Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Return to Barillas

In the several months since I was last in Guatemala, one of the leaders of the peaceful resistance in Barillas, a man named Mynor López, was arrested. Mynor and I had first met a year ago, on my first trip to Barillas, the only one I made with my own car. My friend Lorenzo from Santa Eulalia had accompanied me - in part because his mother and sister live in Barillas and it was a chance to see family, and also because I needed to have someone vouch for me and introduce me to people in the resistance. With good reason, people involved in political struggles, and indigenous communities in general are wary of well-meaning outsiders. Too many times, a journalist or anthropologist or other researcher comes, takes stories, makes sympathetic noises, goes back to wherever he or she came from and is never heard from again. In the worst cases, the person turns what he or she learned or extracted into some personal profit.  So, Lorenzo went with me, and then on the way back, I was having trouble getting the car up a particularly muddy and narrow stretch of the road, and we kept on backing it up and trying to get some momentum but we couldn't get it past a certain point in the curve, and two men who were walking along the road helped us out. I never found out either of their names, but when I went to visit Barillas in August, and visited the site of the peaceful resistance in Poza Verde, the second day I visited, a man came up to me and said we had met earlier that year, and described the situation, and then I recognized him. We talked for a while; he had lived in the U.S. and told me about his life there and his decision to return to Guatemala and his involvement with the resistance. He asked me if I had seen the waterfalls and I jumped at the opportunity -- I had wanted to walk to the second waterfall (the day before I had walked to the first one, which was fairly close) but wasn't sure quite how to get there. We invited two young people to join us, and set off. 

It was a clear, warm, sunny day and along the way we visited a cave and Mynor pointed out plants and places where the company had wanted to do some excavations, and talked enthusiastically about wanting to preserve the land and the natural resources for the benefit of the community.  We chatted on the phone a few times before I left Guatemala, but I didn't get an email for him, and then next thing I heard, a few weeks later, was that he had been arrested on some trumped up charges -- criminalization of the leadership of the resistance is a pretty common tactic of the authorities. The photograph in the newspaper of Mynor after his arrest was disturbing, as his face was swollen and bruised, clearly signs that he had been worked over by the police.

 While in Guatemala in August, I also met another leader of the resistance in Barillas, a lovely, quiet man, Don Esteban, a teacher for 25 years, who had spent seven months in jail after the army had declared martial law and went on a hunt for community leaders. Don Esteban told me that the charged against him and the other leaders who had been arrested at the same time were things like drug trafficking and terrorism.  I had first learned of him through his daughter, Maria C., who had been in New York as part of a delegation that participated in the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.

To return to Don Esteban: he was in Guatemalan City when I met him in August, together with his wife and children. As a result of his arrest, he had lost his teaching license and so he was in the capital trying to see how he could get reinstalled and return to his profession. Don Esteban, his wife and their youngest child -- a two or three month old baby -- met me in the Zona 1, the historic center of the capital, and we talked over lunch in a café while the skies opened and the rain gushed down, briefly flooding the streets and sidewalks. Maria C. and I spoke on the phone but she wasn't able to come meet with us that day.

We hadn't had much contact since then. Maria C. and I had exchanged a few messages on Facebook but I haven't been as good about staying in touch with everyone as I might. I hadn't called when I arrived, and so didn't know whether they were in the capital or back in Barillas.

So, this morning as I stood in the cold morning air outside Lorenzo's home waiting for the bus, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had called one of the resistance leaders whom I had met on both my first and second trips here, a man also named Lorenzo (nickname Lencho -- the same nickname as my friend Lorenzo from Santa Eulalia, although that one's complete nickname is Lencho Pez -- Lencho the fish). It took a little while to remind him who I was and what my interests were, and he had said he would be around during the days I was going to be here. But beyond that I hadn't made any specific arrangements.

