Mindscraps: Mourning for the Maya

Hector Tobar of the L.A. Times just published For Maya, A Paradise Lost. After reading the article, I’m left with a strong desire to help do something for these immigrants. Having lived 8 months in Guatemala, the country and its Mayan people hold a most special place in my heart. I’m not sure what I can do yet, but I’m posting this article as a reminder to myself to come up with something. There are no words to describe the love I have for Guatemala – so magical, so beautiful. It pains me to know that relatives of those who have welcomed me so warmly in their native land are suffering so much in my native land.

The article just briefly describes the country’s beauty:

He spent the first 27 years of his life in the town of San Pedro de la Laguna, which sits alongside the cool waters of Lake Atitlán, in a vast highland valley surrounded by three volcanoes. Patches of corn cover the hillsides like a quilt. For American and European backpackers, it’s a vision of paradise on Earth.

See for yourself. A couple of hundreds of pictures I have from that stunning country:

New Government in Honduras Leads with Violence

I have contacts in Honduras who openly stated that overthrowing former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was exactly what they wanted. They claim Zelaya was acting unconstitutionally when he tried to illegally legalize the extension of presidential terms. But, it seems that the new government, under the charge of newly-elect Porfirio Lobo, leads with gruesome violence. The tactics of both governments are disturbing, but it seems the latter is worse than the former. It’s disappointing to know that this is what some people in high places wanted:

Repression and Violence in Honduras Continues
by Marina Menéndez Quintero

“If we are no longer safe in our homes, then we are not safe at all.” With this affirmation, the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) demanded once again respect for the private life of Hondurans, after another brutal police raid of the house of a member of the opposition.

Psychological tortures, violent abductions, three brutal murders, and some 50 arbitrary arrests confirm fears that repression continues in Honduras under the newly-elected Porfirio Lobo government.

The recurrent political assassinations and tortures point to the work of death squads. But the unlawfulness should not come as a surprise given that the military leaders of the June 28 coup d’état along with the gang of criminals who wreaked havoc during months of political turmoil have been given carte blanche and amnesty. A striking example is that of Billy Joya Amendola who was responsible for more than 184 kidnappings and assassinations back in 1980s and who reappeared as an advisor in Micheletti’s dictatorship.

Even now, the political assassinations and beatings continue. Union leader Vanessa Yaneth Zepeda was found dead on February 3. The mother of three children, Zeppeda was an active member of the Popular Resistance Front in Honduras, the main opposition movement to the regime of Porfirio Lobo. According to testimonies, her body was thrown from a moving vehicle. Forensic medical examiners could not find gunshots or stab wounds, or any other signs of injury to indicate the possible cause of death. To date, security forces have not captured the executioners.

Union leader Julio Benitez was also shot dead on Tuesday at the hands of hired assassins soon after the COFADEH announced police forces had broken into opposition member Porfirio Ponce’s house to conduct a search. Ponce is a member of the Central Directive Board of the Union of Liquor and Beverage Industry Workers, an organization with a leading role within the resistance movement in Honduras.

Meanwhile, police officers dressed as civilians kidnapped and tortured two young cameramen from the national TV outlet Globo TV, who had filmed images of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s abduction. The two cameramen were questioned about alleged possession of fire arms, and money supposedly coming from the Fourth Ballot Box —a project promoted by former President Zelaya attempting to make amendments to the Constitution, considered to be the catalyst for the coup d’état that ousted him from power.

View the entire article from American Pendulum by clicking here.

US: Dirty Politics with Honduras and Haiti

For those who believe the only motives behind U.S. involvement in third world countries like Honduras and Haiti is simply to preserve democracy…

Why Washington “Cares” about Honduras and Haiti
by Mark Weisbrot

When I write about U.S. foreign policy in places like Haiti or Honduras, I often get responses from people who find it difficult to believe that the U.S. government would care enough about these countries to try and control or topple their governments. These are small, poor countries with little in the way of resources or markets. Why should Washington policy-makers care who runs them?

Unfortunately they do care. A lot. They care enough about Haiti to have overthrown the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide not once, but twice. The first time, in 1991, it was done covertly. We only found out after the fact that the people who led the coup were paid by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. And then Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the most notorious death squad there – which killed thousands of Aristide’s supporters after the coup – told CBS News that he too, was funded by the CIA.

