May 4, 1998
Felipe Stuart, editor
OJO DE URACCAN
OJO DE URACCAN is the editor's column. Usually you will find here a few tips on what's coming up in the UPDATE and/ or personal comments about some inspiring point or vexing concern. And occasionally a guest article.
Autonomous Regional Councils Sworn In
May 4 was a special day in the RAAN and the RAAS - the two newly elected Autonomous Councils were sworn in by the Supreme Electoral Council under the terms of the Autonomy Law.
The Liberal Party of Arnoldo Aleman took control of both Regional governments as a result of the elections held immediately on the heels of the installation ceremonies.
The first ceremony occurred in the RAAN in the morning. In a move that was interpreted as a vulgar affront to regional autonomy, President Arnoldo Aleman imposed himself on the proceedings, taking a seat even before the arrival of the President of the Supreme Electoral Council, Rosa Marina Zelaya. Aleman and his cabinet have been in the Region, "governing from the Coast" as part of his "presidential vision of "autonomy".
Below is a translation of an article reporting the ceremonies and council elections by La Prensa reporter Humberto Meza, published on the paper's front page May 5. Headlines are those of La Prensa.
Raucous Regional Council Swearing-in Ceremonies
Liberals use a big spoon to take it all
Liberals shove aside Sandinistas in Regional Councils
NORTH ATLANTIC AUTONOMOUS REGIONS - In the midst of accusations about violations of the autonomy process, political blackmail, and below-the-belt cheap shots on the part of the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) , the liberal resumed control of the governments of the Atlantic Coast autonomous regions.
The conflict began with the swearing in and assumption of control of the Regional Council in the North Atlantic region, where the liberals took 100% of the posts in the Junta Directiva of the Council.
Meanwhile in the South region the Council also fell under control of the liberals who were able to elect Randolph Hodgson as Regional Governor and Alejandro Mejia as Council President.
Four hours of negotiations and counter proposals were not enough to attain political pluralism and representative in the government of the North
Atlantic region. The session there was presided by the full Supreme Electoral Council and by President Arnoldo Aleman; the latter's presence aroused suspicions on the part of other political groupings in the Council.
The polemic surfaced after a proposal from the Sandinista caucus to review the Autonomy regulations which specify the rules for forming the regional government.
That proposal was rejected by the entire PLC bench who alleged that those regulations were not in force.
Following that the liberal bench offered the FSLN and Yatama one post each in the Junta Directiva, reserving five posts for themselves.
The Sandinistas had proposed a Junta Directiva composed of four PLC members, two FSLN, and one YATAMA members.
However, the rejection of their original proposal caused the immediate withdrawal of the FSLN who argued that party interests and spirits had begun to overcome the autonomy process.
Lidia McCoy, head of the Sandinista bench , charged that the Liberal caucus was taking anti-democratic attitudes and failing to respect the autonomy process "from the very moment that the President of the Republic, and not the outgoing Council, began to chair this session."
The PLC proposal was not modified and hence the YATAMA councilors also withdrew.
The liberals decided to carry on with the election despite the absence of the FSLN and YATAMA, and proposed that those parties assume the Second vice-presidency and the Second Spokesperson position respectively; but that proposal was rejected by outgoing governor Stedmon Fagoth.
At the last minute the FSLN had accepted a new approach from the liberals in which the PLC apparently agreed to offer two posts to the FSLN, but still keeping five for themselves. But those negotiations didn't get anywhere, a situation the liberals took advantage of to elect themselves all seven posts in the Junta Directiva.
Liberal governors elected in the RAAS and in the RAAN
Below are excerpts (in translation) from an article by Bluefields reporter Dorothy Whitaker which appeared in the May 5 edition of Managua's La Tribuna.
