Campus / News / May 15, 2008

Journey to Guatemala more than just a vacation

Freshmen Rosie Worthen and Vicky Daza traveled to Guatemala between April 26 and May 2 as part of Rights Action, a non-governmental organization dedicated to educating and working with North Americans against “global exploitation, repression, environmental destruction and racism” that works particularly in Guatemala and Honduras. Worthen and Daza received a Richter Grant to help fund their travel as well as help from Dean of Students Xavier Romano. The students gave a presentation on this delegation trip yesterday at The Center.

Worthen and Daza spent a two days in Guatemala City before visiting four indigenous communities in western Guatemala that have fallen prey to exploitation by the Guatemalan government and foreign companies.

Guatemala has a long history of confrontation and genocide of the indigenous people by the government, which is made up of chiefly European descendants. In 1982 alone there were 192 documented massacres by the government of the indigenous population, who are known as campesinos are categorized as a poor peasant/farming class associated with those who are not of European descent. Despite a peace accord, discrimination and horrifying acts of violence are still carried out today.

One of these is the building of the United States and World Bank funded Chixoy Dam, which now provides 50 percent of Guatemala with energy. To build the dam, a Mayan community that included homes and farmlands was flooded. When met with resistance by the population of the area, the Guatemalan government sent security forces to forcefully deal with the campesinos. This included marching a group of women and children up a hill before shooting and killing them all.

“They can’t even trust the police to take action against these acts of violence,” said Worthen.

Nueva Linda, the land of a Mayan community, had been privatized and residents were violently evicted by military forces. One community leader, Hector Reyes, even went missing. The residents were forced to squat next to a highway, as they had no place to go.

This privatization of indigenous land by foreign companies, primarily mining companies, is a serious threat to the population of Guatemalan indigenous communities who have lost a third of their native land this way. One of the companies, Goldcorp, uses a process called “cyanide leaching” to extract gold from the soil. This process severely contaminates the water of the neighboring communities, leading to destroyed crops and birth defects. Much of the precious water resource is being drained from these areas, however, by wells dug by the mining company. One mine, the Marlin Mine, uses as much water in an hour as a campesino family will for 23 years and is slowly turning the community to a dustbowl. Explosions from this same mine cause foundation cracks in the houses of the nearest community.

“For me, actually seeing what these communities have to go through and the never-ending frustration — just comparing what these communities have to go through to what we go through — it made me rethink a lot,” said Worthen after the presentation.

There are some grassroots resistance groups in Guatemala that are fighting against this inhumane treatment of the native population with the help of Rights Action.

“I wanted to see the different ways people resisted against oppression,” said Daza.

A Latin American dinner will be held on May 22 at the Wilson House to benefit the community of Nueva Linda. The cost of the dinner is five dollars, and people are asked to bring their own plates and silverware (though some can be provided if absolutely necessary). There will be vegetarian and vegan options, and all proceeds will go directly to the community of Nueva Linda.

Sadie Arft

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