Thursday, January 7, 2016

Brief notes from the new year

Somehow it's been over a week since I arrived here on December 28 and I haven't yet had a chance to sit down and write a blog entry. My departure was more hectic than usual as I couldn't find my passport. I started looking for it two days before my departure -- when I am not using it for identification or travel, I generally keep it in the same place, in the drawer of a small end table. I often take it with me when I travel by air domestically as a form of identification but the last two times I traveled within the U.S. I decided to use my driver's license instead. So the last time I am certain that I used it was on September 11 when I returned from my trip to Mexico: I know that I had to present it at the airport when I arrived in the U.S. but I am not aware of using it since then. In any case, by Sunday night I knew that I had to find a way to replace the passport on short notice, so I spent part of the night reading some travelers' blogs and the State Department website. I tried to make an appointment but the soonest the online system would give me was January 10, which wasn't going to do me any good, but one of the bloggers recommended just showing up before the passport office opened and waiting on line. I won't go into all the details now but let it be known that it is possible to get a passport in 2 hours in New York City during the Christmas holidays. In between submitting my application and returning for the passport I went back to Brooklyn, finished packing, made a sandwich to eat on the plane, and then drove myself back to Manhattan, found parking right in front of the passport office, retrieved my passport and then drove to Queens to pick up the friend who lives 5 minutes from LGA who was going to deal with my car while I am away.

The second leg of my flight, from Houston to Guatemala, was delayed 3 hours and so I had time to sample some quite good food in the airport and drink a glass of wine (I asked United and was told there was only food for sale on the flight, no hot meal served in economy). Free wifi (why can't all airports have that?) allowed me to contact the guesthouse and tell them I was going to be quite late; the owner, Luciano (actually Lucien, as he is Belgian, but everyone in Guatemala except a few of his Francophone friends calls him Luciano) told me to have the taxi driver call so as not to ring the doorbell and wake other guests.

I toppled into bed (I'd been up most of the night figuring out the passport situation)and then headed out in the morning for a run, and then decided to treat myself to the guesthouse's breakfast, prepared by Luciano's wife. Although it's included, I have never eaten it before, generally preferring to cook oatmeal, since a "desayuno chapín" (Guatemalan breakfast) is more food than I usually want in the morning -- eggs, some black beans, some slices of fried sweet plantains, and tortillas. Sometimes a slice of queso fresco (fresh cheese) or crema (literally, cream, but something much thicker and slightly tart). But I decided to indulge and then set off to take care of reactivating my phone and then going to the courthouse (los tribunales) where there was to be a hearing in the case of one of the leaders from Barillas in northern Huehuetenango, Don Ermitaño López, better known as "Don Taño." I do not know him well, but he is part of the group of 9 political prisoners from northern Huehuetango -- all leaders in the movement "in defense of territory and life". Which is to say, in opposition to mining and mega-projects. He is imprisoned in Huehuetenango, and I learned early in the morning that the prison administration had not been able to (had not wanted to?) arrange to transport him to Guatemala City for the hearing. However, I knew that the lawyers, families and "solidarios" (people in solidarity) would be there so I decided to continue with my plan.

On my way across the Parque Central heading towards the Sexta Avenida, the pedestrian thoroughfare that is the "main drag" of the Historic Center (centro histórico) of Guatemala City, I ran into an acquaintance, which was a nice start to my visit. Then on to Tigo, the phone company, and from there to the Torres de Tribunales, where I found the wife of Don Taño, Doña Ana, who is the wife of another prisoner Don Tello (they own a hotel where I have often stayed), several representatives of the United Nations, Acoguate (an international group of "accompaniers" for human rights defenders in Guatemala), and a few other people from the Consejo de los Pueblos del Occidente (Council of Western Peoples) - one of the organizations that has promoted the consultas comunitarias and the movements against mining and megaprojects. 

When the judge arrived and called the hearing to session, it was clear that she was annoyed at the prison administration for not bringing Don Taño. She noted that this was the fourth postponement and that he remained deprived of liberty while the hearing kept on being postponed (most because of the government's failures) and said there should be closer coordination between the prison system and the judicial system. She asked for an inquiry into what had happened, and also (in response to a request from the defendant's attorneys) asked the Ministerio Público to look into whether it was technically feasible to hold the hearing via videoconference so that they wouldn't have to worry about transporting the prisoner. The hearing was postponed until January 22.

Don Taño's wife spoke after the hearing was over -- there were a few reporters and so she spoke and one of the lawyers spoke. Then people gathered outside and apparently there is some talk about planning protests around the next series of hearings. There is a hearing for Don Chico Palas, another of the leaders from Barillas, on January 15, and another hearing in the case of Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar, on January 18, so a busy month (and the inauguration of the new president is January 14, and there are already some protests planned around that).

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