First Person Blog

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Drought and Dignity in Guatemala

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Corn will be in short supply this winter in many indigenous communities in Baja Verapaz. Photo by James Rodriguez/Oxfam America
Corn will be in short supply this winter in many indigenous communities in Baja Verapaz. Photo by James Rodriguez/Oxfam America

As promised, here is an update on Oxfam’s plan to help the people I met in Guatemala described in my last post: You can read about our work with Gloria Gonzalez’s organization ASECSA here.

It will take more than whatever rain fell from the recent passage of a tropical storm to turn around the super-dry conditions in Guatemala. Winter is essentially here, but hopefully next year, in the absence of the El Niño phenomenon, there will be better rains. If we can help these families survive the winter, they will need seeds and fertilizer so they can plant in the spring. With so many families facing food shortages this winter, they will require all their strength and resources to survive.

The resilience of Guatemalans is impressive. After all the wars, discrimination, and tragedy, the indigenous people keep fighting to survive, and they will not succumb to malnutrition without a struggle.

I was reminded of this spirit at the same museum in Rabinal I wrote about in my last post: one of the prized artifacts there is the Panama hat worn by the former military leader Efrain Rios Montt when he made a campaign stop in Rabinal before the presidential election in June of 2003. In a display of incredibly bad judgment, he timed his campaign event on the same day the citizens of Rabinal were reburying victims of the 1982 Río Negro massacre at the hands of the troops Rios Montt led. (They had been exhumed for a human rights investigation.) When the indigenous people finished their ceremony at the cemetery they came back in to town, broke up the campaign rally, and stoned the candidate until he fled. They probably wanted his head, but they settled for his Panama hat, lost in a hasty departure, and now preserved in the museum. They now celebrate June 14 each year, a Day of Dignity in Rabinal.

James Rodriguez, the photographer who worked with me in Rabinal and Cubulco, has more on the Río Negro massacres and the Rabinal Day of Dignity in his blog (near the end, have a look at his excellent photography).

Throwing rocks at a war criminal probably won’t help feed a family, but celebrating the dignity of indigenous people can go a long way to building the strength they need to survive.

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