mainland, I saw rows of tightly packed wooden shacks balancing precariously on stilts over the water. At the port upscale hotels cater to businesspeople and towering cranes load cargo onto massive shipping vessels.

The stark contrast between the sprawling, impoverished barrios and the developed, industrial port gives the impression that the people of Buenaventura are overlooked by economic interests focused less on the wellbeing of the people and more on the transportation of goods in and out of the city. Though 60% of Colombia’s cargo passes through Buenaventura, 60% of the population is unemployed and 80% lives in poverty.

From the bus terminal I jumped into a taxi and headed to the Catholic parish that has been providing the Mariposas with a safe meeting place in the middle of a violent barrio. Along the way, armed soldiers were visible patrolling the streets, a constant reminder of the invisible, yet very much felt, presence of the illegal armed groups.

When I arrived, Mari was waiting for me with a big, warm smile. She guided me upstairs to where two Mariposas were facilitating a workshop with a group of women. They were engaged in an icebreaker in which each woman would stand up, introduce herself and then do a dance move that everyone else would then mimic all at once while repeating that person’s name. I jumped right in, introduced myself and did what barely passed as a moonwalk. Everyone laughed as they slid backward on their feet all around the room shouting, “Mi nombre es David!”

For many of the women, just attending these workshops is an exercise in asserting their autonomy. One woman in the workshop stated firmly, “I don’t ask permission from anyone when I want to come here.”

Often, husbands do disapprove of their wives attending the workshops, accusing them of doing nothing but sitting around and gossiping all day. But, it is precisely through “gossip” (in Spanish, “comadreo”, communication by word of mouth) that the Mariposas build their strong networks of solidarity throughout the city. When they hear through their channels of communication that a woman has been raped, a trusted neighbor in the barrio who is part of the Mariposa network goes to visit and accompany her.

Through accompaniment and participation in the workshops, the women have a safe space to talk and to learn about their rights, otherwise the silent reign of sexual violence continues with impunity. Sexual violence is an open secret; everyone knows it happens, but no one talks about it. Though official figures register 6.8 million victims of the armed conflict nationwide, only a little over 6,000 have reported being sexually assaulted. This underreporting is due to mistrust of authorities, impunity and stigmatization.

In Buenaventura, armed groups violate women and children purely to assert their power. Sexual violence and forced displacement also go hand in hand, as these groups force their victims from their homes in a grab to control more territory. The epidemic of sexual violence, in addition to being a strategy of the armed conflict, is also the consequence of a combination of powerful, entrenched realities: patriarchal culture, structural racism, gender inequality and machismo.

This is the challenging and dangerous context in which the Mariposas live and work. With their profoundly personal experiences living within the armed conflict and direct knowledge of the culture and dynamics of Buenaventura, they are a vital and trusted community of women uniquely positioned to accompany victims of violence, advocate for their rights and prevent further acts of violence.  To date, they have helped over a thousand women.

By building up a community based on the principles of mutual support, accompaniment and sisterhood in which women learn about and exercise their rights the Mariposas believe they can realize their goal of eradicating all forms of violence against women. One concrete tool the Mariposas developed and distribute is an information sheet called the Ruta de Vida y atención en Violencias de Genero – Pathway towards life and attention in cases of gender-based violence. It illustrates all the medical, legal and humanitarian agencies to which victims of gender-based sexual violence have a right to access.

In the workshop, the women got into small groups to discuss what to do in the case of a woman victim of sexual violence whose life was being threatened. They referred to theRuta for guidance. The Ruta is a map, but the Mariposas know well that accessing care and taking the courageous step to denounce one’s assailant is a journey, which is why one woman in my group, after everyone had properly identified the appropriate steps, said, “Let us not forget that every step of the way we are by her side.”

Their vision of a Buenaventura free of all forms of violence against women of all ethnicities, sexual orientation, class and religious identity, also leads them to the streets to engage in public, peaceful demonstrations to draw needed attention to the problems of racism, discrimination and violence.

With the support of a Bogotá-based feminist musical ensemble called La Tremenda Revoltosa Batucada Feminista, the Mariposas had planned a demonstration for the following day in downtown Buenaventura. The march coincided auspiciously with the new moon, when the sea level rises highest, which lent itself for a powerfully symbolic image: a swelling tide of change for Buenaventura.

In preparation, the women drummed up ideas for slogans to chant. One after another, they threw ideas up on the board, such as: Queremos a Buenaventura sin racismo, sin machismo, sin feminicidios, sin homofobia, sin sexismo, en paz y libre—We want a peaceful and free Buenaventura without racism, machismo, femicide, homophobia and sexism.