DOROTHY WHITAKER - BLUEFIELDS
...As expected, the liberals won the two governorships and formed alliances with Yatama and other similar parties in the south; meanwhile in the north they seduced other parties that were not in the count [with no elected members in the Council-translator]. National Assembly Sandinista deputy William Schwartz lamented the results of the liberal steam-roller and signaled that this will mean problems in the realm of fishing concessions.
However, Minister of Government Jose Antonio Alvarado said that the election of the governor and the Junta Directiva exemplified participatory democracy.
Randolph Hodgson was elected governor in the RAAS with 27 votes in favor and 12 against. The Costeno block had proposed Schwartz for governor, but he lost.
Rayfield Hodgson of the Multiethnic Indigenous Party [and former governor-translator] was present for the election but when he realized he had no possibility of being elected he withdrew from the local.
The Junta Directiva was composed as follows: Alejandro Mejia, president; Render Heather, vice-president; Pedro Dormuz Lumbi, second vice-president; Melbourne Jackson, first secretary; Roy Evans Lopez, Garifuna rep; Videl Omeir, first spokesman; Eddy Bendliss, second spokesman...
Liberal Steam-roller Triumphs on the Coast
The following report appeared in Managua's "opposition" daily El Nuevo Diario on May 5.
by Sergio Cruz and Carlos Eddy Monterrey
The Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) took out the steam-roller again yesterday in the elections for posts in the Juntas Directivas of the
Atlantic Coast Regional Autonomous Councils. They took all seven seats in the north and at least four in the south.
The governorships also went to the PLC. Elected as governor in the north is Alba Rivera, former vice-minister of Education during the government of dictator Somoza. In the south, just at our deadline, the favored candidate was Randall Hodgson.
The steam-roller came out in the morning in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region. At the beginning of the session Sandinista councilors asked that the Junta Directiva be elected according to the internal regulations approved by the regional councils in 1990 and 1994.
Those regulations established political pluralism in the Junta Directiva. However, that idea was cut down by Rosa Marina Zelaya, President of the Supreme Electoral Council; she rejected it alleging that the regulations
were never published as a law and hence were invalid.
The liberals lost no time and opposed a Sandinista proposal for a Junta Directiva composed of 4 from the PLC, two Sandinistas, and 1 from Yatama.
The liberals offered the Sandinistas only the second vice-presidency of the Junta as a consolation prize; the "offer" angered the Sandinista councilors who characterized it as "humiliating". Upset, they left the hall, stating "we are not here to accept gifts". Right after that Yatama's councilors also withdrew because they also felt offended. That left the 27 PLC councilors free to occupy all seven posts in the Junta with their own.
President Arnoldo Aleman, who has been in the region since April 28 installed himself early at the head table together with magistrates of the
Supreme Electoral Council, even before (its president Rosa Marina) Zelaya arrived. Aleman directed the steam-roller operation from there.
The situation in the South Autonomous Region was no different despite the fact that the Sandinistas did not withdraw. At the time of our deadline, the liberals had taken four of the seven posts. The operation in Bluefields was led by Minister of Government Jose Antonio Alvarado.
A letter from: Witness for Peace--Nicaragua
Thanks for the URACCAN updates and for putting me on it. I'm glad the translation of the Resolucion del Consejo de Ancianos was of some use to you..... It's really great to get this information as I rarely hear to much
about the Coast except when I've gone out there. Keep up the great work.
Witness for Peace -Nicaragua
11,000 families in crisis
Drought Spreads to the RAAS
Forest fires continue to wreck havoc and destroy precious tropical areas of the country, including hardwood stands in the Reserva de Bosawas in the RAAN and Nicaragua's marvelous array of fauna. Yesterday Managua's Sandino International Airport was again closed for several hours because of poor visibility caused by smoke. An unusual heaavy rainfall the night before failed to clear the air and new layers of smoke rolled in over the capital from areas upwind from the city. Yesterday, the Auditor General of the Republic denounced the irresponsibility of the Ministry of the Enviroment (Marena) for turning blind eyes towards indiscriminate logging activities which, ironically, have also been the cause of some of the worst fires, destroying the very trees intended for their chain saws. Auditor general Agustin Jarquin proposed that the National Assembly Commission on Natural Resources and the Environment that it undertake an environmental audit and investigate logging concessions granted in the North Atlantic Region.