The bus showed up about 40 minutes later than I had been told, but that's Guatemala. Bus schedules are often fictions or suggestions. There are a lot of small companies -- maybe not even companies, just people who own a few mini-vans. Some do seem to be established companies with fleets of vehicles and others are much more informal operations. Therefore, drivers' earnings are based on how many passengers they take. So, a driver will not usually leave until he has enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile, which is probably what happened here. I was told that there was a bus that normally came by at 7 a.m.; that there was one at 6, but it was a camioneta, a converted school bus, and then then one at 7 was a mini-van (generally more comfortable seating). I decided I would go for the 7 a.m. bus and was outside at 6:55, but the bus didn't come until sometime between 7:30 and 7:45.  It let me off at the terminal, which I had never been to before, which is a little bit away from the "center" -- the park, the municipal building, the commercial area, and the location of the hotel where I had planned to stay. Its owner is a supporter of the resistance - a relatively wealthy Ladino landowner, but nonetheless sympathetic to the resistance. He and some other businesspeople in the center provide material support (food and supplies).  I asked directions (the town isn't that big but I wasn't sure of the best way to walk). People in Guatemala use the word "caminar" which technically means "to walk" to refer to traveling -- whether on foot or in a vehicle. So when I asked for directions, "Como puedo caminar hasta el parque?", I kept on getting told about the microbus. Eventually someone understood that I actually meant to walk with my feet and pointed me in the right direction. I came to the park (really just the town square, but here people use the term "parque", even though the parque is usually only one square block and might have a few trees) but arrived catty-corner from the hotel. I stopped for a moment, deciding whether to walk around the perimeter of the square or through the square, and opted to walk through. I hadn't walked more than about 10 feet when I came upon a woman with several children in tow, and she beamed up at me. It was Don Esteban's wife. We embraced, both of us delighted and surprised (well, I can't speak for her but I think the expression of pleasure on her face was genuine). I checked into the hotel and then we went off to look for her husband in the Municipal building, while I called her daughter, Maria C., who was also back here in Barillas, and made plans to see each other this evening at their house. So, even though it's pouring rain and cloudy, I am hopeful that my day and a half here will be somewhat productive.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Things change... Community reporting

Santa Eulalia, Huehuetango, is a city in the clouds, or very nearly so. It is perched on slopes of the Cuchumatanes and there is one highway that swirls through the town. I came here because I wanted to check in with my friends at the radio station here, Snuq' Jolom Konob', and check in on the situation in general in northern Huehuetenango, where there have been conflicts regarding the proposed hydroelectric project that was beginning to be constructed in Barillas, a few hours away. Today, January 14, is the day that the president gives his report on the second year of his presidency, and last week, my friend José Luis told me that some of the indigenous rights groups were planning peaceful demonstrations in several locations to demonstrate their "inconformidad" - their "not going along with" the president's program and pronouncements. One of the concentrations was to be near Sipakapa, a town in San Marcos, near San Miguel Ixtahuacán, where the mining company has threatened to start up a new operation -- also against the wishes of the community expressed in their community consultation some years back. The Sipakapenses had protested in late 2013, the government sent in police, and so this was to be in solidarity with Sipakapa. I had contacted my friends in Santa, because it seemed that they were going to do an action in solidarity -- I was trying to decide whether I would go to one of the other actions, but then I thought it would make sense to be with the folks from here. However, when I got here this morning, it turned out that they had met last night and decided that the Q'anjob'al people would be "on alert" but would not organize an action. So, I was a little disappointed -- I wouldn't get to be part of a massive protest, but at this point there was nothing to do. I came by bus instead of driving (there is one part of the road here where I have often had trouble and I tried to get a repair done on my car so that the acceleration would be better on the uphill in first gear, but the repair shop in Xela didn't have the part they needed, and so I decided to leave the car in Xela and travel by bus). So even if I had known last night that they weren't going to do anything here, there would have been no way that I could have gotten somewhere else. So, I did the next best thing -- helped the radio station here in Santa get an interview with some of the people who were at the rally in Chocoyos (a place in the municipality of Sipakapa, where the mining company has been granted a license for exploration and exploitation). As we were walking from his home to the radio station, my friend Lencho asked me if I had a way to contact anyone in the CPO -- the Council of Western Peoples (Consejo de Pueblos del Occidente), and I called José Luis, who got us a name and phone number of someone who was at the rally in Chocoyos. So, we got to the radio station, explained to the person broadcasting what we wanted to do, since it would mean interrupting his program. Lencho had explained to me that the broadcaster was someone who had worked at the radio station previously, had stopped for several years and recently returned to help out. He didn't seem as informed about or interested in the social movements as Lencho - but there are varying degrees of political engagement/involvement at any radio station.

