I have contemplated and dwelled all day. I’ve been feeling as though im in mourning, but I don’t have a grave to cry upon. A part of me feels very alone.
On January 28, 2009, I went to a free film screening of Killer’s Paradise, directed and produced by Giselle Portenier, a film maker from Canada, producing for the BBC. She made this film after learning about the femicide in Guatemala in 2005. Her film captured 3 months worth of murders, tortures, rapes, grief, and trauma. Needless to point out the tremendous impact this had on my spirit. I have not yet recovered. But it is from this point that I wish to write.
Femicide and violence in Guatemala is not a recent inexplicable phenomenon. In fact, I take it back to 500+ years of mental, spiritual, physical, and territorial conquest. That’s where I begin this story. When my ancestors, Mayas, were brutally tortured, enslaved, diseased, and murdered in the name of the Spanish crown. Spring forward to the 20th century and Mayan’s were still being enslaved as indentured servants. A mother would be given “loans”, thrown coins in exchange for her sons. If she wanted her children back, she would have to repay the landowners.
When Jacobo Arbenz became president of Guatemala in 1951, there was already a Latin American re-socialization of land, class, workers and citizen’s rights. He was democratically elected with 60% of the vote after an overthrowing by dictator Jorge Ubico. Thanks to the influence of his wife, Maria Cristina Villanova, he continued the Agrarian Land Reform where only unused acres of land were expropriated and given to the peasant class, the Mayas, the original owners of the land. He also created 8 hour work days, and 5 day work weeks.
The United Fruit Company (one of the original owners of this company used to be slave trader), also known as Chiquita Banana, cried RED when they were made to give up land they did not use. They stepped inside the offices of Nixon and Kissinger and made themselves out to be victims. The CIA orchestrated a coup de tat and soon enough, in 1954, they made Arbenz step down from office. By the 1960’s a civil war had broken out between the military and human right defenders / guerilla fighters. The civil war in Guatemala lasted 36 years, when the Peace Accords were signed in1996. This was longest civil war in Latin American history.
The United States trained and funded generals and soldiers in what became a genocide. It has been documented that the Guatemalan Armed Forces used tactics of war and torture similar to those used in Vietnam. Over 626 massacres occurred during the armed conflict. Over 200,000 people were murdered/disappeared, and over 1.5 million people were displaced.
The Commission on Historical Truth recognizes that genocide did occur in Guatemala. Genocide is defined as: the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group by way of:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In Guatemala, the Mayan race was/is considered sub-human. And within this genocide began the femicide. Military officials and presidents in Guatemala such as Efrain Rios Montt, trained and armed men to systematically wipe off villages from the map. In the 1980’s the number of men being murdered actually dropped, and the number of women murdered began to rise steadily and gravely. It is said that women would birth “insurgents”, and so this became the justification for the mass murders of womyn. The rate of murder by the military during the 1980’s now measures similarly to the rate of murder in present time Guatemala. And it is true that a country shamed and threatened into silence, has been unable to heal and recover.
After a film a discussion follows. And questions of confusion arose, despite the clear picture the film had presented. Maybe reality is too much to accept. But people did not seem to understand what the word impunity means. Do you know what impunity looks like? If you can imagine hundreds of thousands of men who were trained to kill but no longer in war, what jobs would be available to them. Many of the military officials now fill the ranks of Guatemala’s National Civil Police and/or appoint themselves to political offices. There is nothing civil about Guatemalan officials, policemen, military, or politicians. They are corrupt, dirty, and greedy. They sell their country, pocket the money, and lie to the public. If only lying was the extent of their crimes, but they also murder. Hence, if the very people in political and governmental offices are criminals, can you expect its citizens to follow the law?
There is also such a thing as extra- judicial killings which are an everyday occurrence in Guatemala. Police murder young men and women on suspicion that they are “marreros”, gang members. The assumptions are plenty, and the killings follow. Policemen also steal from citizens, check points can mean your cell phone, wallet, and personal belonging can be stolen by the police, or maybe you’re lucky and really you can just buy them off with a “mordida”.
Combine this corruption with poverty, trauma, and patriarchy, and you have only begun to realize what women in Guatemala live and die by. When women are murdered, it is believed that somehow, they deserved it, they asked for it, they provoked their own death. And if a woman wants to be educated, or not get married, or speak out, she’s a bitch, breaking tradition, and also deserving of violence to correct her manners.
There is also the issue of domestic violence coupled with alcoholism that reigns many households. Many children are traumatized and continue the cycle of violence. Many children are also abandoned and left alone on the streets to fend for themselves. They are recruited or forced into the gangs and many times if they do not join they will surely die. Many young children growing up on the streets clearly know the face and soul of violence. They become violent. And women become their victims.
If I travel to my country, I am a potential victim. My body could be snatched from my family; I could be tortured, strangled, burned, and/or punctured with a knife countless times. I could be raped or gang raped; killed, decapitated, limbs cut off and my naked body dumped in the trash, or a river. It doesn’t end here. My family could search for me and never find me. Or maybe they will but it won’t matter that my nails carry the skin I tore from my murderer, or that in my vagina I still carry his semen. It will not matter that the pattern in which they killed me happened to 20 other womyn before me, and 20 more to come because of impunity, patriarchy, and incompetence by investigators and police officials, including the president. This happens, daily. There are no human rights. And Guatemala is only one country, out of the many other countries were womyn are attacked.
There was a young man from Guatemala who was speaking to the filmmaker before me.
He said, “but men are also being murdered, what about them?”
Giselle responded, “This is true. Men are being murdered. But women are not killing men. Men are killing women.”
This is about gender. This is about women not having the kinds of freedoms men are inherited upon birth. This is about women being depicted on television as sexual objects, satisfying the needs of men. This is about the men on the streets that stare women down and whistle at them, or invade their space. It is about rape. It is about men not being consciousness of sharing space with womyn, whether its in politics, companies, the arts, whatever. You name it, and women are not included in the conversation. Women have to make spaces for themselves. They have to tell men to step back. Respect is not mutual or a given. Patriarchy is violent towards both men and women. Excuse me for just speaking to these two genders, it is not my intention to dismiss non-gender conforming individuals. (I don’t like the word conforming, btw.)
If you didn’t know, know you do. If you did know, I can remind myself that I am not alone in my own grief and understanding of this reality. It is unfair. And it feels like my heart is being grasped by a tight fist and even after they let go, my heart will still feel bruised and pained. This is what I carry. And yet it is nothing. I have not lost a sister or my mother yet. They are alive. I am alive. And I don’t ask, “what should I do, omg”. In my everyday work and manifestations, my spirit and energy moves through the shades of darkness as I follow the warmth and the light we know as justice and peace.