Articles by: Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens
Ramiro Choc, a Q’eqchi’ community leader, has been fighting for indigenous people’s land rights in Guatemala’s volatile departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal since the 1990s. These are the so-called "crimes" that led to his six year prison sentence starting in 2008. His story illustrates both the tension and boisterous mobilization of the people around land and natural resource issues in this area of Guatemala. To this mobilization, the Guatemalan government is responding by criminalizing peasant leaders, militarizing regions slated for development projects, and using environmental “protected areas” to exclude indigenous people. This combination of ingredients has become the core of Guatemala’s new civil conflict.
The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) continues to defy the trend of record-low union membership in the United States. After doubling its membership from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.2 million today, it is among the fastest growing unions in the country. Indeed, the union’s long history of innovation and transformation at least partially explains its growth, as depicted in Ken Loach’s critically-acclaimed film Bread and Roses (2000), which focused on the union's Justice for Janitors campaign. Now the SEIU is proposing to unite janitors with security guards, a traditionally African-American dominated labor force. This gritty work of creating solidarity across ethnic lines is perhaps the most significant response to the hostile anti-immigrant climate that pervades the United States today.
February and March have been especially brutal months in the state-sponsored repression of the popular resistance in Honduras. In just the past two weeks, three journalists have been assassinated and numerous activists have been detained, tortured, and raped. This repression comes in as the National Front of Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) pushes for the organization of a national constitutional assembly to “refound” Honduras, while the United States, international lending institutions, and countries participating in the regional economic development plan known as the Plan Puebla Panama extend recognition to government of President Porfirio Lobo, restoring loans, and renewing plans for economic and security integration.
Last February, some 18,000 Guatemalans, mostly survivors or relatives of victims of the state-sponsored terror of the 1970s and 1980s, gathered in Guatemala City's Plaza of the Constitution to commemorate the "Day of Dignity for the Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict." There, they heard President Álvaro Colom publicly accept the findings of the UN report that documented the terror. This, together with Colom's official apology on behalf of the Guatemalan government and armed forces, were framed by the image of an angel with wings formed of the shoulder blades of victims of the violence. The angel has now become an iconic image of the struggle for human rights in Guatemala and internationally.
On April 20, 2007, the communities of Ixcán, the northern region of Guatemala's department of El Quiché, voted overwhelmingly to reject the construction of a hydroelectric dam known as Xalalá. The result was hardly a surprise, given that at least 17 Ixcán communities, will be inundated because of the dam, according to El Observador, a bimonthly journal based in Guatemala City. Although the results of the consultation were sent to the Guatemalan government, it has yet to respond. But, the protests had an impact. In 2008, financiers withdrew support for the project and the national government is still working to renegotiate funding.