Courage and caring

Guatemala City can be a dangerous place. Back in January of 1971 having just arrived in this highland Central American capital city and found a modest hotel room I decided to go out for a short walk before settling in for the night.

Guatemala City can be a dangerous place. Back in January of 1971 having just arrived in this highland Central American capital city and found a modest hotel room I decided to go out for a short walk before settling in for the night. The hotel clerk suggested that this might not be the best idea. I stepped out on to the street despite his advice. The not too distant clatter of automatic gun fire prompted a quick rethink of my decision.

The next day I quickly decamped the city for the then distinctly more tranquil banana growing Department of Izabal down on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. The tropical rainforest there really only spread out and somewhat hid from view the poverty crippling this country though. The basic injustice of a highly stratified society maintained by the heavy hand of the US-backed military really couldn’t be ignored either in the city or on the coast.

Guatemala had been made safe for corporate investments in 1954 when then US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, head of the fledgling CIA, orchestrated the overthrown of the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz. It seems that Arbenz had had the temerity to launch an agrarian reform campaign that sought to turn over underutilized land to landless campesinos. One of this country’s largest landowners, the United Fruit Company, which both Dulles brothers were shareholders in, was not amused.

You cannot for any length of time expect to deny basic human rights and fundamental equality to a people. Military repression and economic oppression can keep the social and political lid on a society for only so long. People organized. Violence broke out around this rich, verdant land. The year 1971 proved to be only a lull in what became a 36-year-long civil war in Guatemala. It officially ended in 1996.

The end of the civil war did not bring with it a resolution of the fundamental problems dividing Guatemalan society. For awhile it did bring the hope of change. Activists like labour lawyer Enrique Torres who had fled to Canada as a refugee along with his wife Marta Torres their five children, could return to Guatemala and resume his labour union and human rights work. Both Enrique and Marta had been legal advisors to the Coca-Cola workers’ union in Guatemala, which sadly achieved international attention because of the vicious murders of its leaders in the 1970s and 1980s.

Marta and Enrique helped establish the Christian Task Force on Central America from their exile home British Columbia in the 1980s to assist in focusing Canadian solidarity efforts towards this region. Marta came to the Yukon as one the Social Justice Global Solidarity speaker in the 1990s to share their story and the urge Yukoners to continue to seek to build, along with people in far-off countries like Guatemala, a just global order.

Word spread quickly through solidarity networks earlier this week that 71-yea-old Enrique Torres had been attacked in Guatemala City and subsequently died. The local press there has reported it as a robbery. Friends are not so sure. The two attackers took more than money from Enrique who had continued his work on behalf of trade unionists and political prisoners in Guatemala. They also stole selected papers from his brief case.

Politically motivated violence appears to be on the rise again across Guatemala. Leocadio Juracan, general co-ordinator of the Campesino Committee of the Highlands, which organizes the production of Fair Trade coffee among other tasks, reported from San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, as well this week that the countryside is being remilitarized. Juracan wrote that “they have initiated there repression and persecution, including in the last two weeks … the assassination of a priest in Santa Rosa and the detention of campesino leaders in Cunen, Quiche.”

Hopefully, Leocadio Juracan will be able to visit the Yukon this May and share the story of his organization’s struggle for economic and social justice with us. The courage of people like Enrique and Marta Torres or Leocadio Juracan mustn’t fail to ignite a spark of care and concern among us. After all they are up against the same negative economic and political forces we see at work around us too. Their struggle is ours also.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. On Nov. 24, Silver and Hanley announced masks will be mandatory in public places as of Dec. 1, and encouraged Yukoners to begin wearing masks immediately. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Masks mandatory in public places starting on Dec. 1

“The safe six has just got a plus one,” Silver said.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read