The problem of excessive logging and wood-cutting is not limited to the RAAN. The RAAS too is experiencing draught conditions and deforestation brought about largely by the extension of the agricultural frontier eastward from Matagalpa, Boaco, and Chontales. The following report on that situation is translated from the May 4 edition of the Managua daily La Tribuna.
by Danilo Martinez Alfonso (Managua)
The ravages of the El Nino phenomenon continue. The critical situation faced by farmers in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) means production losses and going into debt. Regional authorities have been forced to take note. Almost 20,000 manzanas of beans and an equal area of corn have been lost.
According to studies and reports made by RAAS regional authorities, some 11,000 families have been hit by losses. Among the hardest hit communities are El Tortuguero, la Cruz de Rio Grande, Kukra Hill, Pearl Lagoon, la Cuenca del Rio Wawashang, and Bluefields.
The Regional Emergency Committee (CRE) has estimated that almost all the "apante" bean harvest has been lost [the "apante" is the last planting of
the year and is harvested from February through the beginning of April).
Losses suffered in the "postrero" corn planting (second planting) left farmers heavily indebted and the small amount of corn that survived the
drought cannot be used for the "ciclo de primera" (first planting) that begins in May. The fall in production was almost general, including even the most rustic crops such as the tuber and banana-plantain families - that is, yucca, quequisque, sweet potato, plantain, and banana.
The El Nino phenomenon has also caused havoc by drying up wells and creeks, making it difficult to access water for human consumption and for livestock and crops.
The economic impact on campesino families has been severe, according the reports by RAAS authorities. More than 11,500 families have been thrown into severe debt and lack inputs to work with in the next planting cycle.
According to detailed information some 3,500 families have been affected in La Cruz de Rio Grande, 2,500 in the rural Bluefields area, 500 in Pearl
Lagoon, 2,800 in El Tortuguero, and 2,200 in Kukra Hill.
The draught has hit a total of 206 communities, most of which lack public services and community development programs.
Given the critical economic situation faced by farmers in this zone , however, the Comision de Direccion (Steering Committee) -- made up of the RAAS Regional government, representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle Raising (MAG) and the Social Action Ministry (MAS), and the Civil Defense -- has developed a support project that will supply production inputs to farmers.
York-URACCAN Linkage Project
'TEN INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES'
Supported with funding from the York-URACCAN Linkage project, the Board of Directors of "Las Diez Comunidades Indigenas" in the RAAN have been able to plan and hold workshops to train their people in more effective ways for holding their community elections.
"Las Diez Comunidades Indigenas have a long and eloquent history. Here's how their "Junta Directiva" described that history in a brief introduction to the project motivating the holding of the workshops. "The Indigenous peoples of the ten communities have lived for millennia in the Rio Wawa, Likus, arawas, kuakwil and litoral norte sector -- from bilwi to a place known by the name of trakis. In earlier times our people lived as nomads, but with the arrival of the Moravian religion on the Atlantic coast the people settled into communities that today we know as: tuapy, Krukira, Kambla, yulutingy, boomsirpi, kualwil, sisin, auyapihni, iltara, panwa, butku, dlkwatarea, kuiwitingni, bilwi, and Sangnilaya.
On October 14, 1915 the Miskito leaders of the Diez Comunidades Indigenas went to Bluefields to petition for recognition of the lands of the Diez Comunidades in conformity with Law 21 of August 1905. The Head of the Titling Commission for Miskotia Lands granted title (Titulo Real de Propriedad) to the Diez Comunidades in 1917 (known by the name Harrison-Atamirano Treaty).