In 2004, the U.S. involvement in the coup was much more open. Washington led a cut-off of almost all international aid for four years, making the government’s collapse inevitable. As the New York Times reported, while the U.S. State Department was telling Aristide that he had to reach an agreement with the political opposition (funded with millions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars), the International Republican Institute was telling the opposition not to settle.

In Honduras this past summer and fall, the U.S. government did everything it could to prevent the rest of the hemisphere from mounting an effective political opposition to the coup government in Honduras. For example, they blocked the Organization of American States from taking the position that it would not recognize elections that took place under the dictatorship. At the same time, the Obama Administration publicly pretended that it was against the coup.

This was only partly successful, from a public relations point of view. Most of the U.S. public thinks that the Obama Administration was against the Honduran coup; although by November of last year there were numerous press reports and even editorial criticisms that Obama had caved to Republican pressure and not done enough. But this was a misreading of what actually happened: The Republican pressure in support of the Honduran coup changed the Administration’s public relations strategy, but not its political strategy. Those who followed events closely from the beginning could see that the political strategy was to blunt and delay any efforts to restore the elected president, while pretending that a return to democracy was actually the goal.

Among those who understood this were the governments of Latin America, including such heavyweights as Brazil. This is important because it shows that the State Department was willing to pay a significant political cost in order to help the Right in Honduras. It convinced the vast majority of Latin American governments that it was no different than the Bush Administration in its goals for the hemisphere, which is not a pleasant outcome from a diplomatic point of view.

Why do they care so much about who runs these poor countries? As any good chess player knows, pawns matter. The loss of a couple of pawns at the beginning of the game can often make a difference between a win or a loss. They are looking at these countries mostly in straight power terms. Governments that are in agreement with maximizing U.S. power in the world, they like. Those who have other goals – not necessarily antagonistic to the United States – they don’t like…

View the entire article from Counter Punch by clicking here.

Playing Ball with Severed Heads

As Mexico is my current locale, I’m tracking all news Mexicano. Here’s a most interesting clip about ancient native sports. While the people of the indigenous community featured in this article were known to be more peaceful, this Mercury News piece explains how some communities plucked the hearts out of losing athletes. Yikes!

WHAT A PITY. The two boys, thrusting their hips, darting, reversing like whips, were obviously playing a ballgame. But they had no ball. Their movements mimicked the way an ancient game, similar to soccer, was played here on the ball court at Guachimontones.

Other Mexican archaeological sites have ball courts, but many of them have a hoop placed high on the walls. Some ancient wall paintings show that bats or arms could be used. At Guachimontones in Western Mexico, players competed on a long, narrow court between low walls without a hoop. They hit the ball, probably a stone covered with rubber, only with the hip. Male skeletons unearthed here show a high propensity for broken pelvises.

The Guachimontones ballgame was considerably tamer than elsewhere. The winners did not pluck out the heart of the losers, as the Maya did, nor did they play ball with a severed head. At least the evidence points to a more peace-loving culture.

Guachimontones is an unusual site in other ways. Its pyramids are round, a feature unique in the world except in this region. Archaeologists label this culture the Teuchitlan tradition for the town of the same name near Guachimontones. Its cultural and economic high points were probably reached 200-400 AD, though people lived here as early as 1000 BC, and people continued to live here afterward.

View the entire article by clicking here.

More than 700 Guatemalan Women Murdered in 2009

Low-income women are targets for an alarming rate of violence in Guatemala. The Interior Ministry of Guatemala reports that more than 700 women were murdered in Guatemala last year.

Below the news brief published by the Latin American Herald Tribune:

GUATEMALA CITY – Some 708 women were killed in Guatemala in 2009, based on Interior Ministry figures released on Saturday…

Murders of women last year were less than in 2008, when 773 women died violent deaths in this Central American country. Most crimes against women have gone unpunished despite the existence, since April 2008, of a specific law against femicide. According to activist Norma Cruz, who heads the Survivors Foundation that provides help for abused women, in Guatemala no plans exist to guarantee women’s safety. In a statement to reporters, Cruz said that more security agents are needed in areas considered extremely dangerous for women. The activist regretted that even though police and prosecutors nab the aggressors, the courts tend to free them with such substitute measures as letting them out on bail. Guatemala is second in the world in murders of women after Russia, which posts more than 10,000 crimes against women, according to the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office.

