Tag Archives: femicide

An Open Letter to Ms. Yates on Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

3 Oct

Dear Ms. Pamela Yates,

I went to the opening of Granito in Los Angeles.  I am thankful and I appreciate the work, time, and energy you have given to the people of Guatemala. When I went to see the film, I did not imagine that the story would be told in such a personal manner. Most journalists or film makers seem to take the back seat because they are so set on telling the story of others, but your personal accounts weave this story together beautifully.  I really appreciate the humanness you have shown through your film making.

There is something you said in your film describing your commitment and connection to Guatemala:

“Guatemala wrapped its arms around my soul and wouldn’t let it go…”

I get it. Through your film, you shared with us what you had witnessed and there’s no way your soul, your being, could not have been impacted so greatly during your time in Guatemala…

I have seen a number films about Guatemala, including Searching for Dominga, Killer’s Paradise, and La Limonada. The level of violence, suffering, and injustice is so extreme and heavy, that it never stops feeling like you can detach yourself from Guatemala. I want to share with you my connection with Guatemala…

I was born in 1982 in Los Angeles. The first in my family to not have been born in Guatemala. When i was a girl I would turn to the index pages of history books, hoping to find something on Guatemala. But hardly anything was ever accessible to me in that way. Before I turned 15, instead of having a quinceanera, I asked my mom to take me to Tikal, Peten. I haven’t stopped drawing pyramids since…

I was not witness to Guatemala in the 1980’s, the height of the repression, the massacres, the disappearances, the reflection of the devil upon earth. However, since I was a little girl, I knew something was wrong in my mother’s country. During my first visits to Guate as a 5, 7, & 9 yr old,  poverty became a concept i began to understand, i would question why my mom’s country was so poor, children my age were begging for food, why are people living so different??? I tried to comprehend the poverty, the alcoholism, and the oppression. I did not have the vocabulary, but i saw something that made me uncomfortable deep inside. When I went to college at UC Santa Cruz, I naturally fell into Latin American and Latino Studies. I had an intense need to learn about Guatemala and Latin America.  My mind has acquired a historical, economical, and political understanding of what went wrong in my ancestral land, but my spirit still mourns.

It saddens me, to know that so much potential for a more righteous and just Latin America was on the brink of existence during the 20th Century. Cuba was the kickoff, but the dreams of Chile, Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, etc.,  were over-taken by the CIA, military coups, and U.S. installed dictatorships. Through U.S. tax dollars, war has been funded countless times. And in the 1980’s, dollars manifested into Genocide and Femicide in Guatemala.

Where are we now? Where is Guatemala… how are people living and surviving? One look at the cover of La Prensa Libra will tell you the violence never stopped. And the trauma has not healed. My cousin, a 20 years old, was murdered in Huehuetenango during March of this year. He left behind his wife, a baby girl, and a grieving mother. His baby girl will grow up and find the story of his father in the newspaper, but the newspaper captured a lie. The town will tell her the truth, and she will be filled with fury to learn that men dressed in uniforms, murdered her father. I will tell her about the donuts his father and I use to eat when we were kids. But that is all I can offer…

Where are we now? I couldn’t answer it completely. It makes my stomach turn upside down. My entire family is in Guatemala. I hear lots of stories; good, bad, evil, miraculous… I will be in Guatemala in a few weeks. I will be spending time with my family. We will catch up, I will find my little cousins that are 5-10 inches taller than last year, the kids are becoming teenagers, and the family keeps growing. I look forward to the story telling, it’s always the best! I will share with my family for a moments worth, then i will fly away from that reality… but Guatemala also holds my heart and my spirit in its hands…

I’ve added a little granito here and there for Guatemala. There was a time when I produced a radio program for womyn that aired in Guatemala. I organized film screenings for two Guatemalan documentaries. I created a collective of womyn called Chapinas Unidas to raise awareness about the femicide in Guate. We participated in the women’s march in Los Angeles in 2008 and also held a conference with an all womyn panel of speakers who were survivors of violence in Guatemala. I still write about Guatemala and inform my friends about what I’ve learned and experienced. In the past couple of years, my granito turned inwards, and i began my own healing, including the healing of inherited traumas. I want to add more granitos de arena, if I can contribute to the next steps of the film, I am open to learning more. In the meantime, Ill encourage my friends to go watch the film!