The Diez Comunidades, without losing their historical traditions, always elect their community leaders in a communal way. The are: El Wihta, Anciano, and Sindico. Lately political parties have been trying to use those leaders for their own political interests, some being chosen from desks and others hand-appointed, in such an attitude that the primordial function of these leaders is being lost. The new Junta Directiva (Directors) of the Diez Comunidades Indigenas wants to recover our traditional values and we want to promote communal elections this year in which the people themselves can elect via a community assembly their wihta, their anciano, and their Sindico, without any interference from political parties."
The first training activity was a seminar with community wihta and anciano participants. It took place March 6 in Sisin, geographically central to the communities involved and was attended by 52 people. The second Seminar gave training to ex-combatants, religious pastors, and members of the Junta. It was also held in Sisin on March 13 and 14.
Elections were planned for the Junta Directiva, for their Wihta and Ancianos, and for a Council for the Diez Comunidades later in April, with May 1 being the target date for swearing in the new Council.
URACCAN Outreach on Pearl Lagoon
CULTURAL WORK WITH GARIFUNA PEOPLES
Orinoco -- the major community of the Garifuna people on Nicaragua's Pearl lagoon -- will continue to be a pole of attraction and work for URACCAN students and professionals in 1998.
Plans for the cultural component of URACCAN's work in that community from May to December this year are outlined as part of the "Proyecto Educativo Integral para el fortalecimiento de la Pesca Artesenal, el Rescate Cultural y el Desarrollo de Capacidades de Gestion en seis comunidades de la Cuenca de la Laguna de Perlas" [Integral Educational Project for the strengthening of artesenal fishing, cultural recovery, and development of managerial capacities in six Pearl Lagoon basin communities].
The cultural component of the Project has three main goals:
1) Continue promoting within the Garifuna community (Orinoco) cultural concepts and practices that take into consideration gender concepts and relations and the Garifuna identity as a people, utilizing participatory
2) Developing mechanisms for fluid and ongoing communication that help disseminate the Garifuna nations own cultural values throughout their
communities in the region.
3) Accompany the carrying out of socio-cultural activities as defined through participatory activities within Garifuna communities.
The work in 1998 builds upon previous work, particularly the accomplishments of 1997. This year's work plan notes that Garifuna identity was strengthened through a series of activities leading to greater levels of local and regional participation, especially in the work of the Cultural Recovery commissions in Orinoco and Bluefields. Garifuna people also attained a higher profile for their culture and communities in the regional and national media.
Program activities range from Garifuna teachers undertaking degree course studies in educational sciences and Intercultrual Bilingual Education to URACCAN sociology students integrating themselves in cultural recovery activities. Radio programs in Garifuna and an increased profile for that language in other communications areas is also anticipated. Garifuna dance and cultural groups will also get greater regional and national exposure.
An important community aspect of this work will be a better functioning Casa Cultural (Community Center). Another key process consultation,
discussion, adoption, editing, and publication of the Garifuna People's Agenda; and the celebration of the Anniversary of the Garifuna People on a Central American scale.
This work is coordinated and facilitated by IPILC (Institute for Linguistic and Cultural Promotion and Research) and by the Bluefields and Orinoco cultural recovery commissions.
Further information may be obtained about this program from IPILC: email: email@example.com
Siuna Campus Gets Ready for Resident Students
The Siuna campus of URACCAN is going through a healthy kind of "infrastructural adjustment" It's building dormitories and a kitchen-dining hall to handle 72 full-time scholarship students in residence. Construction should be completed by the end of June; meanwhile students will be housed in three rented houses. Piped water, bath, and toilet facilities will also be installed.
Scholarship students do part time work at the campus as part of the award program. A scholarship commission meets monthly to monitor the project and the ongoing activities of URACCAN's scholarship program.
The Siuna scholarship project is funded through the Austrian Development Cooperation Service (OED) and FADCANIC.
