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year 2
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year 3
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journey's end



Guatemala Journal



7 febrero
Protests have been taking place against a large gold mining company, who recently began developing a mine without input from surrounding residents concerned about impact on the environment. In San Marco, one person was killed and many injured after campesinos (usually translated as peasants, but I think of it more as countrymen) blocked the Pan-American highway to stop the delivery of equipment to the mine. The government came to the support of the company, arresting many and causing more protest activity. A prominent American right wing radio talk host, who often belittles nonprofit do-gooders that struggle here to make a difference, denounced the concerns of the villagers -- make way for progress. In the city, there are often road blocks constructed by protesters trying to bring various injustices to the public eye. We usually know ahead of time to leave early for work, or take another route where possible, it is a way of life and the only voice the campesinos have found to call attention to their cause.

The saddest part of life here though, is an epidemic of murders that are unsolved, and little effort seems to be made to solve them. Many are politically motivated, threats and murders accompany elections and major issues, fear is a weapon that silences here. The supreme court has just ruled that, contrary to earlier interpretations, 12 army members accused of massacres in villages in the civil war cannot be prosecuted, and have been set free. No one is ever responsible. The rapid spread of Central American gangs are suspected to be the perpetrators of record numbers of murders of young Guatemalan women in the past few years. These gangs grew from deported gang members from Los Angeles who brought their violence from the US to these small countries already plagued with problems.

12 febrero
A short weekend road trip brought me strolling through two villages not too far from the city. The lovely little hotel with plenty of room to wander in Tecpan was relaxing, except for the sound of the trucks honking at each other on the highway. I spent a lot of time swaying in a hammock reading. Climbing the hill to the town, the streets of the poor village bustled with market activity - overflowing fruit containers, natural earth colored pottery stacked in bins, woven baskets dangling overhead, fresh fish in piles and meat mounted on hooks. In the town center, a soccer (futbol) game was in progress, girls in uniforms, surrounded by spectators. As in other villages, the men wore western dress, the women hand woven clothing, right down to the youngest members of the family.

Sunday morning driving back, we detoured through Comalapa - home of the Perens, a family of artists. In fact, we appeared to be in a town of artists, with painted walls, and many galleries of primitive local arts depicting detailed village scenes in bright colors. In their own gallery, the Peren men showed us their beautiful works, each painting telling its own story of village life and events. Beyond the stalls in the marketplace, women sat on blankets on the dusty ground. Instead of variations on one design that identified the area, the women wore huipiles from different towns, although all wore the same pattern corte or wrap around skirt.

The most amazing sight in Comalapa is the mural along the cemetery walls. Starting with the dawn of time as described in Maya legends, its panels covered the corn growers and Mayan builders, arrival of the Spanish with their death and destruction, the emergence of the church, heart rending images of killings and atrocities of the last few decades, people pinned under their homes in recent earthquakes, ending with doves of peace. And then continuing past the gate with panels of hope - education, technology, reading, learning, children and families.


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