|Graham Russell is a hero, you may never have heard of him, but he is a hero nonetheless. He is a human rights worker in Guatemala and all daylong he deals with atrocities, and how man can be so brutally cruel to his fellow man. It is not an easy job, and Grahame doesn’t have to do it, but he does.|
Grahame was born with the
proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. From a well-to-do family Mr. Russell is
tall, handsome, intelligent, athletic and blessed with a great sense of humor. He is also in possession of a Canadian law degree. Grahame
doesn’t have to trudge through the back woods of Guatemala taking testimonies
from torture victims, but he does.
He could have easily
followed in the footsteps of his father, noted Canadian attorney Aubrey Russell,
QC. He could be on Bay Street (Canada’s Wall Street) driving a fancy car,
wearing a pin-stripe, making six figures, holding court at power lunches, but
he’s not. Why?
Grahame’s mother, Nancy,
who works as a library consultant says, “It stems from his first trip to
Mexico over two decades ago. Grahame had never seen such rampant poverty, and he
couldn’t understand why we in the developed nations had so much, and those in
the developing nations had so little. The
death of his older sister Sarah in a motorcycle accident also had a tremendous
effect on Grahame in making him realize how precious life is”
After spending a number of
years working for CODEHUCA (Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in
Central America) in San Jose, Costa Rica Grahame recently moved to Guatemala. His primary work now involves building monuments to the dead and disappeared of Guatemala’s ugly and
merciless civil war. It is a gargantuan task as conservative estimates put the
death toll at close to 149,000 people. Until recently in Guatemala as Grahame
writes, “it has been a crime to look for the dead and their disappeared” It
is very important to the Guatemalan people, that their dead receive a proper
burial. Unfortunately, Guatemala holds a very dubious honor as Grahame notes,
“It has more disappeared people than any other country in the world, though I
haven’t seen this written in the Guinness Book of Records.”
Grahame and his partner
Victoria have a beautiful baby daughter named Camila, and this helps divert them
from the horrific and gruesome human rights violations they encounter daily.
Victoria, who used to teach
at a Quaker school In Monteverde, Costa Rica, is working on a daunting task
herself. She is preparing a study of systematic rights abuses by the Guatemalan
military against Guatemalan women. The study is funded by a Scandinavian group,
and contains all kinds of fun things such as torture, rape, unlawful detention,
beatings, intimidation, etc. Such friendly sorts the Guatemalan military.
Grahame was at one time one
of Canada’s finest downhill skiers. Today he maintains a strict regimen of
running, and keeping in good shape gives him the strength to deal with the enlightened authorities in Central America.
What about the danger?
Publicizing human rights violations, and poking your nose where it isn’t
wanted, can place on in a precarious position. Westerners have disappeared as
well as indigenous people. Grahame, however, doesn’t seem too perturbed as he
writes, “On the day I drove through Segundo Montes, in El Salvador, four
busloads of Salvadorean law students and professors were detained by soldiers,
who shot rounds of machine-gun bullets over their heads. I was able to get past
the five roadblocks. North American
immunity from the army we arm, finance and train? White immunity?”
Grahame does have a hard
time coming to terms with his work. His conscience is playing havoc with his
soul. He cannot even sit down to
have a cup of coffee in a café in North America without thinking about how many
people were exploited to enable him to sip his coffee in comfort.
He chose “the road not
taken”, and it has made all the difference. We can not all do what Grahame
does, but if we were all just a little more like him, the world would be a
better place. Many of us do care
about our fellow man, but we don not spend enough time putting that concern in
to action, Grahame does. And he does it every waking minute of his day.
In September in 1992,
Grahame published a book called The Never
Ending. The following are a few excerpts:
While sipping coffee at
conferences, First World experts talk of helping the poor in the Third World.
All the experts talk of the Problem of Poverty. Everywhere experts meet in
expensive hotels and talk of the Problem of Poverty. There is little talk about
the Problem of Wealth.
“If I give food, I am
called a saint. When I ask why the hungry have no food, I am called a
communist.” (Don Helder Camara, Brazilian Catholic Priest)
Horrendous tidal waves hit
Bangladesh. Tens of thousands of humans have lost their lives. I hurry out to
get a newspaper. On the front page there is a major article about Ricky
Henderson, a professional baseball player in the US who earns millions of
dollars per year to play baseball. Henderson told the interviewer that he was
“the greatest”. In the bottom corner of the newspaper there was a short
article about the disaster in Bangladesh.
“Santos Calixto, a
28-year-old parish health promoter, in Morazan, El Salvador was dragged out of
his home, and brutally beaten by soldiers when they discovered he owned a copy
of the book Where There is No Doctor.
The soldiers said the book, which gives instructions on how to care for children
suffering from diarrhea, and how to disinfect cuts and set broken bones, was
subversive.” (Salvadorean Newsletter)
The newspapers in Toronto
prepare us for a royal visit by the Queen of England.
According to Forbes magazine
she is the richest woman in the world – a fortune of US$10 billion. The total
foreign trade of Nicaragua is about US$300 million. In Toronto, she will
inaugurate a project to help the poor, and she will dine with the elite.
There is little news in the
papers about the poor in Central America or other developing countries.
There is nothing about the militaries and the police of these
“democracies” repressing the protests of the poor and hungry, helping the
wealthy landowners to export foods and exotic fruits to the north. When the
Queen and the elite dine, no one will wonder where the coffee, sugar, and exotic
fruits came from.
A conversation overheard on
a flight to Guatemala: “I have heard that if you travel by train in Guatemala
you should have a cushion because the seats are hard. Yes I have heard that
I have returned to Guatemala
to participate in a two day workshop in the “Administration of Justice”. I
walk the streets of Guatemala City, I walk around figures huddled on the cement
wrapped in old blankets, sinking to sleep on the cement. They could use a couple
The front-page news, in all
the local newspapers, covers the accidental speedboat death of the husband of a
Princess in Europe. The newspapers go into great detail about how it occurred
and how much the Princess suffered. There is no question she suffered because of
this unfortunate accident.
In Central and South America
100,000 people have been disappeared. These are not newsworthy deaths.
local newspaper, reports that King Juan Carlos of Spain, and his Queen Sofia of
Greece, are travelling through Costa Rica. We are told much less about the
cholera, which is spreading, from Peru into other South American countries, and
up towards Central America. At a black tie reception La
Nacion reports that “King Juan Carlos was the only person who combined a
tuxedo with a blue shirt.”
Further info: www.rightsaction.org
To make a tax-deductible donation in Canada or the USA for the community development Grahame is involved with, make check payable to “Rights Action” and mail to: Rights Action, 1830 Connecticut Av, NW, Washington DC, 20009 [USA], or to Rights Action, 509 St. Clair Av. W., Box 73527, Toronto, M6C-1C0 [Canada].