Halifax, NS – On March 23rd, three volunteers with the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) landed in Canada, ending a weeks long ordeal to return home from Guatemala. A BTS staff member was also able to return to Canada on March 24th, though another one remains in Guatemala.
BTS has been engaging in solidarity with Guatemalan human rights defenders and educating Canadians throughout the Maritimes on human rights issues since the 1980s. BTS is housed at the Tatamagouche Centre in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia and has local committees throughout the Maritimes. The three women were working with BTS partner organizations and communities in Guatemala, as part of the organization’s Human Rights and Community Development Cooperant Program.
Laura Robinson (from Rothesay, New Brunswick) had been in Guatemala since October 2019 strengthening her Spanish language skills and supporting the work of the Legal Clinic, as well as the New Hope Foundation in Rabinal. Indigo Christ (from Halifax/Mabou, Nova Scotia) and Lenora Yarkie (from Edmonton, Alberta) both arrived in Guatemala in February and were carrying out human rights observation in support of the Xinka Parliament, Diocesan Committee in Defense of Nature, and the Peaceful Resistance of Casillas and Mataquescuintla opposing Pan-American Silver’s Escobal mine.
On March 14th, BTS made the decision to send volunteers back to Canada in response to the global outbreak of COVID-19, cutting their placements short. Due to border closures announced by the Guatemalan government on March 16th, cancelled flights, and a lack of consular support from the Canadian government, BTS volunteers had not been able to return to Canada. Multiple BTS requests for consular support, most recently a letter addressed to Foreign Affairs Minister Champagne on March 20th, went unanswered.
Facing these challenges, the three volunteers with the support of BTS decided that they would travel via ground transportation from Guatemala City to Mexico on March 22nd, then catch flights to Canada from there.
“I am feeling very thankful and relieved to be back in Canada. I am also very thankful for the support shown by the BTS network and our friends and family. Everyone who took time to write letters brought the government’s attention to the situation,” says BTS Cooperant Laura Robinson.
“We knew that making the journey back to Canada through Mexico came with its own set of risks… I am so grateful that the taxis, border-crossings and flights went smoothly and that the three of us are back home now,” says BTS Cooperant Indigo Christ.
“While we have arrived home safely, there is great concern for BTS’ Guatemalan partners. A 4pm curfew has already led to 1500 being arrested in Guatemala. In an economy where daily work provides food for families for the day, this is a huge challenge to many. Our partners have also shared that food itself is either not available or prices have risen 2 or 3 times,” says BTS Cooperant Lenora Yarkie.
On March 24th, BTS Guatemala Coordinator Lisa Rankin (from Mabou, Nova Scotia) returned to Canada through a similar route and with no consular support. However, BTS Lead Cooperant Este Chep (Kristofer Orantes Migoya) remains in Guatemala, awaiting consular support to return to Canada.
Late Monday, the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala tweeted that they are in the process of coordinating a one-way flight to Canada from Guatemala on Friday, March 27, 2020. However, no further details have been announced.
BTS Cooperants and staff have been in self-isolation since their return. Meanwhile, BTS continues to call on the Canadian Embassy to ensure that all Canadians currently stranded in Guatemala, including our remaining BTS staff member, are able to return home. BTS also calls for ongoing support to Canadian citizens who stay behind in Guatemala.30 –
For media inquiries, please contact BTS Maritimes Coordinator Stacey Gomez (BTSMaritimesCoordinator (at) gmail.com)