06 January 2008

The little country after Mexico...


"Every time I look at Time magazine or The New York Times I find myself skipping over the articles on, for example, Ethiopia. Out of guilt I make myself go back and read them, imagining how uninteresting the same kind of articles of Guatemala must seem to the average citizen of the world"
From
The Long Night of White Chickens(p.150) by Francisco Goldman


The most recent post in HFH motivated me to start putting down some of the ideas I have been brewing about Guatemala and its violent past, present, and unfortunately, future. LD (the blogger behind HFH), as a freelance journalist reporting from Guatemala earlier in the present decade, probably saw or was more aware of the tragedy that is living in my motherland for millions of people more than what I experienced in the almost 25 years I spent there. Probably is the stoicism or cynicism you develop from having been born in such a violent society. Probably it was that I was fortunate (as is my family still, knock on wood) of having been somewhat spared by the effects of the civil war. However, on a lighter previous post on HFH, where I tried to contribute to a list of things that makes you Guatemalteca/o one of the thoughts that came immediately into my head and I didn't add to my comment was this:

You (know you are Guatemalteca/o if you)or someone you know has been kidnapped, carjacked, mugged or assassinated.

That seems to be the common denominator to the Guatemalan experience. And the issue is that I could mention the couple of encounters with common violence that I had almost ten years ago and they are dwarfed by the level of terror (or complete numbness) that the population of my country of origin, that little country after Mexico lives in. More than once I have repeated to people here in Canada when I see the blank look in their eyes when I say Guatemala: "there is Canada, then the States, then Mexico, and then Guatemala". It is not as frequent as I used to think, and really one cannot know the exact location of every single country in the world. But, what is really shocking is the lack of coverage there is about Guatemala.
A link on the HFH post lead me to an article on the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail titled "Anatomy of a shootout". It seems to be the first of a series of articles about Guatemala AND the role of Canadians (mainly NGOs) in the process of bringing peace and safety through a proper judicial system to the third world nation that I love with all my heart. It reads like an update on the post-war crime and violence situation, with that little "feel-good" Canadian section on how good we are helping the poor them. For me is hard to digest because I am "we" and I am "them" (or was, at least). As LD points out, the attitude of many Canadians is that of "if it is not affecting me why should I care". There is even a comment by a reader, mentioned by LD, that blatantly states "In reality who really cares what happens in Guatamala(sic)" unless these savages decide to start crossing borders in mass all the way up to Canada like Mexicans did recently landing into Windsor, and God forbid if then they decide to ride up the 401 Highway and come to Toronto, wouldn't that be awful.
As LD says:

"And unfortunately, that's probably the opinion of a lot of people-- this is happening far away from me, what does it really matter? And sometimes those are the people I was thinking about when I was reporting from Guatemala. Did anyone really care when I did those reports? Are those the stories that, when they came on the radio, were basically like background music, as people did whatever else? It's always so much easier to "sell" a local story-- someone being killed down the block or whatever else is going on down the street. People's ears perk up when they hear about something they know, when they can visualize the street or area or city. But when there's killing in Pakistan or Kenya or Guatemala, some people just don't care."

I agree and I think it must be even harder to "sell" Guatemala. Because it seems to me that Pakistan and Kenya are more on the spotlight these days for their eruptions of violence. Guatemala's violence doesn't seem to have much echo maybe because it is a chronic problem, not an acute response to an event. Maybe because there is no clear "enemy" anymore. Because more than 10 years after the peace accords in Guatemala there is no face we can put to the "parties" involved and thus no mediation is possible. I remember years ago hearing someone saying that humanity doesn't see issues as "problems" until they can see that there is a potential solution, the example given was illiteracy. In any case, maybe there is no solution to the situation in Guatemala. Maybe we should lose all hope that a new government can do anything. Maybe it would have been better for an alleged genocide (take your pick) to become president of my motherland so that the rest of the world could look back at the little country where I left my umbilical cord buried. Yes, there is a new government being sworn in next 14 of January in Guatemala. But not even a comment by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez that he won't attend the ceremony for fear of a potential U.S. backed assassination attempt against him in Guatemala made the national media here in Canada take notice. RomeroGT (click here for post in Spanish) is making a call to fellow Guatemaltecos/as to embrace citizen participation, because democracy doesn't end with putting an X on a ballot. He is also urging people to understand the ideology of the "left leaning" or "social-democrat" people that will become the official party.
Guatemala is a hard sell product. I know it. But I hope that little by little there is more awareness and attention to what is happening, and has been happening for decades, if not centuries, in this third world country. Is not an issue of "Human Rights" as they are usually portrayed, but of Human Dignity. The issues that underlie the current situation won't be solved with a new government, or with social cleansing, or with revenge, or with hand me downs to the poorer masses, or with polarizing the society between urban and rural areas. I have no solution either to propose. What I feel is that there is something missing in Guatemala, a national identity, and that cannot be achieved without before having education, work, safety, health, justice, peace.