Take care. Know that you are meant to be safe and protected on your journey. The helicopter falling captures that miracle, the access you were granted is of no coincidence. Everyone has a purpose to follow and I thank you for being a messenger of our people, sharing our stories through film,  and having the courage to act on a purpose bigger than yourself. 

Con Amor, Respeto, y Agradecimiento,

Ana Ruth Castillo

For friends who are reading this open letter, please add Granito thru your facebook: http://www.facebook.com/granitofilm and go catch the film at the Laemmle

Granito de Arena = a film and a humble expression of a collective process for change

Reparando

5 May

What is the saddest thing you could ever learn about?

My answer is: Guatemala

Yes, my parents land, my ancestral land. Guatemala is a beautiful place. Undeniably so. Beautiful mountains, tall volcanos, magical lakes, lush jungles with rivers birds, flowers… the culture and the colors shake your senses… and then there’s our temples and pyramids.

So why is it sad? Our history is sad. The longest civil war in Latin America took place in Guatemala for 36 years. Genocide swept our little country under the guise of killing “communists”. Femicide began during the Genocide and continues presently. Young men join the Maras and kill and threaten everyday struggling people. Police and politicians are corrupt and have created a culture of impunity. But when you learn that all the present tragedy is the result of U.S. Military funding, CIA operations, and dictator installations taught at the School of the Americas in the U.S., its devastating and frustrating. And when you learn about what the genocide looked like, how it massacred hundreds of indigenous villages, raped and murdered womyn, and left thousands of children orphaned, your heart breaks.

With all of this in mind, I still took myself to watch a film about Central America’s largest slum dwelling, La Limonada, in the capitol city of Guatemala. (Thank fully i wasn’t on my moon or headed there, the last time I watched a film about Guatemala before my moon, i was in mourning for over a week) Unlike Killer’s Paradise or Discovering Dominga, the film “Reparando”, offered a sense of hope. This film offered a beautiful story of two hard working community organizers in La Limonada that endured difficult challenges in their lives such as domestic violence, immigration, child abuse, and drug abuse.

Tita, is a womyn that began a little school in La Limonada to offer some hope, love, and a safe space for children growing up next to the biggest land fill in Guatemala. The children in La Limonada have scavenged through the trash for many years but through Tita and the school they are educating themselves and creating positive futures in their lives. Shorty, is another protagonist in the film. His father was disappeared during the war, his mother fell victim to drug abuse after her partner’s death, he found himself being raised by the streets. When he was ready to change his life, he came to La Limonada and opened a church and drug rehabilitation center. Their stories are powerful and heart breaking, but their resilience and empowerment lifts you back up. It was an amazing journey to sit in the movie theater and learn their stories and the stories from La Limonada.

Reparando means to repair. This film was created with a positive intention of telling the story of people trying to heal themselves and their communities. The film itself came about from a husband and wife that adopted their children in Guatemala. After learning about Guatemala’s history, genocide, and potential future that their children could have faced, they decided to find a way to help. The film Reparando is one way.