THE WORLD EXPOSITION - GERMANY
URACCAN has been chosen to participate in THE WORLD EXPOSITION in HANNOVER, GERMANY -- EXPO 2000 with an exhibition "Educating Professionals in a multiethnic society."
The International Board of EXPO 2000 reviewed 298 project applications from all over the world, of which 117 were recommended for registration.
Information about EXPO 2000 - HANNOVER can be found on the Internet at:
Or at email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
See you in Hannover in 2000.
On April 28 URACCAN's President Dr. Myrna Cunningham participated in a Forum in Guatemala to help lay the basis for founding a Maya University in that country. She was invited by the "Temporary Working Board for the Creation\ of the Maya University" to speak to this national gathering on the experience in Nicaragua of "creating and organizing...URACCAN as an innovative and alternative experience in higher education for the peoples of the (Nicaraguan) Atlantic Coast.
The forum and related workshops throughout the day took up themes such as the situation of higher education in that county, the profile of the Maya University, steps to be taken on the road to founding the institution, and finally the formation of a Coordinating Council to establish the Mayan University.
Musawas, Bonanza [February 17-18, 1998]
Mayangna Healers and Midwives Interchange Experiences
Sixty-six Mayangna healers and midwives got together in Musuwas, Bonanza in February to exchange experiences on their traditional care-giving practices. The workshop was organized by the Institute for Traditional Medicine and Community Development (IMTDC).
Much of the two-day workshop centered on the experience of the Mayangna traditional medicine project in the Waspuk Pis Pis area.
Following the event a "Memoir" was published relating how it was organized, what was discussed, who participated, and how the budget was distributed. It will come in handy in the organizing of similar events in the future.
ENVIO on "Caribbean Voices"
Coast Women's Shared Agenda
ENVIO, monthly publication of the Universidad Centroamericana in Nicaragua (UCA), published the Caribbean Coast "Women's Shared Agenda" in its February 1998 English-language edition (Volume 17, Number 199).
The document is published under the title: "Caribbean Voices: Coast Women's Shared Agenda".
The English-language ENVIO is edited by Judy Butler. It can be reached at email address:
Community Silviculture and Agroforestry
COMMUNITY-URACCAN COOPERATION IS KEY
1988 will be a busy year on URACCAN's forestry front. This can be appreciated just by looking at one several projects being undertaken this year - URACCAN's participation in the "Programa de Foresteria y
Activities already undertaken or underway, and plans for activities later in the year, include training, curriculum. research, and information/publicity
Training activities include: a theoretical-practical workshop on organic agriculture for 4th year Agroforestry students and some farmers; a course on utilizing non-wood based products from tropical wet forests; and a technical assistant project in six Kukra Hill communities.
In the areas of curriculum development and research, a diploma course in Environmental Management and Planning is being offered to communities leaders and government functionaries working in the region. A special Scientific Conference will be held on tropical wet forest biodiversity.
Forestry, soil use and socio-economic research in the Siuna region and the acquiring of a Experimental Center in Bonanza for the Bosawas Plan Grande (still being negotiated) highlight the research side of the project.
Regarding information, a contract is being negotiated with SIMAS [Sistema de Informacion Mesoamericano de Agricultura Sostenible] for information exchange and translation into Indigenous languages.
The project will impact on URACCAN institutionally. A community forestry program will be offered at the University, led by community promoters and technical specialists in community development. A university professional will receive special training to head up and systematize this program. A parallel research program will be undertaken beginning with compilation and systematization of existing data in communities and other institutions, consultations with community leaders and activists in this arena, identification and evaluation of traditional practices, elaboration of methodological guides for research, and establishing collaborative relations with other research initiatives and institutions working in the region on these questions. Allied curriculum activities involve a revision of courses to assure that themes related to community Agroforestry are included and made relevant; third, fourth, and fifth year students will spend four weeks working in communities doing research and participating in projects. Course in Indigenous languages will be strengthened with particular emphasis on themes related to this work.
