Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conjunctural thoughts/Pensamientos coyunturales

The news has been full of discussion of the disappearance of a woman, Cristina Siekavizza, a few weeks ago. Recently there was an interview on one of the morning programs, "First Hour", with Norma Cruz of the organization Survivors (Sobrevivientes) who declared it seemed pretty clear it was a case of femicide. Then the paper today carried stories about two armed attacks, one of which left two women dead and the other killed one woman and left one survivor -- the victim's sister.  Just everyday news here. It is hard not to become hopeless, or to simply become inured, desensitized to this kind of story, since it is everyday fare.  There is a death, or a disappearance, one feels sick, depressed, and then one has to go about one's work and other commitments and other than posting a bumper-sticker against violence against women and airing announcements on the radio, there seems to be little concretely that one can do.

The political process and the impending elections are another area of concern. The signs seem clear that the genocidal former general, Otto Pérez Molina, will win. My friends in the left party seem to think that he will win on the first ballot. It is a situation that does make me feel somewhat helpless and useless as a foreigner. It's not my country, I can't vote, I don't really feel I have a lot I can say to people. It's an awkward position; probably I am supposed to stay out of electoral politics although it is hard not to have passions, opinions, strong feelings. I drive around and the visage of Otto Pérez Molina confronts me at nearly every turn; of course, the visages of other candidates as well, all over the city, the streets, the highways, the roadsides.  It is hard to restrain myself, sometimes; I am conscious that I am a gringa -- not just any outsider, but someone from a country that has a particular history of involvement in Guatemala, and a country whose well-meaning citizens are often fond of telling other people what is right for them and what they should be doing (even those of us from the left). So I try to steer clear of the patronizing do-gooder attitude, the position that I can see what is really going on and I can tell you what is wrong with your country and what you should do to fix it... or the candidate you should support. I also have to live in a small town where the right-wing party (I have dubbed them "the Death Eaters" although obviously not everyone in the party has blood on their hands) is strong, right across from their headquarters, in fact, and I need to not be run out of town on a rail (I actually do not have any idea how strong their support is here, and whether their mayoral candidate is likely to win).

I don't believe in the neutrality of research or the researchers are or should be neutral. Yet we need to be able to talk to a wide range of people. I know some people locally who are supporters of the Patriota. One is a person I met two years ago on one of my first trips; however, I have steered clear of him since arriving this time and understanding more fully what his political alliances meant (he didn't hide them from me; just the first time he told me what party he belonged to, it didn't mean a whole lot to me; now it does). Another woman I know, someone who has attended meetings and workshops of Ixmukané, was out in the market a few Sundays ago handing out Patriota literature. I smiled, greeted her, and then moved on. 

On the other hand, I have to speak my opinion if anyone asks me.  And sometimes even if they don't. I've always been a person of strong views, although electoral politics has not always been a passion. Here the stakes seem high and it seems so clear to me, and some of the people with whom I talk, that the front runner is someone guilty of mass murder and whose platform promises a "strong hand" (mano dura), whose party symbol is a clenched, muscular fist -- an image that reverberates with historical significance throughout the region.

But the victory of this right-wing party seems nearly inevitable, and therefore I feel relatively useless. I am doing what I can to help support people whom I think can make a difference; that seems to be appropriate and reasonable. I don't know what more I can do, or if there is anything more that I could or should do. 

A friend wrote recently to ask if I were planning to stay in Guatemala forever; the country and the people, in her view, were in my heart.  And yes, Guatemala and its people have become part of me... and I say that with humility and the recognition that I will never truly be of this place. I can grasp only faintly how friends whose family roots go back long before the conquest view the country. I am moved by a swath of countryside glimpsed from a steep mountain road, the clean white spire of the church, the dun colors of adobe houses, the rich greens of the milpa, and the red and ochre tones of the earth, and understand, for a second, why people have been willing to die for this place.  

The election is only a few weeks away.  I was originally going to see if I could be qualified as an international observer, but then decided to talk to my friends in the left alliance to see if they thought there were something more useful that I could be doing. So, I have been asked to just be around the two Maya women who are running for congress from this area (both of whom were active in Ixmukané), and do whatever they might need me to do, and especially stay close to them on election day. I have a car, so that might mean I could help take them places in the department that they need to visit.  My friend told me that this was one instance where being a foreigner might be useful -- that although I am hardly an intimidating person (all of 5 feet, 1/2 inch tall), my presence might help guarantee the safety of the candidates. So, it promises to be an interesting (if not always uplifting) couple of weeks.

When I was commenting to another friend about feeling kind of useless or impotent, she responded, "Well, at least you are documenting this." I suppose so, although I don't think I've done such a terrific job of reporting. 

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