...reflections from a Compassionate Listener

Monday, February 25, 2013

Guatemala...Welcome to Palestine

In 1982 when I was a student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, my good friend and I put ourselves at risk to research the Israeli military’s puppet Palestinian administration in the West Bank. The “Village Leagues” could be described as armed militias, staffed by Palestinian collaborators and former criminals who were appointed by the Israeli military. Not only did my friend and I get an eye-full about the Israeli occupation, but while we were interviewing one of the Israeli military leaders in the West Bank, he made it clear that they had watched our every move and knew of every one of our meetings with Palestinians. (At that time, Israelis could be arrested for speaking with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which included almost every Palestinian in the West Bank.)

Back to the Village Leagues: If you were Palestinian at that time and needed any help at all, for example a visa for your son who was accepted to attend university in Europe, or even if you needed something as simple as a driver's license, you were forced to collaborate with the Village Leagues and turn in neighbors and even family members...which in turn meant arrest, imprisonment, torture, and sometimes death.

At around the same time, for another university course, I wrote a long paper on the United States' and Israel’s unholy alliance with the dictators of Central America. I learned about Israel’s arming and counter-insurgency training of the Guatemalan military. Many sources credited Israel as the “brains” behind the Guatemalan genocide of the Mayans, which spiked significantly in 1982 with stepped up Israeli aide.

A quote from ABC News: “'The Israeli soldier is the model for our soldiers,' proclaimed the chief of staff of the Guatemalan army. In 1982, Efraín Ríos Montt—the country’s first evangelical president and a general who took power by a coup—told ABC that his success was due to the fact that 'our soldiers were trained by Israelis.'"

What I experience here in this Mayan village of 13,000, is continual evidence of the devastating loss of trust between people and families. Even now, 16 years after the Peace Accords were signed, the effects of the war are glaring. When I first heard about the “Civilian Patrol” that operated here in San Pedro and in just about every other Mayan village in Guatemala during the war, I thought it sounded strangely similar to what I witnessed in Palestine. What I finally realized and confirmed through research, is that the Israeli system of forced collaboration in Palestine through the Village Leagues, is exactly what was exported to Guatemala.

From another article: “It is no accident that the Guatemalans looked to the Israelis for assistance in organizing their campaign against the Maya, and having followed their mentors' advice, wound up with something that looked quite a bit like the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. One of the most oppressive features of Guatemala's pacification program was the 'Civilian Patrols' whose ranks were filled by coercion, with most joining out of fear of being called subversive, and thus marked for torture or execution.

“Those who did serve in the Patrols had to turn in their quota of 'subversives'. Otherwise they were forced to denounce their own neighbors and to execute them with clubs and fists in the village plaza.

“The Patrols are believed by most analysts to have been created by Israel. They had a profound effect on Mayan society, both psychologically, ‘a permanent violation of our values,’ as the country's Catholic bishops charged, and practically, as long shifts on Patrol prevented fulfillment of family and economic obligations.

“In 1983 the Guatemalan government estimated that 850 villages in the highlands had ‘Civilian Patrol’ units. The following year the U.S. embassy in Guatemala estimated that 900,000 men had been enrolled in the units, armed with Israeli assistance.

“In 1982 Israeli military advisers helped develop and carry out Guatemala's 'Plan Victoria,' the devastating scorched earth campaign that Rios Montt unleashed on the highland population. Rios Montt himself told the Washington Times that the Israeli government was giving his administration help with the counterinsurgency plan called "Techo, tortilla y trabajo" (shelter, food and work). The "three T's" followed an earlier Rios program called Fusiles y Fridoles, or beans and bullets, where wholesale slaughter was combined with the provision of life's necessities to those willing to cooperate with the military.”

Guatemala...welcome to Palestine.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hitting Home: The American Dream

U.S. - Mexican Border Wall

Here in San Pedro La Laguna, I am part of a group of Guatemalans and foreigners who have been meeting over the past month with the goal of founding a center to promote Mayan Culture. Many tourists here would love a deeper dive into Mayan culture and spirituality but are challenged to find a way in. We wish to help fill that gap, while supporting the growing efforts of locals who are working to revive their culture.