Second in the world in murders of women. Jarring. Disheartening. I briefly touched upon this issue in an article I wrote for Revue Magazine. Las Gravileas is a school for low-income women that not only teaches women a wealth of technical skills and business skills, but one that also stresses the importance and value a women plays in her family and community. So, unlike traditional media where only the disappointing statistics are reported, I would like to point readers to a positive response. I would like to offer an opportunity for becoming part of the solution to the reported problem. Read about Las Gravileas, and, if you dare, become a part of the solution by donating or, better yet, getting involved. (Contact me for more information… if you dare.)

Women learn artisan baking techniques at Las Gravileas. Photo by Laura McNamara.

The Guardians of Las Gravileas

A project where women serve their sisters…

The center’s name is symbolic. In a country where coffee represents approximately 10 percent of the gross domestic income, the gravilea tree provides a critical, protective canopy for the shade-loving plant. Just as the gravilea tree provides this fundamental necessity for the cultivation of coffee, so, too, is Las Gravileas meant to offer a protective, nurturing environment for women of every background and ethnicity.

“It’s a name that represents receiving, taking care of, and supporting the growth of a woman,” Project Manager Dalila de Montoya says. The keys to achieving this ideal environment, she adds, are education and training.

Las Gravileas is defined as a center for the promotion and technical training of artisan women. The project offers a large assortment of instruction, ranging from textiles, piñata making and ceramic molding and painting to cooking and baking, basic literacy, business studies and more.

“The idea is that they can learn and make many things that offer them an opportunity to gain more in their lives,” Gravileas instructor Alma Díaz says. And that is precisely what the project’s goals spell out: generating more sources of work and promoting Guatemalan culture—all through the advancement of women. Why women? Because, de Montoya asserts, women are in dire need of support in Guatemala.

Not only are they frequent targets of violence simply because of their gender, women rarely receive opportunities for basic education. Globally Minded, a social enterprise committed to supporting Mayan communities in Guatemala, reports that Guatemala possesses the highest female illiteracy rate in Latin America. Index Mundi bolsters that claim, stating that the 2002 national census defined more than 60 percent of Guatemala’s female population as illiterate.

“Women are not seen as great contributors to the country, so violence against them seems to be acceptable,” said Norma Cruz, founder and director of the Survivor’s Foundation, an organization supporting victims of femicide (the murder of women by men purely because they are female) in an August Al Jazeera article…

Click here to read the entire article.

Floods Devastate SE Asia

People wade in the chest deep floodwater Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009 in suburban Cainta, east of Manila, Philippines. Photo courtesy of Times.com.It’s a bit crazy to imagine that countries I was discovering two years ago in SE Asia are now swamped from a typhoon. The following excerpt is from the Radio Australia:

The Philippines is bracing for two more typhoons which are expected to hit the flood-ravaged country over the next two days. Emergency teams have been scrambling to help nearly half a million people left homeless by Typhoon Ketsana, which smashed into Manila on Sunday. It’s now moved on, bringing bring lethal floods to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The disaster is prompting urgent questions about the efficacy of Asia’s disaster management plans.

Click here to read the entire account.

Local Guatemalan Dead After Land Dispute

Another wonderful outcome of capitalist imperialism:

(Reuters article by Sarah Grainger)

A long-running land dispute between local residents and a foreign-owned nickel mine in Guatemala exploded in violence over the weekend, leaving one man dead and thirteen others injured, police said on Monday.

The latest trouble broke out on Sunday when a fight broke out between security guards and local residents protesting their expulsion from the property of the mothballed mine, which is owned by the CGN subsidiary of Canada’s HudBay Minerals (HBM.TO).

Police said one man was killed and another eight were wounded by gunfire. Five security guards were wounded by machetes and several buildings at the mine were damaged in the fighting, CGN said.

A spokeswoman for CGN said the company’s security guards did not carry live ammunition and were forbidden from using their weapons.

Police reported that their barracks were raided during the disturbance and three AK-47’s were stolen.

HudBay acquired the mine, which originally opened in 1977, last year, said earlier this month it would consider repoening the mine if nickel prices continue to improve. The mine has been shut since the ‘eighties and could cost up to $1 billion to reopen.

The mine’s previous owner faced extensive opposition to its plans to reopen the mine earlier this decade due to the land dispute. Local residents burned down a hospital and community relations office in 2004 in protest when plans to reopen the facility were announced.

