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

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

Just Posted

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media on March 5, 2020. The Yukon government said Jan. 25 that it is disappointed in a decision by the federal government to send the Kudz Ze Kayah mining project back to the drawing board. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Territorial and federal governments at odds over Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The federal government, backed by Liard First Nation, sent the proposal back to the screening stage


Wyatt’s World for Jan. 27, 2021

An avalanche warning sigh along the South Klondike Highway. Local avalanche safety instructors say interest in courses has risen during the pandemic as more Yukoners explore socially distanced outdoor activities. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)
Backcountry busy: COVID-19 has Yukoners heading for the hills

Stable conditions for avalanches have provided a grace period for backcountry newcomers

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

An arrest warrant has been issued for a 22-year-old man facing two tickets violating the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em>. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Arrest warrant issued for CEMA violation

An arrest warrant has been issued for Ansh Dhawan over two tickets for violating CEMA

The office space at 151 Industrial Road in Marwell. At Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 25 meeting, members voted to sign off on the conditional use approval so Unit 6 at 151 Industrial Rd. can be used for office space. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Marwell move set for land and building services staff

Conditional use, lease approved for office space

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

Most Read