August 7, 2014
By Eliza MacLaughlin. Eliza is BTS Accompanier with the ACOGUATE International Accompaniment Project. Eliza has been accompanying in Rabinal since she began her work with the project in May 2014. Eliza is originally from Prince Edward Island.
A little more than 6 weeks has past since I last sent an update. Those 6 weeks were filled with many different experiences and emotions as my learning process continues as an international human rights accompanier.
As I said in a previous e-mail, I am currently placed in the region of Rabinal, a municipality where Breaking the Silence has particularly strong ties. The majority of my time is spent in and around this municipality, although I’ve also spent a large amount of time in the capital where ACOGUATE is based out of, and have made a number of punctual trips to another areas of the country.
As the weeks go by, I’m slowly learning more and more about my role here. The first few weeks have been filled with absorbing information from the last 13 years of accompaniment work that ACOGUATE has provided with particular emphasis on the most current information. As a project that sees accompaniers stay for anywhere from three months to one year, it has been critical to have this information up to date. I’m also being thrown headfirst (along with the rest of ACOGUATE) into the defamation campaign that the current Guatemalan government is creating, making for particularly tough times for human rights defenders and international accompaniers alike. I’ve been told that the current situation is one of the tensest times that defenders and accompaniers have faced in the last couple of years and that it’s only supposed to get worse.
Despite all of this, I have felt certain tranquility in Rabinal. The saying the calm before the storm comes to mind, but it’s hard to say for sure if this is the case. As the other areas that ACOGUATE accompanies are touching more and more on the defense of territory, accompaniment in Rabinal continues to focus on justice and what that means to those seeking it. As cases slowly go forward in the weak legal system, survivors of the numerous massacres in and around Rabinal are boldly standing up for justice in a country where this is difficult to obtain.
On a more national level, I am observing more and more the effects Canadian mining companies have on the population of Guatemala. Whereas normally I feel a sense of pride saying I am Canadian, shame is felt instead while here in Guatemala, knowing the real impact our country has internationally. It’s truly disheartening to see the irresponsibility of our own government when it comes to international mining. As more and more mining licenses are being handed out, and more often than not they are for a Canadian based company, the question must be asked when this will all be stopped, and whether or not it will be too late.
Reflecting on my experience as a human rights accompanier, it has overall been very interesting, but also different than I expected. The majority of my work has been focused mostly on moral support, as opposed to physical accompaniment, which prior to arriving was my image of accompaniment. I’m constantly redefining what it means to be an international human rights accompanier. More than that, I’ve been finding that my work of connecting communities through providing information about other areas that ACOGUATE accompanies is another very important aspect of my work. For many communities that do not receive news via other formats (ex. newspaper, radio, television) accompaniers provide information and help connect communities in their process of defending their rights. This process of reflection I believe is important for all those that are working as an accompanier, or are planning to do so in the future, in order to understand our presence here, and what that means to all.
As part of this process, I’ve also realized that 6 months is much too short to fully understand the struggle that Guatemalans are experiencing fighting for their rights. I have asked to stay for 5 months more, bringing my finishing date to April. I am very content that I now have the possibility of staying even longer and working in the project for more time.
That is all of the updates I have for now. I hope the 25th anniversary reunion of Breaking the Silence went well. Also, congratulations for the hard work you all did to receive the Campbell Webster Foundation grant to go toward Accompaniment program!
See other report backs from Eliza here.