Then one woman yelled out: No más golpes, ¡¡¡más orgasmos!!!—No more hitting, more orgasms!!! Everyone erupted with laughter. At first I blushed, and then understood that while they were talking about the kind of respect a man shows a woman by never hitting her, they also meant R-E-S-P-E-C-T, the kind Aretha Franklin sings about (if you know what I mean).

At this point in the brainstorming session there was no going back. Everyone began swapping stories about their men not paying them the respect they deserve.  Then the jokes flew, none of which I can repeat here. I soon figured out that they were telling these jokes partly just to watch this gringo turn beet red. By the end my ribs were sore from so much laughter.

Before leaving, Mari showed me their office. Painted on the wall was a brilliantly colorful mural of dancing women with words above reading: Our project in life is to be happy.

The Mariposas say that in some parts of Africa butterflies represent the human soul and the complete cycle of human life. Not unlike a butterfly, the Mariposas are on a journey of radical transformation. Though their reality is marked by injustice and suffering, they work tirelessly, but joyfully, to build a new Buenaventura, turning a seemingly hopeless, violent port into a vibrant, peaceful community where everyone’s rights are respected, where everyone can realize their project of living an abundant, happy life.

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Weekly Roundup, June 5

People take part in a protest demanding the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa on 29 May. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

People take part in a protest demanding the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa on 29 May. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Latin America suffers toll of corruption

Though hardly surprising, the cross contamination of corruption and crime suggests that stopping the bloodshed will take more than best practices and government reforms. It means freeing courts, lawmakers and police from the grip of powerful cartels and their official sponsors, who have a vested interest in preserving the shadows. Look for more crowds in the Guatemalan streets in the days ahead.

Anti-corruption protests spread to Honduras with demands that President Hernández resign

Approximately 5,000 protesters Friday demanded Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández’s resignation after he was accused by the opposition of having accepted illegal funds from the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS) to finance his presidential campaign in 2013. The protest in Tegucigalpa is the latest in a wave of discontent that has swept through Central America, after Guatemalans took to the streets for five consecutive weeks to demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina.

US silent on Northern Triangle as anti-corruption protests spread to Honduras

For critics already skeptical of the idea that increased U.S. aid to security forces accused of rampant human rights violations will address the root causes of migration from Honduras and other Northern Triangle countries and improve governance there, the latest allegations of corruption in Honduras further complicate the picture.

Protesters across Honduras take on alleged social security embezzlement

A protest movement organized over social media in Honduras has led to large demonstrations over corruption allegations in cities around the Central American country. The protesters are upset over a scandal involving a purported multimillion-dollar embezzlement of social security funds, with some of the money allegedly going to finance the governing political party. Among other things, they are calling for President Juan Orlando Hernandez to resign.

Honduran leader acknowledges campaign funds tied to scandal

Honduras’ president acknowledged Wednesday that his election campaign received financing from businesspeople linked to a social security embezzlement and graft scandal that has sparked large protests, but denied any personal involvement. President Juan Orlando Hernandez said his National Party informed him that the funds involved 10 checks totaling about $150,000 in donations during his race for the Central American nation’s top office two years ago.

Corruption scandals in Guatemala fuel demands for political resignations

Corruption scandals in Guatemala are fueling ongoing public protests across the country. Dozens of officials have been arrested and a slew of high-ranking politicians, including the country’s vice-president, have resigned in recent weeks.  Many power brokers within Guatemala’s government – including President Otto Molina – built their careers in the military special forces during the country’s 36-year-long civil war. Now, the wave of scandals has sparked a popular movement with people in the streets calling for everything from the president’s resignation to deep systemic change. For more on the situation, FSRN’s Shannon Young spoke with Central America-based independent journalist, Sandra Cuffe.

In Times of War and in Times of ‘Peace': The Role of the U.S. Embassy in the Current Political Turmoil of Guatemala

On May 7th, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala together with officials from the CICIG met with Otto Pérez Molina to discuss the situation of political turmoil in Guatemala. On May 8th, Baldetti finally resigned. The question remains: Why did the U.S. Embassy exercise its power to demand Baldetti’s resignation and what strategic interests is the U.S. government after in this current political turmoil?

