With stress and sadness, we write of the very predictable killing of a poor campesino by Guatemalan "security" forces.
On March 15, 2005, Juan López, from the village of Xemal, Colotenango, was killed while protesting the signing of the CAFTA "free" trade treaty with the United States. Dozens were injured and dozens detained. Juan was a member of CUC, the Committee for Campesino Unity, a long-term partner group of Rights Action.
One more killing in a generations-old battle for a just and equitable economic order.
In 1954, the United States government - backed by northern countries - conspired with North American corporate interests and the Guatemalan land-owning oligarchy and military, to overthrow the only democratic government in Guatemala's history, one that was implementing economic development programs in favour of the well-being of the Guatemalan people.
Since that time, and since well before, Guatemala has been controlled by a small group of wealthy landowners and business elites that long ago inter-married with and have been dependent on the Guatemalan military and "security" forces.
In turn, the Army and "security" forces have always been fundamentally dependent on the weapons, funding, training and legitimacy they receive from the United States and other rich and powerful northern governments.
The government of Guatemala today is little different than centuries of dominant political, economic and military sectors that have operated the country. Notwithstanding the touted "peace process" of the 1990s, and ten years of intense United Nations work in Guatemala, little has changed.
Why nothing has really changed is that - but for the 1944-1954 period of burgeoning democracy - Guatemala has never been governed democratically in the interests of the people. The power of the dominant sectors does not come from real democratic processes, but from historic and on-going military and economic relations (plus political legitimacy) that the dominant sectors maintain with northern governments, global political institutions (like the UN and the Organization of American States), and with global economic actors (companies and investors, the World Bank, the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank, etc).
Guatemala is not a sovereign, independent and democratic nation state, in a just global order. Guatemala is a piece of an unjust and unequal global economic, political and military order.
The government of Guatemala today, and in the past, responds to the interests and demands of foreign and global economic and political interests, which are the same as the interests of the minority dominant land-owning and business sectors of Guatemala.
Repression has usually been the response of the dominant sectors to the organizing and activism of the popular sectors, working for democracy, justice and respect for human rights. Thus, this most recent act of repression against people and organizations fighting against the "free" trade development model, in favor of a just development model, should not surprise us. It is logical, and sad and stressful.
These cycles of exploitation and repression will continue as long as the unjust and unequal global economic and military order is maintained in place. The inequality, racism and repression of a place like Guatemala can only be understood in this global and historical context.
People concerned about the cycles of exploitation and repression in Guatemala must put an end to the mutually beneficial economic and military relations that northern governments, companies, militaries and "development" institutions maintain with the dominant sectors of Guatemala.
The killing of Juan Lopez is not a "Guatemalan" problem - it is our problem; of the inequality and injustice of the global order. The victim is a Guatemalan campesino; the victimizers, the causal factors of this predictable repression are found at the national and global levels.
U.S. and Canadian governments, "development" institutions and companies -- pushing "free" trade agreements on exploited and exploitable countries -- are as much linked to the killing of Juan Lopez as the "security" forces (mostly underpaid, poor Guatemalans themselves) that pulled the trigger.
Work for justice in this case, and for democracy and human rights in a place like Guatemala, must be local and global. Human rights accompaniment and political and financial support must be given to the community-based organizations - like CUC - and leaders who are fighting for a just global order "from the bottom up", one community at a time, one "free" trade battle at a time, one undemocratic regime at a time. These leaders are the ones inevitably targeted for repression.
At the same time, we must spend a major portion of our energy and resources, our creativity and anger, our strategies and activism on changing the global north. It we don't succeed in transforming the unjust global economic, military and political relations that help maintain the unjust structures in place in Guatemala, then we will always be denouncing and lamenting yesterday's repression.
Grahame Russell works with Rights Action, a development and human rights organization with its main office in Guatemala. (In Canada and the United States, Rights Action has tax-charitable status). Rights Action funds over 50 community development projects in Guatemala, Chiapas, Honduras, Haiti, Costa Rica and Peru; builds alliances for global justice; helps provide human rights accompaniment for 'at risk' community leaders; carries out education & activist work about global human rights and development issues.
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