Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Daniel Pedro Mateo, presente!

In January, while I was in Santa Eulalia, I decided to look into the history of the radio station there, Snuq Jolom Konob. Lorenzo, my friend who is currently the director, and who graciously housed me during my visit, had not been one of the founders. He was in the U.S., where he had spent several years working, when the radio station was founded, and joined it after his return.  I am now trying to remember exactly how I first heard about Daniel Pedro, who was one of the founders.  Perhaps the first mention came from Basilio, a young man who works at the radio station several times a week. We had met several times outside of Santa Eulalia -- once when the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, was in Guatemala and many radio stations came to Totonicapán to cover it, and then again at a meeting convened by the Consejo de los Pueblos del Occidente (CPO). I hung out at the radio station several times with Basilio and it may have been he who told me that there was a man, a teacher, who lived in town who had been one of the founders of the radio station. And then B., one of my ex-guerrilla friends, who is in the national leadership of the indigenous political party, Winaq, told me that I should talk to someone named Daniel Pedro, who was a teacher and had been a founder of the radio station.  B. told me he had spent a lot of time in Santa Eulalia, and that Daniel was a good friend, and I should mention that I knew B. I asked Lorenzo and he said that Daniel lived not far from him and that we could go over and see if he were at home. So we walked up the main highway that leads into the center of town, about 1/4 mile or less from Lorenzo's home and then he stopped at the door of a modest two-story house. There was a spare little shop on the ground floor, with a little counter -- it is not uncommon for people to have small stores in their homes -- and we walked inside. A young girl came to tend to us and Lorenzo spoke to her briefly in Q'anjobal, and then she walked out and a moment later a man entered. He had a gentle, intelligent face and bright, perceptive eyes, and a quiet smile spread across his face. This was Daniel. Lorenzo introduced me, saying that I wanted to talk about the history of the radio station, and we chatted together for a few minutes. Daniel invited us into the room behind the shop, where he was working tracing a design on a roll of white paper. He explained that one of the ways he earned a living was by making patterns for women to use in weaving and embroidery. He would make small drawings, often based on Maya spiritual and mythical traditions, and then draw them out again at the size that would be needed for a güipil.  He asked us to sit down and continued to work while I explained what I wanted. He sent his daughter to get us some tea and we chatted and sipped tea and then eventually Lorenzo left because he had things to tend to at home or at the radio and I remained with Daniel. I won't recount the entire interview, but he talked about his early life, learning about injustice from personal experience, his decision to join the guerrilla, and then the founding of the radio station after the war. He worked through much of the conversation, sparks of passion glinting through his eyes and animating his features, although his speech was quiet, measured, thoughtful. He invited me upstairs where we sat around the stove with his wife and another daughter, and continued to talk. He was wrapped in a wool poncho -- the traditional men's garment in Santa Eulalia -- and I wrapped my clothing around me as it was chilly and damp and we warmed our hands over the stove as we talked.
It was only an afternoon, and I never saw him again after that, but he made a deep impression on me. Sometimes you can just feel that you are in the presence of someone who has lived through something important or who has been a leader. I didn't actually know that much about what he was doing currently, but I could tell from the way people spoke about him that there was something special about Daniel.
So, in April, I was shocked to learn, from a note on Facebook, that Daniel had been kidnapped. I learned that he was a leader in the resistance to the mining exploration conducted by Hidro-Santa Cruz, the company whose operations had roiled up people in nearby Barillas the year before, leading to the murder of a community leader, the imposition of martial law, and the arrests of over a dozen other community leaders. I hadn't known that Daniel was one of the leaders of that movement, but it didn't surprise me. I tried to find out more information; some friends in Winaq told me that they were negotiating for his release, but that they didn't know exactly where he was. I didn't get a lot of information from them, and they asked me to keep it quiet -- although I told them that there was definitely information out in public as I had learned about this from Facebook. 
I wrote to Lorenzo and Basilio - they were concerned, obviously. There were articles in the paper announcing his disappearance, and I wrote to some human rights groups and the Guatemala Scholars' Network list serve. Then a few days later, I got the news from someone in Guatemala that Daniel's body had been found. Later, we learned that his body showed unmistakeable signs of torture. During these days I was in touch with folks in Guatemala a lot -- both friends in Santa Eulalia and people in the indigenous rights movement and Winaq more generally. Daniel was the first person I had known personally who had been assassinated, and for days I just kept seeing his face and remembering our conversation and wishing the calendar could be rolled back a few weeks and wishing that he were still alive. I realize that this is sadly not unique, and that I am only mildly touched by this violence, when all around me, people have lost their entire families, lived with the fear of helicopters overhead, watched massacres. People who have been involved with Guatemala much longer than me have seen their entire networks of friends and colleagues decimated by the war.  
This took place right around the time of the Boston Marathon bombings and so my attention was divided between New England and Guatemala -- but this affected me more deeply, in a way, although I had students who were present at the Marathon finish line when the bombs exploded, and some who knew the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who had been a student at my university. But there was something different about an act of violence that was not targeted at a particular individual, and a political assassination -- between someone or ones wanting to do harm in a general way, and people (undoubtedly, in this case, tied to the transnational corporation Hidro Santa Cruz or the government or both) who specifically wanted Daniel out of the way.