So, Lencho did a short phone interview with the CPO representative, who then turned the phone over to one of the leaders of the Sipakapan resistance. The interview, of course, was in Spanish, as the lingua franca (Sipakapa has its own language, and here the language is Q'anjob'al), and then after it was over, Lencho did a summary translation into Q'anjob'al for the listeners who don't speak Spanish well, and then spent about half an hour writing up a summary for the radio station's Facebook page -- realizing, he told me, that he views social media as part of the work of the radio station, and so he wanted to take the time to make sure that the information went out.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Queering Mayanness: the Trans Maya Queen

Back in November, my eye was caught by a notice on Facebook for a pageant to select the Reina Maya de la Diversidad Sexual (Maya Queen of Sexual Diversity -- that is, the drag or trans Maya Queen). I was so intrigued that if the date (November 8) didn't fall right between two conferences I was attending, one in Oaxaca and one in Chicago, I would have considered doing some thing crazy like flying down. I had some contact with the sponsoring organization -- the Iniciativa para la Diversidad Sexual del Occidente (the Initiative for Sexual Diversity in Western Guatemala) starting back in 2011 when I attended what I think was the first pride march in Xela (it was also my first trip to Xela, a city that has become one of my several "second homes" in Guatemala). I have done some work (although I haven't actually written anything) on the whole panoply of "Maya queen/Maya princess" pageants, which are seen by some as folklorism and by others as important manifestations of ethnic pride and (gendered) racial identity. The idea of a trans Maya queen seemed to bring even more sharply into focus the questions of sexuality, gender and race. 

And so I decided, although I have enough loose ends of research and enough projects or partial projects to keep me busy for a while, that I wanted to at least try and talk with the organizers and some of the candidates, if possible. Which I was able to do on Saturday afternoon. A fuller discussion of that will have to wait, and I'm kicking myself that I didn't take many photos (I started to shoot video when I interviewed the winner of the pageant, and the battery quickly ran down).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Guatemalan Supreme Court to Investigate Mayor of Mining Town

So, I will fill in the spaces, but one of the things I did while I was here was accompany Maya community leaders and their legal adviser in filing a criminal complaint against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán for making the community residents do forced labor -- in order to comply with a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that decreed that the government was responsible for taking preventive measures to ensure a supply of water suitable for drinking, domestic use and farming. Forced labor is, sadly, an important part of Guatemala's colonial and more modern history; friends of mine have recounted that as recently as the 1960s and 1970s, their fathers and other male relatives were forced to dig ditches and build highways. And of course during the armed conflict the army imposed forced labor regimes on those men whom it did not kill or conscript into the army. Still, it is a bit of an outrage that in 2014, this would still be practiced by a municipal government. I was there to document, and then I helped work on press communiqués. Here's a longish version of a press release -- too long to send out to the press, but maybe the basis of an op-ed piece somewhere. 

San Miguel Ixtahaucán, San Marcos, Guatemala: 