After the film screening I bought a DVD copy. In the past I have seen these films about my home country and have felt alone. There’s a strong need inside of me to share the film with others so that they could understand where I come from. In the past I have done film screenings for Killer’s Paradise and Discovering Dominga because I needed more people to know about Guatemala. I hope that one day I can do more than film screenings and travel to Guatemala with friends and show them the beautiful. Unless you go there, there’s no way of fully comprehending how beautiful Guatemala is. Anyways, if you guys can, please support this film. Any donations to this film production will do the following 3 things: (1) Fund the construction of a bakery for the Drug Rehab Center in La Limonada, (2) Give resources to the schools in La Limonada, (3) Fund the production of an upcoming film about street children in Guatemala.

http://www.reparandomovie.com/

Watch the trailer here: http://vimeo.com/athentikos/trailer01

Explaining the Guatemalan Femicide

15 Feb

I have contemplated and dwelled all day. I’ve been feeling as though im in mourning, but I don’t have a grave to cry upon. A part of me feels very alone.

On January 28, 2009, I went to a free film screening of Killer’s Paradise, directed and produced by Giselle Portenier, a film maker from Canada, producing for the BBC. She made this film after learning about the femicide in Guatemala in 2005. Her film captured 3 months worth of murders, tortures, rapes, grief, and trauma. Needless to point out the tremendous impact this had on my spirit. I have not yet recovered. But it is from this point that I wish to write.

Femicide and violence in Guatemala is not a recent inexplicable phenomenon. In fact, I take it back to 500+ years of mental, spiritual, physical, and territorial conquest. That’s where I begin this story. When my ancestors, Mayas, were brutally tortured, enslaved, diseased, and murdered in the name of the Spanish crown. Spring forward to the 20th century and Mayan’s were still being enslaved as indentured servants. A mother would be given “loans”, thrown coins in exchange for her sons. If she wanted her children back, she would have to repay the landowners.

When Jacobo Arbenz became president of Guatemala in 1951, there was already a Latin American re-socialization of land, class, workers and citizen’s rights. He was democratically elected with 60% of the vote after an overthrowing by dictator Jorge Ubico. Thanks to the influence of his wife, Maria Cristina Villanova, he continued the Agrarian Land Reform where only unused acres of land were expropriated and given to the peasant class, the Mayas, the original owners of the land. He also created 8 hour work days, and 5 day work weeks.

The United Fruit Company (one of the original owners of this company used to be slave trader), also known as Chiquita Banana, cried RED when they were made to give up land they did not use. They stepped inside the offices of Nixon and Kissinger and made themselves out to be victims. The CIA orchestrated a coup de tat and soon enough, in 1954, they made Arbenz step down from office. By the 1960’s a civil war had broken out between the military and human right defenders / guerilla fighters. The civil war in Guatemala lasted 36 years, when the Peace Accords were signed in1996. This was longest civil war in Latin American history.

The United States trained and funded generals and soldiers in what became a genocide. It has been documented that the Guatemalan Armed Forces used tactics of war and torture similar to those used in Vietnam. Over 626 massacres occurred during the armed conflict. Over 200,000 people were murdered/disappeared, and over 1.5 million people were displaced.

close-up-of-mass-grave-skeltons

The Commission on Historical Truth recognizes that genocide did occur in Guatemala. Genocide is defined as: the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group by way of:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In Guatemala, the Mayan race was/is considered sub-human.  And within this genocide began the femicide. Military officials and presidents in Guatemala such as Efrain Rios Montt, trained and armed men to systematically wipe off villages from the map. In the 1980’s the number of men being murdered actually dropped, and the number of women murdered began to rise steadily and gravely. It is said that women would birth “insurgents”, and so this became the justification for the mass murders of womyn. The rate of murder by the military during the 1980’s now measures similarly to the rate of murder in present time Guatemala. And it is true that a country shamed and threatened into silence, has been unable to heal and recover.

After a film a discussion follows. And questions of confusion arose, despite the clear picture the film had presented. Maybe reality is too much to accept. But people did not seem to understand what the word impunity means. Do you know what impunity looks like? If you can imagine hundreds of thousands of men who were trained to kill but no longer in war, what jobs would be available to them. Many of the military officials now fill the ranks of Guatemala’s National Civil Police and/or appoint themselves to political offices. There is nothing civil about Guatemalan officials, policemen, military, or politicians. They are corrupt, dirty, and greedy. They sell their country, pocket the money, and lie to the public. If only lying was the extent of their crimes, but they also murder. Hence, if the very people in political and governmental offices are criminals, can you expect its citizens to follow the law?