Funding for this ambitious array of activities will come from both local and international sources.
"Gerardi's killing graphically belied such illusions of peace."
Guatemala: Never Again
By Paul Jeffrey
Special to the National Catholic Reporter
Guatemala City - The bishop's broken body lay in the front of the Metropolitan Cathedral as a multicolored river of people flowed by, the
tears of many falling on his casket. Most of the mourners were indigenous
women--K'iche', Mam, Q'eqchi, Kaqchikel--and as they moved silently past the body of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera their brightly embroidered blouses formed a brilliant rainbow of hope for a land so long plagued by torture and killing.
"He was a shepherd who gave his life for his people," said Juana Ixcoy, a K'iche' woman who travelled ten hours by crowded bus to line up to say goodbye to Gerardi. "He loved us so much he ended up suffering our fate," Ixcoy said.
Gerardi, the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Guatemala, was a church leader who championed the rights of victims, and he ended up a victim himself. Just two days before he was killed he had stood in the front of the same cathedral and prophetically warned that the church's mission was a dangerous undertaking. "We want to contribute to the construction of a country that's different. That's why we are recovering the memory of the people," Gerardi declared on April 24. "This path has been and continues being full of risks, but the construction of the Reign of God is a risky task."
Gerardi spoke those words when he presented the final report of a church-sponsored three- year "Project to Recover the Historic Memory."
Entitled "Guatemala: Never Again," the report blamed the military for the
bulk of the violence that reigned here for 36 years until the December 1996 peace accords put an end to war.
Late the night of April 26, just 55 hours after presenting "Guatemala: Never Again," at least one unidentified assailant surprised Gerardi as he returned home to his quarters in the Church of San Sebastian, located in a gritty neighborhood in downtown Guatemala City. According to investigators, Gerardi was putting his car in the garage when the killer or killers surprised the 75-year old prelate and struck him 14 times in the head with a chunk of cement. At least one assassin was seen leaving the church and fleeing in one of two waiting cars. A witness who saw one of the alleged killers was taken into protective custody by United Nations officials.
"The bishop uncovered the truth, and they couldn't stand it, just as they couldn't stand it when Jesus spoke the truth," said Rigoberto Perez, a
priest in Santa Cruz del Quiche who coordinated the historic memory project in the diocese of El Quiche. "Because Monsenor Gerardi presented the truth about Guatemala, he is now a victim among the victims he loved so much."
Perez told NCR that Gerardi would be welcomed into heaven by the "thousands of martyred catechists and religious who went before him. They are welcoming him now with love, their martyred bishop of Guatemala."
Gerardi's killing came as a shock to Guatemalans, many of whom believed--or attempted fervently to believe--that such incidents belonged in the past. After all, the war ended 16 months ago and the peace process has been limping slowly forward. Although common crime has grown rampant, political violence has seemed an anachronism. On April 14 the United Nations HumanRights Commission removed Guatemala from its list of persistent human rights violators.
Gerardi's killing graphically belied such illusions of peace.
The big question was who killed him. Before the bishop's bloodied body had been removed from his garage, the rush to judgement began. Government officials lamely suggested it was common delinquency, and warned it would be hard to catch those responsible. "It's like looking for a needlein a haystack," quipped President Alvaro Arzu.
Most believed the killing was politically motivated, however. Gerardi "was assassinated by the death squads that want to finish off the peace process," declared Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu. "This assassination was designed to intimidate all the victims that spoke of their history for the [church] report."
Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos called Gerardi's killing a "natural consequence of the evangelical attitude he maintained his whole life."
The country's largest newspaper, Prensa Libre, called the killing "a stab
in the back of the peace process."
Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio, who himself received death threats in the wake of the historic memory report, expressed his doubts that police would solve the case. "When a crime is paid for from on high, they never find out anything," he said. Archdiocesan officials demanded that the government clear up the case within 72 hours. A group of church activists stood vigil outside the cathedral, a giant banner counting down the hours remaining for the government to solve the case. The deadline came and went without any arrests.