On Thursday, January 9, one day after Maya community leaders filed criminal charges against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, with the local justice of the peace, for compelling residents of five Maya communities to perform forced labor, the tribunal decided to send the case to Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice.  The complainants and their legal team are now awaiting word from the Supreme Court of Justice about the next steps in this case. “I would never have believed that in the year 2014, a municipal government would make Maya communities do compulsory labor.” Such was the opinion of Francisco Bámaca, a 53-year old farmer from the community of San José Ixcaniche, and leader of the anti-mining movement in Guatemala.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, Bámaca and other leaders from the five communities most affected by environmental damage from the Marlin Mine, operated by the Canadian transnational Goldcorp through its Guatemalan subsidiary Montana Explorer of Guatemala, filed a criminal complaint against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, charging him with imposing compulsory labor upon the Maya Mam communities of Ágel, Siete Platos, San José Ixcaniche, San José Nueva Esperanza and San Antonio de los Altos. All five communities are part of the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, and were beneficiaries of a 2010 ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which determined that Goldcorp’s mining operations posed a clear risk of contamination to their water supply from mining operations, and ordered the Guatemalan government and the municipality to take precautionary measures to ensure an adequate supply of uncontaminated water for drinking, domestic and agricultural use. 

However, the local Mayor, Ovidio Joel Domingo Bámaca, has forced local residents to not only work for free on the construction and maintenance of the necessary infrastructure, but also provide the construction materials out of communal resources, and cover the fees to the owners of the properties where the water lines would be installed.

The Mayor’s actions, according to the complaint, are in clear violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization on the Rights of Indigenous and Native Peoples, and Guatemalan Constitution. Carlos Loarca, executive director of Plurijur, an association of human and indigenous rights attorneys, and legal adviser to the resistance movement in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, notes that this case is significant for indigenous communities not only in Guatemala, but also throughout Latin America: “Historically, the elites and the governments have argued that the progress of indigenous peoples depends upon their providing free labor for projects that will benefit the community.  Indigenous communities are obliged to work without any salary because it’s the only way they can get any benefit from the government, but the non-indigenous communities don’t do this work for free, so it’s clearly discriminatory.” 

Adds Gregoria Crisanta Pérez, a community leader efrom Ágel, who also signed the complaint, “What we want is for the mining company to cover the labor costs, and all the other expenses necessary to provide an adequate water supply,” adding that single mothers, widows and the elderly cannot comply with the forced labor obligations.

            The complaint was prepared with the assistance of FREDEMI, a community-based coalition of anti-mining activists in the San Miguel Ixtahuacán area.

My poor neglected blog, a brief update

It's amazing that this blog is still here, patiently awaiting me. If it were a house plant or an animal, it would be long dead through neglect. Starting a while before this most recent, current, trip to Guatemala, people asked me if I had a blog and I kind of mumbled, "Yes, but I haven't really been keeping it up." And so, nearly a week into my stay in Guatemala, I am taking it up again. Or rather, a week from the date of my originally scheduled departure which was to have been last Saturday, January 4....

Last summer I was lucky to be able to spend nearly five weeks here, and as you can see, the blog dropped off rapidly even before I had left Guatemala. Things got in the way, I got distracted, maybe I made a list somewhere of entries that I had planned to write but poof! August 7 and then nothing. And yet Guatemala is never far away from my thinking, surrounded as I am by Guatemalans much of the time I am in the U.S.  

So, here I am back in Guatemala, and the first week, nearly, has passed without my writing so much as a word. The trip was more eventful than I would have liked: a winter storm meant that my original flight was canceled at about 9 p.m. the night before my scheduled departure. I spent a couple of hours trying to call the airline (including waking up in the middle of the night) and then gave up; in the morning I had an email message with a rebooked flight for Monday, January 6. I decided it wasn't worth driving out to Newark to try and argue with the airline so I left it at that and spent the weekend planning a syllabus and doing some research and more or less following my normal routines.

All well and good. The flight was at 5:15 a.m. on Monday and I decided, in a fit of insanity, to go to the rumba on Sunday night -- I was taking care of a few last details like recycling, cleaning the litter box, repacking, and then walked outside, walked to my car, walked back to the building, and then walked back to my car again and decided to take off. So,I didn't get to stay at the rumba as long as I might have liked (since I wanted to get at least a few hours of sleep before setting out at around 2:15 for the parking lot). It was fun, but I forced myself to leave and go home and get some rest, and then prepare to leave. All smooth, except the line at the ticket counter was incredibly long and slow. I couldn't get a boarding pass from the machine, even though I had my passport and confirmation number.  The attendants kept telling me to try the machine, the machine kept telling me to see an attendant. Frustration mounted. Finally I got a boarding pass but with no seat assignment and the instruction to get a seat assignment at the gate.  Long lines at the security checkpoint (I don't usually fly at 5:15 a.m. out of Newark, so maybe this is typical, or maybe just the result of several days of canceled and delayed flights from the storm).  They tell me that I fit into some special category and don't have to take off my shoes - whoopee! However, my boots (nothing special, no studs, no zipper, just regular little pull on ankle boots) apparently set off the metal detector so I have to go back and take them off. Would have been easier if I'd just taken them off in the first place, which I was starting to do when a TSA employee told me that I didn't have to.

