Sunday, August 10, 2014

Talking resistance

Much of this trip has been devoted to the various resistance movements.  During the past year, there has been an increasing criminalization of the communities, individuals and organizations that have opposed neoliberal strategies such as hydroelectric dams and mining. This week I have spent in northern Huehuetenango, with people involved in the resistance movement, broadly speaking, first in Santa Eulalia, then in Santa Cruz de Barillas, and then back in Santa Eulalia. The situation has become more tense since the last time I visited. There has not been another assassination (Daniel Pedro Mateo, from Santa Eulalia, was kidnapped and then murdered on his way to a meeting in Barillas last April), but there are arrest warrants out for many community leaders; there was a military occupation of San Mateo Ixtatán, a town halfway in between Santa Eulalia and Barillas; and the national media tend to either ignore the resistance movements or portray their leaders as criminals. A few weeks before coming here, I saw an article in the Prensa Libre stating that there was an arrest warrant out for Rigoberto Juarez, one of the leaders of the "Social Movement" in Santa Eulalia (that's the term that is used here) -- and also a friend of mine -- for having set fire to equipment belonging to the company trying to install a hydroelectric project in San Mateo Ixtatán. Rigoberto happened to be in Guatemala City on the date that the equipment was burned, but veracity and plausibility does not seem to be the strong suit of these criminal charges.

All of this has led to a certain degree of mistrust of outsiders, and even mistrust within communities. I have experienced this to a degree -- for the first time in a long time, someone asked me not to record an interview (and this is a person I've known and to whom I've spoken several times). Leaders whom I've met previously have questioned me about my background -- where I'm from, what I do -- and what exactly my research is about, and what I plan to do with the information.  I don't take this personally; it signals the degree to which the government and the companies have succeeded in sowing discord. The term people here use is "disarticulate" -- the companies and the government have disarticulated the movements. The other day, one of the leaders of the Plurinational Government of the Acateco, Chuj, Q'anjob'al, Popti and Mestizo Peoples (more about that group later) told me that he and some other regional leaders had been called in to investigate a situation in a community that none of them had visited before, but not everyone had been informed that a delegation from the outside was coming. They did whatever they were supposed to do and when they returned to their car, it was surrounded by angry local residents, who thought they might be spies sent by the government or the company, and they were held for a couple of hours until someone arrived and identified them.

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