Not in My Name in Guatemala

I just spent the afternoon in Nebaj in the Quiche region of Guatemala listening to indigenous Maya Ixil women survivors of the Guatemalan genocide. One told how the Guatemalan army pursued the people of her remote community through the countryside, burning their crops and homes and raping and murdering the people they caught. Another told of fleeing into the mountains where she hid for sixteen years. For more than 30 years these women have been seeking justice, and the testimonies of ten Ixil women from this region helped convict former Guatemalan President Efrain Rios Montt of genocide. The constitutional court overturned the conviction, and Rios Montt faces a new trial that will begin in January. These women, despite intimidation and smear campaigns, will be there again to tell their stories.

Just Wednesday, the Guatemalan Congress revoked the immunity of current President Otto Perez Molina who is accused of corruption. These women also hope he will now stand trial for genocide as well for his involvement in the violence in the areas surrounding Nebaj.

The government of the United States is complicit in these crimes against the indigenous people of Guatemala. The federal government has funded the Guatemalan military, and agents of the US government provided advice and support to the Guatemalan government during its genocidal campaign throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Long before this, however, the United States backed the overthrow of the democratically elected President of Guatemala in 1954 in order to protect the economic interests of US corporations in Guatemala.

In the US, we hear little of our government's involvement in Guatemala, and, yet, for decades the United States has participated in the atrocities in this country in the name of its citizens--in your name and in mine.

In fact, for 500 years, racist exploitation of indigenous Mayans and their resources by Europeans, Americans, and Canadians has destroyed communities, taken land, and poisoned water. Even now, land is being grabbed by American and Canadian companies to disrupt subsistence farming in favor of African palm oil production, to build hydroelectric dams, and to mine gold and nickel--all for the benefit of foreign corporations.

Yet in the face of powerful governments and multinational companies stand courageous women like these women in Nebaj. Jesus told a parable about a woman who went to a judge seeking justice. The judge was very powerful and did not care what anyone thought of him--not even God. So he certainly did not care about the request of some woman. But this woman would not be discouraged. She kept returning to the judge, pestering him, demanding justice. Eventually, he relented and granted her justice so she would stop bothering him. No one would have expected this poor, powerless woman to prevail against the great, powerful judge--and yet she did.

The people of Guatemala are seeking justice. In the face of corruption, power, and violence they are demanding to be heard.

We in the United States have a role in their struggle. We must say to our own government, "Not in my name." We must demand that the government of the United States stop supporting corrupt Guatemalan politicians and military leaders. We must demand that our government work with the Guatemalan people who are seeking justice. We must put pressure on American corporations that take indigenous people's lands, water, and minerals. And we must take responsibility for our complicity in the genocide and ongoing oppression of the people of Guatemala.

Process theology identifies two kinds of suffering. One occurs simply in the ongoing activity of human experience--disease, accident, natural disaster. But the other is caused by human action, and this kind of suffering is always evil. Most of the suffering of the indigenous people of Guatemala is of the second variety. Wealthy and powerful people and governments rob, exploit, abuse, torture, disappear, and murder indigenous Mayans still.

In theologies of liberation that arose in Latin America, God is not neutral in these human struggles for justice. God always sides with the oppressed, and God's people are called to do likewise. Those of us who call ourselves the people of God cannot ignore our Guatemalan sisters and brothers' calls for justice. We must join them in returning, pestering, and demanding of political powers that justice in Guatemala be granted for all its people.