Finally I get to the gate, and there is a long line of people waiting for seat assignments or on standby. I'm not very successful at getting the attention of an attendant but eventually do, and she begrudgingly looks at my boarding pass. They have already started to board the flight, and they are asking for volunteers to be bumped because it is oversold. It doesn't look very good. I keep my position right in front of the attendant, holding my passport and boarding pass, and do not volunteer to give up my place, even for $300.  However, they announce that the flight is closed and the attendant punches some information into her computer and tells me that the next flight they can put me on is January 8. I stay calm but explain that I don't live in New Jersey, I drove here from Brooklyn and have already put my car in long term parking and do not plan to spend two days in the airport, nor do I want to have to take my car out and drive back to Brooklyn and then come back again in two days. I explain that this is a professional work trip, not a vacation, and that I have meetings and interviews that I had already rescheduled once. I pull out my phone and send Facebook messages to Jose Luis, who is meeting me at the airport in Guatemala with my pick-up, and Carlos, whom we are supposed to pick up along the way back to Xela and who is going to go to San Miguel Ixtahuacán with me, and let them know there might be problems (luckily, as it turns out, neither sees the message until much later). I am about to suggest that United should get me a ticket on another airline if they don't have any seats available, when the attendants start to talk, and then say that there is someone coming off the flight, maybe two people, and so there are now either one or two seats available. There is someone behind me and the two of us start to walk down the jetway after two people - a young woman and her father (I recognized them from waiting in line earlier) walk out. However, it turns out that there is only one seat and I just keep walking. I am very sorry for the guy, but I am not about to give up the seat. At the door of the plane they stop me and say I have to gate-check my carry on suitcase as all the bins are full and there is no room, so I reluctantly hand it over.

The flights themselves are fairly uneventful. I have packed gourmet cheese sandwiches on whole-grain baguette with some home-made pesto, carrot sticks, almonds, and an orange, so I don't need to purchase overpriced food from the airline. However, after landing in Guatemala and sailing through immigration, I am stopped short because my bag did not arrive. I wait until the very last suitcases have been loaded onto the carousel. Mine isn't there. I find the United attendant and hand her my bag check ticket; she enters the number and sees that my bag was scanned in Newark and doesn't seem to have gone anywhere. I stay calm, even though the one other time a bag went astray, it never turned up again. This was in 1998 -- and wouldn't you know, the same airport (Newark) and the same airline (Continental, which last year merged with United). I ended up spending a summer in Havana with the clothing on my back and what I could borrow from friends and a few things I purchased.  However, I have learned that melting down usually doesn't solve anything. The young woman asked if I was going to come to the airport when the bag arrived and I said no, I was going to San Miguel Ixtahuacán in San Marcos and they could send the bag to the Catholic Church, the parish house. She looked at me quizzically and I said that it was a very small town, there was only one Catholic Church in town and that everyone knew where the parish house was. She asked for a phone number but I didn't know if my cell phone would be working since it has been months since I used it (although I did turn it on several times and charge it and try to make calls although I knew they wouldn't go through, just to keep the SIM card "active"), so I left José Luis' and Carlos' numbers. And was waved through Customs (as I had no bag other than my backpack with the computer) and went out to find José Luis. Luckily, I had taken my toiletries out of the suitcase and put them in my backpack, and of course I had my camera and cell phones. José Luis has three daughters, and I figured that between them, we would come up with some clothing I could use until my bag arrived. Both José Luis and his wife Chony had come to fetch me, and we embraced and I told them what had happened... I climbed behind the wheel of my trusty (although eternally ailing) 1999 Mazda pick up, coaxed the engine to start, refreshed my muscle memory of the gear positions and then we took off.