Change through art: Latin America’s other revolution

Art is no longer aimed at the elite; it is a tool to overcome trauma and displacement, loneliness and despair. And nowhere is that more needed than on a continent where our cities glimmer at the centre but hide favelas on their fringes, where depleted mines and forests ravage the land and crime and drug abuse the people – a constant reminder of our unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity. Activist artists reach out to those who are disadvantaged. Their stories matter, and move us. They lift the human spirit and celebrate the talent hidden behind the dirt and desolation. And they show us that there are many Fridas among us, quietly creating a lasting legacy for us all.

Mexico: Where a story becomes deadly

According to Reporters without Borders, 81 journalists have been killed in Mexico between January 2000 and September 2014. More than half of those cases remain unresolved. It is one of the most dangerous countries in which to practise the profession, with the states of Michoacan, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Guerrero proving particularly treacherous.

Red Cross ‘squandered millions’ in Haiti relief efforts 

After raising about $500m in donations meant to help rebuild Haiti following the 2011 catastrophic earthquake, the Red Cross managed to only build a meagre six homes in the country, according to a joint investigation by the news agencies Pro Republica and NPR. The prominent US aid organisation says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, “but the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti is six”, the report released on Wednesday said.

Colombia under fire: 400 displaced following military offensive on FARC rebels in Cauca

A renewed commitment to the peace talks and a bilateral ceasefire would stem some of the bloodshed of the last few weeks, but given the myriad of actors and interests at play in Colombia’s conflict, a lasting peace will require much more. “Peace will not be possible if there are no protections for the defense of human rights and no mechanisms for the participation of civilians, social organizations and social leaders in peace building,”wrote the Cauca Network for Life and Human Rights.

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Injustice Outbreak

INFOGRAPHIC: How the U.N. is Failing Haitian Cholera Victims

From HuffingtonPost Impact:

“Haiti is a few months away from the five-year anniversary of the introduction of cholera because of the United Nations’ systematic negligence in leaking contaminated human waste into Haitian waterways.

We at Mennonite Central Committee created an infographic to raise awareness of two unfortunate truths: 1) cholera in Haiti is not under control and new cases are surging in 2015; and 2) the U.N. continues to ignore its own values and legal obligations by refusing to take responsibility for importing cholera and compensating its victims.

Haitian lives matter and the fact that hundreds will die this year and thousands more will contract a disease that can be easily treated and prevented is an ongoing emergency that demands the world’s attention.

If you want to join the chorus demanding the U.N. do the just thing and compensate victims while continuing to implement its plan to invest in treatment and water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, you can sign and share this petition. It’s just shy of 30,000 signatures, and advocates will be submitting it to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later this summer.”

Infograph

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The Marlin Mine and Women’s Resistance

nancy mcc

Nancy and Crisanta

Español  By Nancy Sabas, the Connecting Peoples Coordinator for MCC Guatemala/El Salvador, originally from Honduras.


Was it you who sent the miners?
They violate the womb of Mother Earth
They take the gold, destroying the hills.
One gram of blood is worth more than a thousand kilos of gold.
What about my people?
And you, my God, where are you hiding?
Fear paralyzes us
My people are sold and they do not realize it.

-Portion of a song written by the Parish of San Miguel Ixtahuacán.

 

A few weeks ago, I organized a learning tour for North American participants to discuss the mining industry in Guatemala, On the tour, we visited the department of San Marcos and surrounding communities that deal with this problem.

Mining operations in Guatemala are not a recent issue. In 1998, two years after the signing of the peace agreement following a harsh civil war, the Foreign Investment Law removed the restrictions on trade with Guatemala, which attracted transnational companies to enter the country. Among the various companies, Goldcorp, a Canadian extractive company with high interest in exploiting gold, stands out.

After a license granted by the Guatemalan government, the Marlin mine, operated by Montana Exploradora, a subsidiary of Goldcorp, began its operations in the community of San Miguel in western Guatemala. This was done without prior community consultation, even though consultation is an obligatory requirement of various international and national laws. In 2009, Goldcorp stopped appearing in the Canadian Jantzi Social Index for ethical investment due to the controversial use of cyanide in their operations. Currently the Marlin mine is considered the most lucrative mine that Goldcorp owns worldwide.

Marlin Mine

Marlin Mine

During our trip, we visited the community and interviewed community members to hear their side of the story.

