Monday, January 12, 2015

Quick rundown: from genocide trials to drag queens

For some reason it has taken me several days to feel that I had anything much to write about, and the psychic space and time to write it. Since I am nearly halfway through my stay this invariably means that I will be playing catch-up the entire time.  

So, this first foray will just be a summary, as much so I can keep things straight for myself as for anyone else's benefit. I find sometimes that I can't remember what I did two days previously -- where I was, and with whom.  

I had planned to spend the first handful of days in the capital as there were some important political trials that I wanted to attend. The retrial of Rios Montt was set to begin the Monday I arrived. Rios Montt had been convicted in a previous trial but after pressure from the right wing, the verdict and sentence were overturned and the court ordered a new trial which was set for January 5. However, there was a lot of speculation among my friends that the trial was not going to take place; that the judge would find some excuse for not proceeding with the trial or issuing a pardon. Rios Montt pulled a Mubarak and showed up in a hospital bed claiming to be seriously ill. The defense team asked for the judge to be removed because she had written a master's thesis a decade ago about genocide, and the trial was postponed -- this occurred before I arrived. But when I bought my ticket I thought there might be a chance to see part of the trial.

Then there was a hearing in the case of Barbara Diaz Surin, one of the leaders of the resistance movement in San Juan Sacatepéquez, where there has been opposition to a cement factory that is being built.  Last spring there was a confrontation between residents who had organized a peaceful protest, and a man who residents argued had been paid by the company to create disturbances (women in the community have brought claims of sexual assault and rape against private security guards and police). The man was brandishing a machete and the crowd set upon him. Someone, or more than one someone, hit him over the head with a piece of wood and he later died of his injuries. Barbara was present at the confrontation, and because she is highly visible as a leader, she and one other person were charged in the man's death. The entire case to this point relies upon the testimony of the victim's son, and Barbara is facing a possible 50 year prison sentence.

The last trial is the case of the Spanish Embassy bombing in 1980. The Embassy, for those who might not remember, was occupied in January 1980 by representatives of a peasant organization, the Comite de Unidad Campesino (CUC) and student activists, and the Embassy was set on fire, killing nearly everyone inside. Two people escaped alive --the ambassador and one other man (but he was later assassinated in the hospital where he was recuperating from his injuries). One of the top police officials at the time is now on trial for the fire that killed over 30 people, including Rigoberta Menchú's father Vicente Tum. Like the trial of Rios Montt, over three decades passed before this case actually saw the inside of a courtroom. 

While the Spanish embassy trial is not directly related to my research it seemed like an important opportunity to witness a historic event, and so I decided to spend the first week in and around the capital, since the Spanish Embassy hearing was set for Friday. I had misunderstood some communication from an attorney friend about Doña Barbara's trial -- I thought it was set for Tuesday but it was actually scheduled for Thursday, and once I realized the mistake there wasn't really time to make a trip to anywhere distant. However, I did make two short trips on Wednesday, one to visit the resistance movement in La Puya, and another to visit a women's organization in Santiago Sacatepequez that is planning to bring a legal case around intellectual property issues.

There is an entirely separate research project that I have been working at slowly and intermittently about the "reinas mayas de diversidad sexual" -- "Maya queen" pageants of Maya men wearing Maya women's clothing (or Maya drag queens). I had "befriended" the winner of last year's contest (it was only the second one) on Facebook and we had set up an interview in Mazatenango, a city on the south coast of Guatemala, for Saturday, after which I was planning to head to Xela to interview one of the organizers of the pageant.  

When I arrived in Xela late Saturday night, I went to my friend Jose Luis' home in Olintepeque to find that he was at a ceremony that was taking place to ensure an auspicious start to a project to rebuilt the bridge at the main entrance to Olintepeque. And Sunday I had been invited to go to Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, a town near Xela, where every year the local authorities take the precious documents that are the original titles to the lands that constitute the municipality and show them to the population. The documents are guarded closely by a committee of respected citizens and the committee hides the documents in a different place each year; no one other than the committee knows where they are kept but with great ceremony they are revealed to the public on January 11.

So, that is a quick snapshot of the week. 

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