There is also such a thing as extra- judicial killings which are an everyday occurrence in Guatemala. Police murder young men and women on suspicion that they are “marreros”, gang members. The assumptions are plenty, and the killings follow. Policemen also steal from citizens, check points can mean your cell phone, wallet, and personal belonging can be stolen by the police, or maybe you’re lucky and really you can just buy them off with a “mordida”.

Combine this corruption with poverty, trauma, and patriarchy, and you have only begun to realize what women in Guatemala live and die by. When women are murdered, it is believed that somehow, they deserved it, they asked for it, they provoked their own death. And if a woman wants to be educated, or not get married, or speak out, she’s a bitch, breaking tradition, and also deserving of violence to correct her manners.

There is also the issue of domestic violence coupled with alcoholism that reigns many households. Many children are traumatized and continue the cycle of violence. Many children are also abandoned and left alone on the streets to fend for themselves. They are recruited or forced into the gangs and many times if they do not join they will surely die. Many young children growing up on the streets clearly know the face and soul of violence. They become violent. And women become their victims.violencia-contra-las-mujeres-en-guatemala

61008femicidio

If I travel to my country, I am a potential victim. My body could be snatched from my family; I could be tortured, strangled, burned, and/or punctured with a knife countless times. I could be raped or gang raped; killed, decapitated, limbs cut off and my naked body dumped in the trash, or a river. It doesn’t end here. My family could search for me and never find me. Or maybe they will but it won’t matter that my nails carry the skin I tore from my murderer, or that in my vagina I still carry his semen. It will not matter that the pattern in which they killed me happened to 20 other womyn before me, and 20 more to come because of impunity, patriarchy, and incompetence by investigators and police officials, including the president. This happens, daily. There are no human rights. And Guatemala is only one country, out of the many other countries were womyn are attacked.

There was a young man from Guatemala who was speaking to the filmmaker before me.
He said, “but men are also being murdered, what about them?”
Giselle responded, “This is true. Men are being murdered. But women are not killing men. Men are killing women.”

This is about gender. This is about women not having the kinds of freedoms men are inherited upon birth. This is about women being depicted on television as sexual objects, satisfying the needs of men. This is about the men on the streets that stare women down and whistle at them, or invade their space. It is about rape. It is about men not being consciousness of sharing space with womyn, whether its in politics, companies, the arts, whatever. You name it, and women are not included in the conversation. Women have to make spaces for themselves. They have to tell men to step back. Respect is not mutual or a given. Patriarchy is violent towards both men and women. Excuse me for just speaking to these two genders, it is not my intention to dismiss non-gender conforming individuals. (I don’t like the word conforming, btw.)

If you didn’t know, know you do. If you did know, I can remind myself that I am not alone in my own grief and understanding of this reality. It is unfair. And it feels like my heart is being grasped by a tight fist and even after they let go, my heart will still feel bruised and pained. This is what I carry. And yet it is nothing. I have not lost a sister or my mother yet. They are alive. I am alive. And I don’t ask, “what should I do, omg”. In my everyday work and manifestations, my spirit and energy moves through the shades of darkness as I follow the warmth and the light we know as justice and peace.

http://www.sobrevivientes.org
http://www.geocities.com/lacuerda_gt/
http://www.myspace.com/chapinasunidas
http://www.mimundo.org
http://www.miamericas.info
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98593139
http://www.prensalibre.com/pl/2009/enero/10/285753.html
http://www.myspace.com/juarezawareness
http://www.myspace.com/RadioMujeresAbriendoCaminos
http://www.MujeresAbriendoCaminos.com
http://www.gems-girls.org
http://www.mysistahs.org

GUATEMALA/

juarez

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