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Day 1 in Guatemala - a potted history
We arrived at 21.30 last night after 18 hours on the road. I have a feeling that our intrepid photographer Kieran has a stash of compromising photos of me asleep during the 7 hour stop-over in Atlanta, book in one hand, coffee in the other, sound asleep and drooling... not a pretty sight!
On the way in from the airport, the protagonist of our up-coming documentary Yuri Melini, Director of CALAS, gave us a potted history of Guatemala. While the country became independent in 1821, there was no noble war of independence like in Bolivia but a political deal in which the Spanish Governor simply became the President and the colonial elite, who governed every aspect of the political and economic life of the country remained in situ. Their descendants, made up of 8 dominant families, still control the ecomomic life of the country, and some control its political life as well.
The indigenous people, who make up 67 per cent of the population have no voice.
It is this tension between the interests of the rich and powerful elite, who reject all possibility of change and who refuse to pay taxes which underscores the social tensions and violence, and is the direct cause of the threats and attacks on human rights defenders.
In fact it was this tension which was the cause of the bloody civil war in the 1980s, in which more thant 200,000 people disappeared, and of these disppearances, the vast majority have never been investigated.
This climate of impunity in which the government of the country and its supporters could effectively wage war on its own people still persists in Guatemala today.
Today, a new day on our mission here in Guatemala, we are meeting the team in the Attorney Generals office who investigate cases of attacks on human rights defenders. It will be interesting to see what they have to say.