The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Meeting Marielos

There is murder persecution, aggression, kidnappings, intimidation, terror, black propaganda and censorship operated against us, against the freedom of the press and against freedom of speech - Marielos Monzón

 
Anthony McIntyre • The Other View, Autumn/Winter 2005

During the 1981 hunger strikes, although still on blanket protest, the republican prisoners gained access to newspapers as the regime was progressively relaxed in a bid by prison authorities to misrepresent themselves as somehow humane. Like a sponge eager to soak up current events which had by passed us for years, I would scan every line, perusing through each account of many of the world's conflict zones. One country that featured in a Sunday paper was Guatemala. Right wing death squads had gone on the rampage and had assassinated a number of university professors.

Twenty four years later when I travelled over to Queen's University to meet and listen to the Guatemalan human rights journalist, Marielos Monzón, I was taken aback to learn that on the very day the professors were killed, her father, a human rights lawyer, was also assassinated by the same murderous gangs. She was ten years old. It was through researching the events that led to her father's death that Marielos developed her passion for human rights work.

The name Guatemala has a nice rolling lilt to it but the country itself has a reputation that would suggest its powerful have a less than nice way of dealing with opposition. At the end of November the New York Times was given access to recently discovered police files dating back over a century. What the files constitute has been referred to as the institutional memory of the bureaucracy that was central to the repression exercised over Guatemalan society for many decades. Their discovery holds the potential to shed light on the Guatemalan government's dirty war in which over 250, 000 people were murdered and a further 50, 000 disappeared. In spite of the find the powerful are determined to put themselves beyond reach, by trying to create a law which will prevent the military being tried in civilian courts. After the experience of its Argentinean counterparts where many were called to account, the Guatemalan military does not want its role in widespread repression including acts of genocide and other atrocities against the country's indigenous Mayan Indians brought to light.

Despite a peace agreement having been brokered in 1996 after decades of a one sided state prosecuted war Guatemala is a society still deeply troubled by violence. Trade unionist are stalked by death squads while gangs can break into jails and murder eight prisoners, one of whom they decapitated, leaving his severed head beneath a chair in the prison basket ball complex. In the first six months of this year the National Movement for Human Rights recorded 127 threats and attacks against human rights workers. Since 2001 there have been 1,800 women murdered, of whom 90% were raped before being killed. There is a high rate of suicide amongst the country's young people who, unable to escape the violence, escape from their own bodies.

It is into the heart of such injustice and violence that Marielos thrusts her pen with considerable effect:

It is incredible how the organized gangs of criminals and the clandestine groups continue to operate with complete impunity. It is shocking to see such ineffectiveness and lack of political will to confront these evils and apply justice. We are sick of speeches. These are human beings, Guatemalans of flesh and blood who continue to be the victims of violence, intolerance and the hidden, parallel powers.

Marielos had been invited to speak at Queen's by Amnesty International, who had also presented her with an award her for her journalism. For years she has faced death threats and other forms of intimidation in a bid to deter her from conducting her exposure of human rights abuses. In 2003 Amnesty International ushered her out of Guatemala for a period due to the increasing danger to her life and that of her two children after she had reported on the torture-killigs of young mothers, murdered immediately after they had given birth to their children. The latter were subsequently sold off to wealthy families for anything from between US$20 and US$30,000. In March of this year her home was broken into shortly after she and a colleague had broadcast a number of programmes highlighting the concerns of many Guatemalans suspicious of Central America Free Trade Agreement which they felt would only lead to widespread destitution. This was followed by threats to her to 'stop defending those stinking Indians you bitch or we will kill you.' In spite of the threats she remains a popular broadcaster in Guatemala City with her Radio Universidad programme, Good Morning With Marielos Monzón, reaching a broad audience. Earlier she had twice been sacked from other stations on the grounds that she was too 'dangerous.' She is also the author of a weekly column in the prestigious daily newspaper Prensa Libre.

Marielos was well received by a Belfast audience who turned out in solidarity with her. Speaking in Spanish - although in conversation her English is flawless - which was then interpreted, she outlined the 36 year conflict that had gripped her homeland and argued that despite the initiation of a peace agreement in 1996, little had changed in terms of the material conditions of existence for the bulk of the population. Over 60% of people live on US$2 a day. After Brazil, Guatemala is the second most unequal country in the region, as well as having the highest malnutrition index.. It is a society characterised by rabid racism. Out of 158 Congress members, only 3 are Mayan despite indigenous Indians representing 55% of the country's population. This body has fared worse than any other. In addition to being politically underrepresented, it has virtually no access to health or education facilities.

In her talk she pointed out that a UN report on the conflict had identified three main perpetrators, the ruling elite, the military and the US government. The Central America Free Trade Agreement between the US and Latin American countries, in her view was nothing more than a strategy by the US to control the region.

During her visit to Belfast Marielos visited the offices of the Sunday World and was photographed beside a plaque in honour of murdered journalist Marty O'Hagan who previously had been the recipient of an Amnesty international award similar to her own. 'I'm sorry to hear that here in Northern Ireland, some journalists have suffered personal threats because of freedom of expression to write.'

Journalists like Marielos Monzón, whose every step is made under the watchful eye of the death squads, are a firewall between the murderous elites and those they wish to harm. She remains alive because of persistent monitoring carried out by bodies like Amnesty International. I left Queen's after speaking with her to the worrying thought that if the international community goes to sleep Marielos Monzón will die. Hopefully no one who listened to her in Belfast left with their eyes wide shut.





 

 


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Index: Current Articles



20 February 2006

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