Arzu complained of the church's ultimatum but met briefly with the episcopal conference and declared three days of national mourning.
Several human rights activists and church leaders, accustomed to years of dirty tricks in the administration of justice, warned the government that
they wanted the "intellectual authors" of the crime, not just the person or persons who actually killed the bishop.
On April 28, frustrated police officials announced they were accepting an offer of assistance from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At the same time, the police turned down an offer from Guatemala's military to help in the investigation. That's not surprising, given that many herebelieve the army is somehow behind the assassination. The generals are reportedly unhappy with constitutional reforms mandated by the peace accords, reforms that would limit their role to national defense and install a civilian as defense minister. And perhaps more importantly for this case, some in the military remain unrepentant about their behavior in years past. They simply won't tolerate any suggestion that they erred in what they believed to be a holy war against communist subversion. Church appeals to confession and repentance fall on ears deafened by years of tuning out the screams of torture victims.
The generals have had problems with Gerardi for some time. While bishop of El Quiche, after dozens of his pastoral agents were assassinated, Gerardi told army officers: "You are assassins, you are enemies of the people. We have to be on the side of the people, therefore we're on the other side from you. As long as you do not change, there can be no agreement between you and us."
The generals didn't like such talk, and Gerardi escaped two attempts on his own life before taking the unprecedented step in 1980 of withdrawing almost all pastoral personnel, literally closing the diocese. Gerardi went to the Vatican to brief the pope, who ordered him back to Guatemala. Yet immigration authorities wouldn't let Gerardi enter the country, probably
saving him from an ambush the army had prepared just outside the airport. A group of waiting nuns pooled their money and bought Gerardi a one-way ticket to Costa Rica, where he lived in exile until 1984.
With movement toward democratization in the mid-80s, Gerardi returned home but remained in the capital. He helped mediate budding peace talks. In 1990, he founded the archdiocesan human rights office, a feisty group of church lawyers and investigators that quickly became a thorn in the side of a military trying hard to project a new image. The human rights office
provided legal services to the victims of government repression, and solved cases of kidnappings, car theft, and killings that the police seemed clueless about resolving. Military officials were often behind the crimes that the church investigated.
Although some critics of the church labeled Gerardi a leftist sympathizer, the bishop's social activism wasn't the product of any ideological option. Instead, Gerardi's progressive posture grew out of an openness to the poor who suffered from decades of repression and racism. Gerardi, like Archbishop Oscar Romero in neighboring El Salvador, was first and foremost a pastor, not a politician.
In 1995, when the country's Catholic bishops created the historic memory project (known by its Spanish acronym REMHI), Gerardi was a natural to coordinate it. Under his supervision, over the next three years pastoral
agents recorded more than 6,500 interviews, almost two-thirds of which were in one of 15 Mayan languages. (See NCR, February 13, 1998.)
It was REMHI's final report that seems to have been Gerardi's last straw. Th 1,400-page, four volume document provides the first detailed analysis of the long bloody struggle between leftist guerrillas and a series of U.S.-backed military governments. It documents 14,291 separate acts of
violence which produced 55,021 victims. Church leaders pointed out that the report described only part of the violence. Killings, disappearances,
torture, rape, threats, and illegal detention are all documented.
Government soldiers and paramilitary squads were responsible for 85.43
percent of the violence reported in the study. Guerrilla insurgents got blamed for 9.3 percent of the violence, according to the report. Responsibility for the remaining 5.27 percent of the violence could not be determined.
The report included the description of 422 massacres, 401 of which were
committed by the army or paramilitary death squads. The church said guerrilla forces carried out 16 of the massacres. Church investigators couldn't establish responsibility for five of the massacres contained in the report.