Todos y todas somos Crisanta: Presenting Doña Crisante Pérez

Sometimes you have the good fortune to meet a person who just radiates dedication, commitment and vision from every pore of her or his body. I had heard about Doña Crisanta from my friend C, who is an attorney representing the communities in resistance to mining, but had not had the opportunity to meet her until the first of my two trips to San Miguel Ixtahuacán (SMI) during my recent stay in Guatemala.  

It was our first full day in SMI, and we had been to the large meeting with representatives of the mine, the mayor's office, the government agency responsible for the water supply, and residents of Siete Platos, and then had gone to visit the home of one of the resistance leaders who had not been at the meeting. We were returning back to the town of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, and reaching the point where the road we had been on -- this is a road that actually passes the mine, as well as several communities -- came to a T, meeting up with the road back into town. There were some people on the other side of the road from us,  apparently looking to get a ride in the direction from which we had come. C. called to me, "Oh, that's Doña Crisanta over there." Unfortunately my horn isn't working so I couldn't honk her. We tried to shout out the window to tell her to wait for us a moment (we had been trying unsuccessfully to call her), but there was traffic and we didn't think she'd heard us. I pulled over, C jumped out and darted across the road to catch her before she stepped into a vehicle that would carry her home. I got out and walked over and C introduced me to her, and we agreed that we would meet sometime the next day to talk about some projects that we have wanted to work on with her and the women in the community of Ágel. She was dressed in shades of bright blue -- a bright satiny blusa (I would use the word blusa to distinguish the tops that are sewn from shiny fabric, with puffy sleeves, and decorated with strips of lace and sometimes beaded ribbons at the neck and sleeve openings, from a woven güipil, but I think a lot of people refer to these machine-made tops as güipils also, as they are exclusively worn by indigenous women) and corte. She gave us a broad, beaming smile and greeted me warmly.  I had the opportunity to see her in action at a rally about a week later when I returned to SMI, where she spoke clearly and forcefully about the health hazards, chemical contamination and human rights violations, brandishing a copy of a scientific study that was commissioned by the mining company, that demonstrated clearly the health risks. Although she only had a fourth grade education, she was fully conversant in the scientific and legal issues, and explained things very plainly but didn't dumb anything down. I had a chance to meet with to get a little bit of her life story -- we helped her apply for a scholarship from the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (which, sadly, she didn't get), and then to meet with a group of women in her community, Ágel, which overlooks the Marlin Mine.

Again, I will try to recuperate what I recall of this visit to SMI from July/August 2013 before it completely slips from my memory.

Resistence in Barillas

Starting in 2006, the community of Santa Cruz Barillas became aware that a foreign transnational, Hidro Santa Cruz, had purchased some land on the outskirts of town, in an area called Posa Verde. There are three waterfalls there, and apparently the project was to build dams, under the banner of development for this very isolated rural area. The nearest town that shows up on a map is about three hours away over a road that is only paved for the first hour or so; after that it is straight gravel and dirt, deeply rutted and hard to navigate during the rainy season. The first time I went to Barillas I drove my own car and while we didn't have any trouble getting to Barillas, there was one very muddy ascent on the way back, and we almost didn't make it.  This time I decided to avoid that problem and came by public transportation, and my friend Lorenzo, who accompanied me from Santa Eulalia, managed to get us into the front seat of the mini-van that took us most of the way from Santa (as the town is locally called), so we were relatively comfortable as we had more space. The ayudantes who accompany all drivers, whether of larger buses or smaller mini-vans, are pretty shameless and ruthless about cramming people into the back, and buses often travel fairly long distances with 7 or 8 people crushed into the area around the door and hanging out the door. Concern for passenger comfort is not even an operative concept here, and concern for passenger safety is on about the same plane. The prevailing ethos seems to be, if you are unfortunate enough to live out in this God-forsaken miserable little rural area that is so pathetic that no one around you even has a car to give you a ride, you should be eternally grateful that we are bothering to stop and pick you up, and if the thought of riding on the steps of the bus with your backpack out the door and your face at the level of other passengers' crotches isn't appealing to you, then you are welcome to stay on the side of the road and wait until a more suitable conveyance appears, which it most assuredly will not.