16 comments:

It's me LD said...

Nice.

Very interesting 'you know you're Guatemalan' statment.

arte-sano said...

I agree with most of your comments, but I have to say, as Guatemalan (what ever that means) we all have been affected by the "residual violence" after the civil war, outside and inside of our country. Your statement say it very clearly and it's so sad.
saludos
Ale

AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

I guessed I am Guatemalan then... and I am sorry to recognize it under the light of "You (know you are Guatemalteca/o if you)or someone you know has been kidnapped, carjacked, mugged or assassinated. "

Sadly, I can say yes to all of the above... and in three cases, I can say we have suffered it ourselves.

RomeroGT said...

I don't like the "you know you're guatemalan" statement because it sounds like only Guatemala has violence problems, this not to justify but I feel Guatemalan because I was born, educated and raised in Guatemala.

From my actual point of view Guatemala needs to change in each of the gobernment branches, in these order:

- We need a working judicial system, that is able to prosecute not only a famous congressman but all people who steal, hurt and kills.
- We need a congress that creates a roadmap of legislation needed to be (un)done for Guatemala to have good laws.
- We need an executive branch with real Managers supported by technical people commited to to their best.

But since it is silly to think the government solves everything, we need every Guatemala to start working and stop criticism.

AntiguaDailyPhoto.Com said...

Manolo, I think your brother's watching the video posted at Guatemalaennumberos... ¿Guatemaltec@?

http://guatemalaennumeros.blogspot.com/2008/01/100-chapin.html

Manolo said...

LD I guess I used some self-censorship in my original contribution to the list.
Ale & Rudy It is sad... indeed, but I guessed I touched a sensitive cord.
RomeroGT Yes, you could insert "Afghani" or "Israeli" or "Colombian" to the statement and would make complete sense, I guess, but those are realities I personally don't know about. The other reality I do know is less, less violent, although not perfect. The statement was a serious take on a list that some found offensive (well, it was Rudy who felt betrayed or something); which, on a lighter note, I invite you to comment, add, or criticize.
I hope you understand that if I was criticizing something was the "fourth power" AND in Canada, for not paying attention to OUR motherland, unless its related to how savages we are and/or there could be a positive Canadian spin. I guess is their prerogative. You can see what I mean when you read the article I linked in the Globe and Mail...
One day I hope we can discuss more about reform and forms of government, maybe on the blogosphere, but preferably over some subanik and some tortillas recién salidas del comal. Even though I am realizing we don't see "eye-to-eye" on some wording, we are both technocrats (the apples don't fall far from the tree).

As Rudy mentioned, I strongly recommend watching this video, is really the perfect "feel-good-'cuz-I-am-Guatemalan" clip. Gave me hope that the Guate I left is becoming the Guate I dream about...
Ah, and BTW Rudy, I know what you think about Guatemalan identity...

arte-sano said...

"Constructive criticism" I think its call, is part of the work needed to fixing things in guate, it helps to deconstruct the status quo, the myths and preconceived ideas that are going nowhere and keep our country to move forward, there's is nothing wrong with questioning and criticized things like our identity for instance, which is so complex to just say that we're all "Guatemalans" because we born there, regardless of our heritage, language, religion, social and economical status, and so on. I believe that "Constructive criticism" is a valuable tool for change.

Mario said...

Right about now...a loud hearty YA VAS!!! is needed. Do you guys agree?

RomeroGT said...

