Friday, May 18, 2007

Guatemala aid worker attacked: Call for letters to authorities.

GUATEMALA first came to my attention in 1954, when the CIA organised a military assault on the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman because it had attenpted to improve the lot of poor peasants with land reforms which infringed the grip of the US-owned United Fruit Company. I was just getting on 11 years old and not that politically informed, but along with the British intervention against a left-wing government in Guyana, the US attack on Guatemala left a lasting impression to weigh against the daily anti-communist war propaganda we got in 1950s media (papers, movies, Yankee comics and some teachers).

The Guatemalan people suffered years of brutal dictatorship, civil war, death squads and chaos. US Green Berets were sent in to aid and train the Guatemalan military against left-wing guerrillas. In the 1980s Guatemala got a military dictator called Rios Montt, who was backed by Ronald Reagan (and incidentally, aided by Israeli arms and military advisers). Montt combined dictatorship with becoming an Evangelical pastor. His gospel, addressing indigenous Guatemalan people: "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you." The Plan de Sánchez massacre occurred on the same day.

In 1982, Amnesty International estimated that over 10,000 indigenous Guatemalans and peasant farmers were killed from March to July of that year, and that 100,000 rural villages were forced to flee their homes. According to more recent estimates, tens of thousands of non-combatants were killed by the regime's death squads in the subsequent eighteen months.

I have not followed events in Central America closely, and don't claim to know much about Guatemala. But my friend Helen Pearson, a teacher and youth worker in Leicester, does know Guatemala. Helen taught and worked in Guatemalan villages. The victims of violence and terror have not been statistics, or names, for her, but people she knew.

In recent years there has been a phenomenal rate of sexual violence and murder of women and girls in Guatemala, over 1,000 in four years, as well as attacks on gays, part of a widespread brutalisation of society left behind by the right-wing terror of past decades. See these articles:

Here is the letter I received from Helen Pearson yesterday:

Dear friends and family members

I received the report below last week. The incident described happened to a close friend of mine. I have been in touch with him and he is OK given the circumstances (alive, at least). He is determined that this attack against him will not stop him from working for human rights and he is being very public about insisting that the Police take action. This is very brave in the face of the possible repuercussions there could be against him and his family.

If you have time to send, fax or email a letter to the people suggested below, or even to one of them (the President?) I know Jorge and his colleagues at Project Counselling Services would really appreciate it. It does make a difference that people like Jorge feel that they have support internationally and that the Guatemalan government knows that note is being taken in the outside world of what is going on.

I know you won't all have time, especially as many of you get quite a lot of 'urgent actions' I am sure, but I hope you won't mind me sending out this request.

With love to you all


May 8 2007,
International Agency attacked in Guatemala

At noon on Monday May 7, 2007, Project Counselling Service (PCS) was attacked in Guatemala City. What at first appeared to be a common crime – the robbery of a vehicle and cash on 3rd Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Street in Zone 3 – has other characteristics that do not fit the usual operational pattern of these kinds of crimes.

The truck that was stolen had Mission International license plates (a 2003 Toyota Hilux, plate # MI93BBG), an extremely unusual target for common criminals. Further, the two heavily armed men detained the PCS staff member in the truck and assaulted him, physically, verbally and sexually.

We are particularly concerned about the sexual assault, as an attack against the physical integrity of our colleague. It also appears to be intended to send a message to intimidate PCS, particularly significant since the assault occurred during an International Seminar on sexual violence being carried out by PCS, Sharing Collective Memory: Psychosocial Accompaniment and Integral Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. It is of great concern that the assault may have political content related to our work and that of our Guatemalan counterparts, who have also recently suffered numerous robberies and assaults.

PCS is an international organization dedicated to challenging impunity and seeking justice for human rights violations perpetrated during conflict and post-conflict periods in Latin America, including Guatemala. PCS has emphasized the need to make visible the issue of sexual violence in these contexts.

At the same time, PCS is an active participant in the International NGO Forum (FONGI), and is a member of its Board of Directors. We note that this attack has occurred as part of a wave of attacks against other member organizations of FONGI. PCS is the fourth member to be attacked in the last month, in three separate incidents.

PCS urges the Guatemalan authorities to immediately undertake an effective investigation to identify the attackers and reveal their true motivation for this serious aggression, including the sexual assault.

We also urgently request the support of the international community. Please urge the Guatemalan authorities to take immediate, responsible and serious action on this incident, as well as the ongoing series of attacks and intimidation against national and international human rights defenders, to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

PCS requests your urgent intervention before such aggressions, urging the authorities to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders working in Guatemala, sending letters to:

Presidente de la República de Guatemala
Lic. Oscar Berger Perdomo
E-mail: varroyave@presidencia.gobgt
Fax: 502-22383579

Vicepresidente de Guatemala
Lic. Eduardo Stein
Fax: 502-22383579

Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Guatemala
Sr. Pert Rosenthal Koenigsberger
Fax: 502-24100000

Ministra de Gobernación de Guatemala
Sra. Adela de Torrtebiarte
E-mail: gobernació

Fiscal General, Jefe del Ministerio Público de Guatemala
Lic. Juan Luis Florido Solí
Fax: 502-22512218

Procurador de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala
Dr. Sergio Fernando Morales Alvarado
Fax: 502-77755475

Juez de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – CIDH
Dr. Diego García Sayán
Fax: 506-2340584

Director Ejecutivo del Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos – IIDH
Dr. Roberto Cuellar
Fax: 506-2340955

His Excellency Señor Edmundo Rene Urrutia Garcia, Embassy of Guatemala, 13 Fawcett St, London SW10 9HN.Fax: 020 7376 5708

and copying them to: Diana Avila, PCS Executive Director:
and Samantha Sams, Central America and Mexico Program Coordinator: pcsguate@itelgua.comProject Counselling Service



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