The resistance heated up in late April/early May of last year, when residents destroyed some equipment belonging to the company, and the company retaliated by killing a community leader, Andres Francisco Miguel, on May 1, and wounded another person, and three days later, after the townspeople had occupied the town square and destroyed more installations of the company, the government sent in the army and declared martial law in the town. The army barged into people's homes, searching and turning things upside down in their search. When residents asked why their homes were being searched, often they were given no answer, or if they insisted, saying, "you can't just enter our homes and search without any cause, the soldiers said,"Because of martial law, the normal rules don't apply." Over a dozen people were arrested, and there were arrest orders for many more. An international campaign, largely promoted through Facebook, helped pressure the government to eventually withdraw troops but tensions remain high in the town and throughout the region. The government, army and police said that the crackdown was against delinquents, terrorists and drug traffickers -- in other words, anyone who opposed the hydro-electric company and defended the community's rights was in effect a terrorist. This sounds eerily familiar to how the "terrorist" label has been deployed in the U.S.  The imprisoned activists were viewed by the community as political prisoners and there was a lot of agitation for their release (which was eventually achieved). In December, there were several days of protests when the Mayor of Barillas said he was going to sign an agreement that would give the company a green light to resume operations, after closed-door negotiations, and the mayor was forced to back down in the face of widespread opposition.

My first visit, in late December, was just a day trip. My friend from Santa Eulalia, which is nearby, offered to take me there, but he couldn't spend much time because of his many other responsibilities, so we agreed that we would go there and back the same day. Also, because of the tense situation (my visit was just a few weeks after the stand off with the mayor), the people in the resistance movement are justly cautious about extending trust to anyone. And so it seemed prudent to go with someone who had ties in the town (my friend's mother and sister live in Barillas, and he knew several leaders of the resistance; there is some coordination of resistance efforts in Santa Eulalia, Barillas, and the several other towns that would be effected by the hydroelectric project -- all of which, by the way, have expressed their opposition to the projects through the community consultations in good faith).

In April, some residents decided that they had had enough. Even though there was no longer martial law, there were police and army stationed around the town, and people were frustrated that the situation didn't seem to be changing. There were some "mesas de diálogo" (dialogue tables, literally) with the national government and leaders of the resistance, but they didn't seem to go anywhere. As some members of the resistance told me, "The government just does what they want." There was supposed to be a stoppage of the company's activities but residents of the area nearby said that the company guards fired shots in the middle of the night, and that army and police were patrolling around the area. What particularly galled residents was that the access road that was being used by the company and being patrolled by the army and police was a road that was built by the residents themselves. The company didn't make the road, and neither did the municipality. The residents had gathered the money themselves and done all the work to make a road that led into this beautiful area where there is a sacred river, Q'am B'alam, and three sacred waterfalls. 

So, on April 7, residents came to the entrance to the road and blocked access. They set up an encampment, which has, for the last four months, have maintained a 24-hour presence at the site.  As I was planning to visit Barillas for a second time -- my friend in Santa (as Santa Eulalia is called locally) told me about the encampment, and that was where I ended up spending most of the day and a half I was in Barillas.

 I had originally wanted to come to Santa Eulalia earlier, after my brief visit to el Quiché, since Quiché is sort of in the north (well, it's north of the capital) and therefore a bit closer to to Santa Eulalia. However, when I called Lorenzo to check on dates, he told me he was going to be away for a few days, and therefore I shifted gears, and left Quiché on Thursday, August 1, to head down to the Boca Costa (the "mouth of the coast"), spent Friday and Saturday with the folks from Nojibal, and then on Sunday left for Huehuetenango (the department where Santa Eulalia is located). I realize that all of these postings are out of chronological order. I start writing something, and then don't finish it, and by the time I get back to it, I've gone to three other places and therefore have a lot to catch up on. 

