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.

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