Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Back to the B'aqt'un (in a roundabout way)

As I wrote earlier, I planned this trip to coincide with the celebrations of the Oxlajuj B'aqt'un. In large measure I was interested in seeing how people in the communities where I have worked, and particularly in the community radio movement and the indigenous rights movement were interpreting this occasion, how the radios were covering it, and what its significance was in the larger scheme of things. Since this has been a year of violent repression of, and setbacks to, the causes of indigenous rights, people were looking to the b'aqt'un as a time when things might possibly change for the better. Of course, there was the "end of the world" discourse, and apparently there were people who took it seriously. Here in Guatemala, one of the commercial radio stations used the tagline "The end of the world as we know it" in their regular programming.

Throughout the year, there were a lot of cartoons that poked fun at the whole "Mayan apocalypse" phenomenon, as well as a lot of interesting graffiti. The most recent graffito that I saw (well, I saw the photo on line) said something like "I"m not afraid that world will end. I'm afraid that things will continue as they have been." 

My first two days were spent in Guatemala City -- not my favorite place to spend time, but one of my colleagues in the community radio movement, whom I had been trying to contact for a couple of weeks before my departure, told me that he was coming to Guatemala City and would  be meeting with the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m.  So I decided to spend the day Tuesday in Guatemala City, meet up with Tino in the afternoon and then tag along, if possible, to the meeting with the Special Rapporteur. 

I wasn't sure what I was going to go for a day in Guatemala City, other than grade papers.  But it was a good thing I decided to stay, as -- no surprise here -- my car had some problems on the trip down from Quiché (yes, my life in Guatemala requires assistance and cooperation from many friends and I am very indebted to the friends who keep my car for me and then drive it down when I arrive) and my friends had to take it to a shop. They didn't have the money, of course, to pay for the repair so I had to look for somewhere I could exchange money and also how I could send it. The phone company Tigo offers a service called Tigo Money that allows you to send money via cell phone, but it turns out that is only available to Guatemalan nationals. I had gone out in the morning to put some airtime on my phone, to see if it would work after a hiatus of several months (during which time I turned it on a few times and made calls that I knew wouldn't go through, just to keep the chip active).  It worked and so I was able to put in a call to Tigo to ask about Tigo Money. No dice. Calls back and forth to the friend who was taking the car in for repairs (the fan belt had broken, as far as I can understand, although the word "faja" -- belt -- is used pretty generically, and my friend is no mechanic). Finally I realized I could go to a branch of Banrural in Guatemala City, and deposit money into his bank account (even though the account is in a branch up in Quiché). This meant walking back towards the airport, and standing in a line at the bank; since I was doing a transaction there, I could use dollars and they would do the exchange for me. Plus they changed an extra $100, so I had some cash. All good.

But all of this took up most of the morning, and then I had to move myself to the Zona 1 - I had stayed the first night in a sweet modest little guest house near the airport, where I have stayed in the past; nothing luxurious but they are lovely people and they pick you up at the airport. But they only had room for one night. So I had booked a room at a hotel that was formerly owned by my friend Trudy. For an extra Q50, the people at Patricia's Hotel offered to take me to the Zona 1 (cheaper than a taxi from the airport, I think), so I ate lunch and then we took off.  I dropped off my bags, checked the wifi at the hotel, and then set off to take a little walk to see what Christmas was like in the Zona 1. Sometime during the afternoon my phone stopped working however.. but I'll get to that soon.  Problems with phones and cars are really worth a blog entry on their own. There was a Christmas display in the Parque Central, complete with wooden replicas of little wooden houses, Christmas trees, sleighs and snowmen, a simulacra of a snow-covered village. One of these pop-up Christmas displays was at the edge of a fountain, and looking at it over the glossy surface of the water, one could almost imagine an icy pond. Almost.

I eventually met up with my friends from the community radio movement: several of them were in Guatemala for the meeting the next day. We found a bottle of wine (since I don't drink beer and a lot of restaurants don't serve wine except by the bottle) and a place where we could get churrascos and talked for a couple of hours. They were trying to figure out where to go next in their fight to legalize the radio stations, since the Congress seems completely unresponsive to any pressure and a week earlier, the Congress had passed a telecommunications law that granted the monopolies another 25 years of usufruct of the airwaves that they already control. 

Meanwhile my friends were finally driving down from Quiché with the car, and so I had to find lodging for them and await their arrival. There was some accident on the road which slowed them down by a few hours, and then they managed to get lost once they got to Guatemala City. They made it to the Parque Central, which is all of 3-4 blocks from my hotel, depending upon which side of the park you are on) but they couldn't figure out how to find the correct street (and so it took half an hour and 7 phone calls for them to find me).

Up at the crack of dawn to go meet with the Rapporteur. We got to his office, and it turned out that the meeting wasn't a private audience but a larger "encounter" with representatives of different indigenous rights groups at a nice hotel in the Zona Viva ("the live zone" -- the nightlife district, which is near the area where government buildings, fancy shopping malls, and luxury high rises are located).  There was limited space, and at first I wasn't going to be able to stay, but -- fortunately or unfortunately -- white skin privilege or foreigner privilege worked in my favor. The people who were collecting names at the entrance came over, after they had determined that there weren't enough seats, and asked me who I was and what I was doing. I explained that I was a professor from the U.S. and doing research on the indigenous rights movement. I didn't ask for any special consideration and told them I understood that I hadn't been on the list of invitees, but they allowed me to stay.  

There were about six or seven formal presentations, on themes ranging from opposition to mining to the community radio movement. There were several common preoccupations and concerns about the current government and the continued attacks on indigenous communities and indigenous leaders, from the displacement of communities so that mega-projects can be installed, to the massacre in Cumbre de Alaska in October. 

No one seemed particularly hopeful that the Rapporteur would be able to do anything with this information. One of the co

Afterwards, I took off to Xela, to briefly visit with friends there. I had originally thought that I would be able to meet with one of the leaders of the radio movement, who lives near Xela, and had offered to give him a ride, but it turned out he had other plans. However, I had already made a date with my "grupo de locos" -- my friends in Xela - and since they are not always all available it would have been too hard to find another date, so I set off on the Panamerican highway towards Xela. With Bruce Springsteen on the Ipod, a tank of gas and the open road, and sunlight streaming over the mountains, what more could I ask? We met for churrascos and a couple of bottles, lots of laughs and conversation ensued, and then I got ready the next morning, December 20, to leave for Q'umark'aj and the various activities for the b'aqt'un. Which I will take up in another entry.

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