"Unending poverty, repression in Guatemala"

by Grahame Russell

GUATEMALA CITY -- Repression and impoverishment in Guatemala are again in the news, for a day or two. In the June 7 Financial Times, Andrew Bounds writes of the ''return of the death squads'' in Guatemala. Apart from the fact that death squads never went away, Bounds reported on the recent assassination of Guillermo Ovalle, who worked for the foundation set up by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú. Bounds put this killing correctly in the context of the on-going impunity that marks the judicial and political systems here.

Amnesty International released an urgent action on June 11, expressing concern about a death threat faxed to human-rights activists by the clandestine Guatemaltecos de Verdad (True Guatemalans) organization. It read, among other things:
'La lista de los enemigos de la patria es grande y si las mentiras que contaron a la vieja jilani tienen un efecto en el pais los pajaros deberan pagarlo con su sangre.'' (The list of the country's enemies is long, and if the lies they told to that old lady Jilani [in reference to the United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani] have an effect on the country, the wankers will pay for it with their blood). The activists named in the death threat would be ``los primeros en sentir el sabor del acero de nuestras balas'' (the first to experience the taste of our bullets' steel).

The United Nations, based on the recent visit of Jilani, denounced the general climate of fear, the attacking of human-rights defenders by public officials, the on-going impunity, the increased militarization, and the Guatemalan Congresss lack of commitment to ensure the safety of human-rights defenders.

Unfortunately, the article and reports present Guatemalas critical situation in a global vacuum. The reader is left simply thinking ``Oh, what a terrible place.'  Repression and impoverishment are not ''national'' problems; they are endemic violations of peoples most important human rights, caused by local, national and global policies and actions.

A wide range of international actors contribute directly and indirectly to impunity and other social ills. The U.S. government and military, other governments, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, US-AID and global corporations and investment institutions, all have long had and continue to have beneficial dealings with the Guatemalan government, military and economic elites.

As long as repression and impoverishment in Guatemala are treated as ''national'' problems, systematic violations of the majority's political, economic, social, civil and cultural rights will continue.

Power here does not reside in the democratic power of the people but in the military and economic relations that the elites maintain worldwide.

As long as these international players continue with their business-as-usual attitude in Guatemala, little will change.

Accountability for injustices and demands for deep changes must be fought not only inside Guatemala -- where courageous people are leading the way -- but also at the global level


Grahame Russell works with Rights Action, that raises funds for and supports community-development and human-rights projects in Mexico, Central America and Peru. 

Email: info@rightsaction.org.  Website: www.rightsaction.org


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