Smithsonian Unveils “Human Rights Breakthrough in Guatemala”

Documents of the civil war from a Guatemala police station. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian.com.For more than a decade, the disappearance of thousands of residents during Guatemala’s civil war remained unsolved. Now, the world has answers.

“A Human Rights Breakthrough in Guatemala” from Smithsonian.com:

A chance discovery of police archives may reveal the fate of tens of thousands of people who disappeared in Guatemala’s civil war.

By Julian Smith
Smithsonian magazine, October 2009

Rusting cars are piled outside the gray building in a run-down section of Guatemala City. Inside, naked light bulbs reveal bare cinder-block walls, stained concrete floors, desks and filing cabinets. Above all there is the musty odor of decaying paper. Rooms brim with head-high heaps of papers, some bundled with plastic string, others mixed with books, photographs, videotapes and computer disks—all told, nearly five linear miles of documents.

This is the archive of the former Guatemalan National Police, implicated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of tens of thousands of people during the country’s 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. For years human rights advocates and others have sought to hold police and government officials responsible for the atrocities, but very few perpetrators have been brought to trial because of a lack of hard evidence and a weak judicial system. Then, in July 2005, an explosion near the police compound prompted officials to inspect surrounding buildings looking for unexploded bombs left from the war. While investigating an abandoned munitions depot, they found it stuffed with police records.

Human rights investigators suspected that incriminating evidence was scattered throughout the piles, which included such minutiae as parking tickets and pay stubs. Some documents were stored in cabinets labeled “assassins,” “disappeared” and “special cases.” But searching the estimated 80 million pages of documents one by one would take at least 15 years, experts said, and virtually no one in Guatemala was equipped to take on the task of sizing up what the trove actually held.

That’s when investigators asked Benetech for help. Founded in 2000 in Palo Alto, California, with the slogan “Technology Serving Humanity,” the nonprofit organization has developed database software and statistical analysis techniques that have assisted activists from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone. According to Patrick Ball, the organization’s chief scientist and director of its human rights program, the Guatemalan archives presented a unique challenge that was “longer-term, more scientifically complex and more politically sensitive” than anything the organization had done before.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala’s civil war pitted left-wing guerrilla groups supported by Communist countries, including Cuba, against a succession of conservative governments backed by the United States. A 1999 report by the United Nations-sponsored Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification—whose mandate was to investigate the numerous human rights violations perpetrated by both sides—estimated that 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. In rural areas, the military fought insurgents and indigenous Mayan communities who sometimes harbored them. In the cities, the National Police targeted academics and activists for kidnapping, torture and execution.

Click here to read the entire article.

Photo Gallery:
A Human Rights Breakthrough in Guatemala

Million Dollar Nike Corp. Not Paying Workers

Million dollar Nike Corp.'s "alter ego" not paying Honduran workersAn opinion piece in the Seattle Times urges The University of Washington to retract its deal with Nike upon the news that the million dollar corp isn’t paying workers in Honduras. Ughhh… how appalling:

The University of Washington should re-examine its relationship with Nike because of the company’s closure of factories in Honduras without paying workers money that is owed, argue Angelina S. Godoy and James N. Gregory. Husky pride should be about more than winning games

By Angelina S. Godoy and James N. Gregory

THIS week, those who follow Central American politics have been gripped by dramatic stories of President Zelaya’s surprise return to Honduras, almost three months after he was deposed in a military coup. The unfolding turmoil in the streets of Honduras may seem a world away from the recent excitement of Husky football, but the truth is, a four-letter word connects them: Nike.

The University of Washington’s most important licensee, Nike, has been sourcing apparel from factories in Honduras for years. Yet two of its facilities, Vision Tex and Hugger, closed their doors in January, without paying their approximately 1,800 workers the terminal compensation mandated by law — in some cases, without even paying them for hours already worked. The total owed to workers tops $2.5 million.

Under the terms of Nike’s agreement with the UW and other major universities, the company is required to ensure that local and international law is upheld in the production of university apparel. In cases where the law is violated, Nike is obligated to work toward remediation. Yet in Hugger and Vision Tex, Nike first denied responsibility, and then claimed that Honduras’ political turmoil has precluded the company’s involvement in remediation.

Click here to view the entire article.