Continuing to Walk in Solidarity

Dear friends and family,

It was two years ago that I returned to Seattle following 10 months of serving as an international accompanier of human rights defenders in Guatemala.  It has been inspiring to live and learn alongside many of you here in Seattle, to correspond with people afar, and to generally know that there are so many wonderful people in the world of my extended communities.  Many of you know that I now have the opportunity to return to Guatemala to work on the staff of NISGUA – Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala – the organization with which I served as an accompanier.  I will be living in Guatemala City, where I will coordinate volunteer international observers with the Guatemala Accompaniment Project, and work as a liason to local and international human rights and solidarity groups.  My current committment to this position is at least a year, begining later this month.

NISGUA and the Guatemala Accompaniment Project exist to support the work of local Guatemalan communities and organizations working for justice for the genocide of Maya communities, for indigenous people’s rights to autonomy and self-determination, and against violence, impunity, and environmental destruction.  It is a privilege to play a small role in making their work possible through international solidarity, political support, and the training and support of human rights observers who provide on the ground links between global civil society and local groups.  Our relationships as friends and allies all over the world can also help to strengthen these links of solidarity, if we remain in communication and hold ourselves accountable to mutually support each other in our individual lives and in our collective work for social change.

Today, in so many ways, seems like a crucial moment for peoples’ movements for human rights and environmental and social justice, in both the global north and south.  With regressive state economic and social policies justified by the language of “crisis,” repression and racism against immigrant communities in Arizona and elsewhere, indelible and ongoing environmental catastrophes in the Gulf and beyond, and unending occupations in the Middle East replicating the abuses of past U.S.-sponsored “counterinsurgency” campaigns, there is clearly much work to be done by committed people all around the world.

Now is also a critical moment for Guatemalan struggles for human rights and justice.  Since the 1996 Peace Accords which ended the country’s 36 year internal armed conflict, inequality has worsened, militarization has increased, impunity has been institutionalized within the justice system, and violence has surged to the point where as many people are killed daily in Guatemala as during the worst periods of conflict in the 1980s.  Attacks and threats against human rights defenders have also surged in recent years, a reflection both of rising violence and impunity as well as the growth and strength of civil society movements for human rights and justice.  Political instability and the economic and political dominance of a wealthy minority menaces Guatemala with the threat of a coup d’etat like that which occurred last year in neighboring Honduras.  As local and multinational corporations expand socially and environmentally devastating forms of “development” such as massive hydroelectic dams, open-pit mining, and agricultural mono-cropping for biofuels and commodity food production, indigenous communities face what Guatemalan indigenous leaders have characterized as “a third expulsion of indigenous peoples” from their traditional lands.  Despite these challenges, Guatemalan communities and organizations have achieved remarkable gains, such as winning precedent setting court rulings against perpetrators of forced disappearance and massacres, building growing movements in opposition to environmentally destructive dams and mines, and continuing to speak out against human rights abuses and injustice.

Mine will be a small part to play in supporting the work of Guatemalan organizations working against this litany of troubles, but I hope to magnify my role to some degree by pledging to remain accountable to my personal communities.  I hope to keep you informed by writing to you regularly and sharing important news and analysis that connects struggles in Guatemala with regional and worldwide issues.  I will do my utmost to offer you ways to support these struggles, by responding to urgent action requests, attending events in your own communities, and when possible, offering resources to groups doing important work in Guatemala and the Americas.  And I hope also to learn from the communities and organizations I will be coming to know and support, and to bring some of that knowledge with me when I return to the north, or wherever else I will continue to live and walk in solidarity after my time in Guatemala.

There are a few ways that we can stay in touch, maintaining and perhaps deepening our relationships despite distance:

I will be keeping this blog, where I will share news, urgent actions, and personal updates about my life and work in Guatemala.

I will also send regular messages to my communities via e-mail and other forms of correspondence – please respond to this message to let me know if you would like to stay in touch in this way (or would prefer not to have me fill your mailbox!).

You can also immediately support the human rights movement in Guatemala by responding to a recent urgent action, which I have posted here on Cascadia Solidaria, denouncing the shooting of Doña Diodora Antonia Hernández Cinto, an indigenous anti-mining activist from the community of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, one of the Maya communities adversely affected by social and environmental harms caused by the Marlin gold mine owned by the Canadian/U.S. company Goldcorp Inc.  The mine was recently ordered to be temporarily closed by the Guatemalan government in response to a recommendation issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is investigating claims of human and indigenous rights abuses by the mining company.  Your solidarity with Doña Diodora will be deeply appreciated, and will serve to highlight this grave rights violation, which is the first armed attack against an anti-mining activist in the immediate vicinity of the mine.

I don’t want to belabor this message, as the point is not to bid anyone farewell or to sum up my experiences of the past two years or those to come.  Rather, I hope that this message will be the start of a new and continuing relationship of international friendship, support, and solidarity.  Please be in touch regarding your thoughts and experiences!

In solidarity,

Phil Neff

Laguna Chicabal

Laguna Chicabal, Iximulew

About cascadiasolidaria

Human rights and solidarity activist from Cascadia, North America, writing about issues of justice and security in Guatemala and Central America from a perspective of solidarity with human rights and social movements.
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2 Responses to Continuing to Walk in Solidarity

  1. Jillian says:

    Felipe — I have not kept up as I should on your endeavors of solidarity, but knowing that you’ll be working with NISGUA reminds me that there are some things in the world that are just supposed to work out… (peanut butter and jelly, rum and coke…and, you and nisgua..!).
    I will be thinking of you always; reminded of our MANY adventures through ‘la madre tierra’ — some of the best memories I have! Thank you for your dedication to ‘el movemiento’ Please keep me/us updated as much as possible.

    love you demasiado companero,
    -Jillian

  2. Lauren says:

    Felipe,
    As Jillian says, you and NISGUA seem a made match, one I know will continue to positively impact the struggle for rights both here in your home communities and in Guate. Good luck, and I look forward to reading of your experiences as you blog!
    Abrazos,
    Lauren

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