Prosaic stock-taking

File this under "win some, lose some". Invariably, when I am in Guatemala, some things get lost. I guess that is passive voice, obscuring agency. So, to rephrase, I lose some things each time. This time for example, I lost a perraje -- a shawl, woven using the shiny, brightly-colored threads that identify that item as being from Santa Cruz del Quiché. The perrajes are woven in alternating strips of solid colors that give off a sheen (I think those are mercerized cotton), and then strips that have geometric designs, using black, white and sometimes metallic threads as well. I had it with me when I was in the Boca Costa from December 23 through the morning of the 25th, and then I couldn't find it the next time I wanted it, some days later. I know I washed it out and placed it on the fence of the home of Don Cristóbal and his family to dry... but it is gone somewhere. I hope whoever now has it is putting it to good use. Maybe I left it in a public place -- a bus, a café, or someone's home. I also had a pair of black yoga pants that I liked especially because there was no brand or tag visible and so they were just very comfortable black stretch pants. I thought I had left them in the house of my friends outside Chinique, along with my furniture and some toiletries and appliances -- basically most of the household stuff that I hadn't sold or given to them. I thought it made sense to keep a bit of clothing in Guatemala, just in case of emergencies, although as my research and involvements have shifted, Quiché is no longer at the heart of my research-- well, no longer at the heart of the research on radio and the indigenous movement.  But when I asked my friends, they couldn't find them. I can't fault my friends -- I didn't do a great job of packing up my stuff, and they also have had some problems with the house and had to move things around. So, some of my belongings are kept in a very specific place (one side of the wardrobe that I gave them) but others are just floating around... Ah well, these are only small, inconsequential items. Too trivial, almost, to be worth a blog entry, but I'm on a roll to clean out my backlog, and so, out into the world you go. 

What you can learn from a guide

This is like digging through the trash bin: My blog is full of unfinished posts as I never have enough time, it seems, to write what needs to be written. I return from a trip to Guatemala and have, usually, at least 4 or 5 unfinished posts -- some just notes, others with only a title as a memory-marker, and some that are at least partially written.  And then, back into the swing, the grind, I put the blog aside, mentally, and then one day I decide to look through and see what I have.  So, a word to the wise and the not-so-wise, like myself -- be more vigilant. More than half of whatever I wanted to write here has been lost, as I didn't take notes on the conversation with the guide who took us up the volcano; I was presuming that I would write it up in the blog, and then didn't.

As we walked up San Pedro, going obviously much slower than the guide was capable of walking, I had the chance to talk to him a lot about life in the communities around the lake, specifically San Pedro. Our guide was a man in his early 50s, with a slight physique and a sun-creased face. It was hard to tell his age until he told me; he could have been anywhere from his early 40s to early 60s, for all I could tell, as people who work outdoors have weathered faces, and people whose lives are spent doing hard physical work tend to be thin and wiry.  He was illiterate, he told me, not in a shameful manner, but matter of fact, although somewhat regretful. This was after he had asked me what I did, and when I told him I was a college professor and that I was in Guatemala doing research, he told me that he had had no schooling. He said that many parents didn't want their children to go to school; that when the teachers came around, parents would tell them that there were no children there and that the teachers wouldn't usually press the point. It wasn't that parents wanted their children to remain ignorant, but that the families were poor and they needed all hands to be put to some productive use. He had started to work very young and helped his parents out, and had continued working his entire life. He was a coffee farmer, but he was very proud that some of his children had been able to get schooling - he had determined that he wanted to give them some of the education he had been denied. As we walked he told me about the coffee industry, about the price fluctuations, about the formation of the cooperative that ran the ecological park where we were hiking. I regret heartily that I left this blog entry -- it is now June, and our hike was in January -- as I have now forgotten much of our conversation. But it was an interesting opportunity to learn about the inside, or the underside, of this lovely little town of San Pedro, how it is situated in the local and world economy (as most of the coffee produced in Guatemala is for export). So what you can learn from a guide is not so much about the mountain and the plants and hiking and the scenery -- although I did get to learn about that as well. I heard about local landowners and petty and not-so-petty disputes over land and its use. About what happens to local economies when the price shifts in a commodity like coffee. About the use of the mountain for ceremonies. A little bit about the war and its aftermath.  There are two lessons: first, nearly everyone in Guatemala has a story that illuminates something about the country's history and present, if one can be patient and attentive. And second, write it down right away.