I guess talking about "cultural identity" is different from "national identity", meaning I'm sure to be Guatemalan/Chapin but I might be mayan, mestizo, ladino, garífuna, that's what multicultural is all about, right ?

I did some spanish trackback to this post in my blog
@arte-sano: constructive-critiscm is one thing, but it requires more than just pointing out the bad things as some people do.

Manolo said...

I pretend (and that is one of my motivations to keep this blog) to make a better contribution to the idea of identity and identities. Stay tuned...
I just wanted, for now (besides saying ya vas), to redirect the discussion to a post in the blog Guatemala Solidarity Network criticizing the "outsider" view of "Anatomy of a shootout" and the paternalist super-hero attitude that permeates it, which is a typical neo-colonialist position.

CarmenDeBizet said...

I have to agree with your statement "You (know you are guatemalteca/o if you) or someone you know has been kidnapped, carjacked, mugged or assassinated". I speak for myself obviously, but I have heard from my parents to know that like us, there are many families of Guatemalan background that have experienced these horrors that for ever leave an emotional wound that can heal, but will, undoubtedly, leave a scar. I find that guatemaltecos that live in Guatemala, at least the ones I've spoken to are more than a bit sensitive when it comes to criticism even if this criticism is constructive. The underlying message I find is this, "Why are you giving your opinion? You have lost the right to state an opinion the minute you left the country." I guess it doesn't really matter for me to state that I didn't really leave, but was taken out of the country and that furthermore, as a child I lacked the ability to reject my parents’ decision to leave. Not that any of these things matter because by this time, I am aware that I have unintentionally ruffled more than feathers. I have probably stepped on if not punctured someone’s Achilles’ heel. I am, after all, classified as "ni chicha ni limonada, ni de aqui ni de alla" so I should shut up and keep my opinions to myself. However, as aware as I am of my classification (and I am not saying I accept it), I can say that given my background I am a firm believer that to start this process of which you speak, this process in which we are to look for solutions we are to first look at our lack of self awareness. In a country where the grandparents insist that someone, somewhere in the family tree was from Europe and that, as a consequence, they are not (God forbid) "indios", the parents are now firefighters and not fire starters when it comes to their ideals, and the children speak their own version of Span(gl)ish -how are we to come to terms with our national identity?
By the way, this is me following that unspoken rule about keeping my opinions to myself.

Manolo said...

Good grief Carmencita good job on keeping your opinions to yourself ;-) Thank you for your thoughts. Actually I was chastised last night by a friend for always bringing up my "white" or even "European" background. I have decided from this point on to be more aware of this "justification" I always give about my "racial" origin. I am proud of being part of el mestizaje but I should be proud of all the sources that conform my genetic pool and not only of those that are more "convenient" or "appealing" by a pure actitud criolla. Moreover, I decided to focus more on my "memetical" pool rather than the genetical one... if anyone gets what I mean.

CarmenDeBizet said...

Listen, I am not saying people (we) don't have a relative somewhere in the family tree who came over from Europe, but to insist on this and not recognize that we are a mixture of more than one group invites this question, Why are people so intent on highlighting one group and negating the other(s)? With the exception of a very small number of individuals in Guatemala whose parents are actually from somewhere in Europe (because people speak of Europe as if it were a country and not a continent), the rest of us need to get our facts straight. As far as "memetical," I will need another post/comment/e-mail from you. :-)

Bill in Moose Jaw said...

I went to a conference in Guate last February, visited Jutiapa, and yes - did the tourist thing too and went to Antigua. Loved it and fell in love with the people there. It amazes me that a land so savaged by violence, often instigated, and funded by the USA, can be filled with so many happy loving people. It proved to me that what you "have " is not the source of happiness. Most of the people I know and work with have no idea of the history or the location of Guatemala. It's a shame because there is much we can learn from them about life, and about our neighbours, the Americans.

Manolo said...

Carmencita I promise a post in the mid-future about this "memetical" pool ;-)
Bill Thanks for your visit to this blog and your comment. In Canada is easy to forget what matters... and sometimes the big neighbour to the South eclipses our view. Now I am curious, a guy from Saskatchewan on a conference in Jutiapa... that is quite the story.