Currently, if you meet the right person, you will be able to visit and learn about a sacred site, attend a fire ceremony, have a reading of your Mayan Cross, visit a traditional bone healer (curandero), or learn about traditional plant medicine. You could even find the one woman in the village who you can pay to fire up a Mayan sauna, called a temescal or "toj". The new center will help people connect with these teachers, healers, leaders and families who are keeping Mayan traditions alive. It will also offer classes in the local indigenous language, Tz'utujil, and Spanish lessons that focus on Mayan spirituality, known as "Cosmovision". We also envision the center as a place where people can contribute their unique skills and collaborate on community projects. For example, Compassionate Listening circles will be offered as a way to help build relationships and trust, in a community that is suffering the trans-generational effects of war. 

By now you might be wondering what the connection is between this beautiful new effort and the picture of the U.S. - Mexican Wall at the top of this post? As our group was meeting a few nights ago to discuss a possible location for the new center, our host received a phone call and left the room to take it. He returned visibly shaken. He told us he just learned that a close friend of his had been shot by U.S. border police at the U.S. - Mexican Wall, while trying to enter the United States. This friend had only recently shared his decision to try to make it to the U.S. It was an economic decision, as it is for the vast majority of Guatemalan's who enter the U.S. illegally every year. 

Here in San Pedro, the majority of workers and farmers make $6.50 for a long day of hard work. A cleaning woman earns about $1.00 per hour. A Spanish teacher can make $2.00 per hour and $3.00 per hour is considered a high wage. With the combination of racism and oppression against the indigenous Maya in Guatemala, many young men feel the temptation to journey to the U.S. to work, in hopes of supporting their families and returning with enough money to build a house or start a business. 

Upon hearing this sad news, we lit a candle and stuck it on the red concrete floor with melted wax, turned out the light, and prayed for Antonio. We then listened quietly to our friend Juan, as he tried to make sense of this tragic news. Another Mayan friend leaned over and whispered to me, "This is the 'American Dream'. I also wanted to go at one time, but it's not my dream anymore." 

This post is in honor of a young man named Antonio, and his family and friends who are mourning his early departure. It's also in honor of Antonio's friend Juan, who he left behind in San Pedro with a dream of helping to rebuild his culture. Juan is bursting with energy to share his passion for culture with the children of San Pedro, this village of 13,000 Tz'utujil Maya. I pray for his success and for the success of all of the people working hard for a better future for their children; I pray for a future where the beautiful young men of San Pedro no longer think about the American Dream. 

(**Please contact me if you'd like Spanish lessons on Skype with one of the men involved with the new center. They are linguists and Spanish teachers, and have a lot to teach about Mayan spirituality and culture. Wherever you live, this is one way that you can directly support the reclaiming of indigenous culture that is taking place here in San Pedro.)

Here are a few resources that I've collected about the Wall: 

Article from Democracy Now website: Texas Agent Shoots Dead 2 Guatemalans Near Border

Video from The Onion: Mexico Builds Border Wall to Keep Out U.S. Assholes


A short piece about illegal immigration by an anonymous author that I stumbled on:

“Tortilla Curtain” or “Iron Curtain”

We have a long way to go to resolve why anyone wants to risk everything to come to an ungrateful country. Yes, illegal immigrants are a strain on our health system and our government provided human services. In exchange, they go to work in places most young workers perceive as undignified - yucky jobs that even the poorest Americans would turn away from. These enthusiastic pioneers step right in and roll up their sleeves without complaint, mostly out of fear. After improving their language skills, they move forward into their own service businesses. They are motivated and focused on upward mobility. Strange enough, they even send support back to their families back home. 
They endure all the injustice America can dump on them. They are prey to crooked scams and believe the most despicable among us. They are profiled by police and set upon by bigoted youth gangs. Yes, crooks cross into this country, too. They become targets for America’s home-grown crooks who resent intrusions into their turf. 
Illegal immigrants are the under-belly for our foundation service industries. Get used to cleaning up your own hotel room, paying more for child and elderly care and mowing your own lawn. These immigrants leave a poor system that offers respect from their peers to a ‘rich’ system that treats them like garbage.
Oh yeah, they must be crazy. Send them back to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Lets start recruiting replacement workers from your family. Start now. The wages will surely improve because you are an American.