I met Crisanta Pérez, a Mayan Mam woman with 6 children who lives with determination her philosophy of caring for Mother Earth and defending her territory. Crisanta resists and denounces Goldcorp’s environmental and community violations. Despite facing intimidation, 14 arrest warrants and threats of further criminalization for her work in defense of her territory and human rights, Crisanta stands firm. When we asked a how the resistance movement in San Miguel was born, she explained, ”There are many men who work as miners in the company. Our community is divided in opinions, and although some of the men disagree with the mining operations in the community, they do not take a position because they are working there. It is for this reason that the resistance movement in San Miguel against mining started from the women.¨

As an indigenous woman, Crisanta faces various levels of oppression. however, she resists the roles imposed by a patriarchal hegemonic system, and has become a public figure, with a voice, empowered with knowledge about her rights and equipped to assertively demand the vindication of environmentally sustainable traditional practices, in line with the Mayan worldview. In addition, Crisanta tirelessly denounces the massive exploitation of resources.

¨Transnational companies are destroying the most valuable thing we have, Mother Earth.¨ Crisanta explained during our visit.

With her focus from the periphery, Crisanta defies the ruling capitalist logic that sacrifices the sacred elements (Mother Earth) and whose goal is the strict accumulation of wealth. The position of inequality that Crisanta has, along with other Mam women, enables her to integrate a more holistic perspective in line with her worldview and allows her to critique the mining operations from  a Maya Mam light. These women, based on their condition of oppression, have the ability to see with clarity from the base. This viewpoint enables them to understand the world from their ancestral worldview, as well as the reality of the mestizo (the Guatemalan State), and the dominant white (Goldcorp).This understanding contrasts the power groups’ viewpoint who understand and legitimize their knowledge as the only valid form of knowing. The women have become privileged epistemic subjects, for not being ¨contaminated¨ with only one way of knowledge that comes from an advantageous social position.

Members of the delegation

Members of the delegation

The case of mining in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, its environmental impact and the criminalization of women activists, can be understand from an ecofeminist perspective. As Vandana Shiva, in her book Stolen Harvest states: ¨For more than two centuries, patriarchal, eurocentric, and anthropocentric scientific discourse has treated women, other cultures, and other species as objects. Experts have been treated as the only legitimate knowers. For more than two decades, feminist movements, Third World and indigenous people’s movements, and ecological and animal-rights movements have questioned this objectification and denial of subjecthood.¨

The Guatemalan state and the mining company, driven by their focus on production, consumption and accumulation of wealth fail to respect the sovereignty and spirituality of indigenous peoples. The Mayan worldview is trampled by a mercantilist system that does not recognize the land as sacred, positioning  man/production over woman /nature.

Crisanta and the anti-mining resistance group of San Miguel are reluctant to embrace the imposition of a clearly western and patriarchal “development” that despises life and legitimizes abuse from its position of power. On the contrary, the women demand ¨the good life¨, which according to their worldview and ancestral knowledge, consists in the search for harmony and balance with Mother Earth and all forms of existence. This philosophy of living naturally disapproves all forms of accumulation and exploitation that would alter the harmonious coexistence and quality of life of other beings.

In 2008, the Pastoral Commission of Peace and Ecology (COPAE) of San Marcos along with other organizations doing independent studies presented their detections of  arsenic, aluminum, copper, manganese, and other metals in some water sources near the Marlin mine. The poor management of the mine waste and their presence in natural sources of water is a good explanation for the increase in gastrointestinal and skin diseases among the neighbors of the nearby communities.

During my visit, as we were interviewing members of the Parish of the San Miguel community, we talked about how racism was politically used to justify these atrocities. A parishioner tearfully explained that abuse is legitimized under the premise that ¨the Indians are dirty and unhygienic.” The hierarchy of race or gender is illogical and cannot be interpreted if it does not fall within a base structure with political interest. This is a clear example where the discrediting and discrimination of a population is aligned with neoliberalist interest.

¨On the threshold of the third millennium, liberation strategies must ensure that human freedom is not achieved at the expense of other species, that freedom of one race or gender is not based on the increasing subjugation of other races and genders. In each of these struggles for freedom, the challenge is to include the other¨. Vandana Shiva.

nancy

For me, Crisanta´s resistance is a miracle born from an oppressed community. The same system that abused and excluded Mam women, now is the same that caused the conditions for them to become creators of new knowledge outside of a dominant perspective. The heart and unbreakable spirit of these women defending their territory and returning to their ancestral knowledge, translates their struggles against the violation of the land to their female bodies and vice versa. They are women who cling to their indigenous philosophy of the ¨Good Life¨, seeking harmony and sustainable living between people and nature peacefully. Under that view, Crisanta and the women of San Miguel Ixtahuacán rethink, deconstruct and reconstruct themselves.

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