I arrived in Santa Eulalia a bit exhausted, as there was one ascent that my car just didn't want to make. Santa Eulalia is at 2500 or so meters above sea level, and as the road climbs up from Huehuetenango through Chiantla, there are some steep and rugged ascents through the Cuchumatan mountains. There are so many places of intense beauty in Guatemala, and it is hard to describe what makes the Cuchumatanes different from the mountains in Quiché, but they are. The mountains are more rounded, greener, and there are vistas where you can see deep valleys of green surrounded by softly peaked hills. After the road winds up out of Chiantla (which offers thrilling views of about 50 miles or more to the south), it hits a kind of plateau or mesa, with outcroppings of rock dotting the landscape, along with lots of sheep, and some plants that I haven't seen in too many other places -- specifically some spiky plants and some red flowers that look a bit like what are called "Indian paintbrush" in the states. 

Then the road descends for a while (there is a long stretch where there are not really any towns, although one really never goes that far in Guatemala without seeing some a few houses scattered along the roadside or in the distance), and than climbs very dramatically through some rocky gorges which are a bit dizzying to drive along, as the road is narrow, hugging to the slope, and the gorges are quite deep, and there aren't exactly a lot of guard rails.  My car was fine on the very steep ascents... and then got foiled by the rain. There is one slope, which is not very steep, but it was wet, as it had been raining, and my car just wouldn't go up it. This happened the last time, and I still can't quite figure out why. I've driven in the rain before, and on roads that are steeper or that have sharper curves or both. But I couldn't get up this slope. There was not a lot of pedestrian or car traffic.  I waited and eventually  some people came along who were going in the same direction and I gave them a ride in the back so I would have enough weight.

Although I had been to Barillas once before, and had met some of the key leaders of the resistance movement, Lorenzo thought that given the recent events (the murder of Daniel Pedro Mateo in April, and the kidnapping of another leader, Mynor López, in May) that people were going to be very wary, and so he offered to accompany me so that he could do the introductions once again. The last time we went my car almost didn't make it up a particularly muddy slope and so we decided to take the microbus.  We set out early, taking one bus to the community of Pett, and then switching there for a microbus to Barillas.

After breakfast, we met several people in town, I checked into a hotel that was run by a town resident who supports the resistance

I'm writing this now in January, since I never finished the blog, and I now don't remember who took me to the resistencia pacífica. I know Lorenzo had to get back to Santa Eulalia, but I think we went to visit a local radio station, and then someone drove us to the resistencia (the occupation, basically).  We were let off where the bus stops, and then we walked past homes and stores and down a dirt path. The encampment looks like the others I have seen -- over time, they have constructed a rough structure, half of which has a roof made of panels of corrugated metal sheeting ("lámina") and the other half is covered with large sheets of heavy plastic. There are some roughly-made wooden platforms for sleeping and storing supplies, built-in benches along one side, and a kitchen area at the other end. The entire structure is about maybe 50 feet long. Groups of residents from the many communities (neighborhoods, sectors, aldeas, cantons, caserios) that comprise Barillas take turns doing shifts. Generally, I was told, for reasons of safety, only the adult men spend the night, keeping watch, and women and children come during the day. 

It was pretty quiet while I was there, although people came and went during the day. I went to see where people had destroyed equipment belonging to the company some months back, and with one of the young girls, I walked to one of the waterfalls. The waterfalls are sacred sites, and part of the controversy, as I understand it, was not only that the hydroelectric project was being installed against the community's express wishes, but that it would affect sacred sites. There is a succession of three waterfalls -- I only saw two of them; the third was a farther hike than anyone wanted to undertake with me on the two days that I visited the resistance.

I will try to reconstruct more of my memories of this.. but I want to at least get this off my "draft" list....