In addition to presenting cold data on who was responsible for what, the final report included selected portions of transcribed interviews. One survivor of a 1983 army massacre in the north of El Quiche is quoted in the report: "What we witnessed was horrible, the bodies were burned, the women stuck through with poles as if they were animals ready to be cooked as roast meat, everyone bent double, the children chopped up in little pieces with machetes."
In a section of the report entitled "The road to social reconstruction," church leaders made a series of recommendations on how the Guatemalan government could help rebuild this war-torn country. These included indemnification for victims and a school curriculum that honestly
describes what happened duringthe war.
The report also called for government and guerrilla leaders to admit their responsibility for the violence. It recommended that those responsible for human rights violations be purged from the military and not be allowed to run for public office. It suggested that streets and parks named after military officials be renamed, and statues of generals taken down. The report called for the closing of the Kaibil counterinsurgency school in the Peten jungle, as well as the elimination of the notorious Presidential Guard.
Such recommendations may seem a bit tame in a democracy. Here in Guatemala, however, they amounted to a serious provocation. Before REMHI could even get all four volumes back from the printer, Gerardi was dead.
If his killers wanted to discourage an honest look at the past, they may have misjudged how Guatemalans would respond. "Instead of silencing the church, the killing of Monsenor Gerardi will have the opposite effect,"
Perez predicted. "It is going to make people even more curious about what was in the REMHI report."
Gerardi's killing also increases the expectations of the U.N.-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification--the "truth commission"--which will present its findings in three months. The U.N. commission, established by the two sides of the conflict during final peace negotiations, will not be
allowed to state publicly who was responsible for what, however.
Alfredo Balsells, one of three members of the U.N. group, called Gerardi's slaying "an incentive for the work of the commission." Balsells said the truth commission's final report "will be an homage in memory of Monsenor Gerardi."
Catholic activists here also suggest Gerardi's martyrdom will breathe new
life into a church that's still rebuilding from the persecution of recent decades. "The bishop's assassination was a gift of God to the church in Guatemala," said Perez. "Just as the blood that Jesus shed created a
community of faith that was a problem for the Pilates of the world, so will
the blood of Monsenor Gerardi bless us and give us strength in our struggle for life."
On April 29, during a funeral mass for Gerardi in the Metropolitan
Cathedral, the faithful gathered to mourn but also to take strength from each other and their martyred bishop. In the homily, Bishop Gerardo Flores of La Verapaz declared that Gerardi "struggled for an authentic peace, not based on lies but rather founded on justice and truth. That's why he gave his life and that's why they wanted to quiet his voice. But today his voice sounds louder than ever before."
As shouts of "Justice! Justice!" echoed through the packed cathedral, Gerardi recalled the title of REMHI's final report, a title that Gerardi had chosen himself. "Someday soon," Flores said, "We hope that this county's people can sing, can cry out wholeheartedly: Guatemala! Guatemala! Never again!"
Following the mass, Guatemala's bishops and almost 400 priests led a procession that carrid Gerardi around the central plaza. They then returned to the cathedral, where the murdered bishop was buried in the crypt below the altar. Thousands of Guatemalans stood weeping, many throwing red carnations onto Gerardi's casket as church leaders carried it past. Many shouted Nunca Mas!--"Never again!"--as the bishops carried their fallen colleague around the plaza. Before they made it back to the cathedral, the sky turned grey and it began to rain for the first time in weeks.
H u m o r
[in honor of all our linguist friends]
In the current film, Titanic, the character Rose is shown giving the finger to Jack (another character). Many people who have seen the film, question whether "giving the finger" was done around the time of the Titanic disaster, or was it a more recent gesture invented by some defiant seventh-grader.
According to research, here's the true story:
Giving the Finger
Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous weapon was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew").
Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, "See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!"
Over the years some 'folk etymologies' have grown up around this symbolic gesture. Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say (like "pleasant mother pheasant plucker", which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows for the longbow), the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter. It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbolic gesture is known as "flipping the bird".
And yew all thought yew knew everything!
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