Nov 26, 2012

inspired by Yolanda

This video actually starts at around minute four, and Yolanda starts talking at around minute 14 after a great short Guatemala context intro from Kathryn of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission.  I am her interpreter, in the red interpreter vest.  For many years I have been a lead interpreter (and organizer of the interpreting) at the vigil to close the US Army's School of the Americas - the largest ongoing protest in the US against US militarism in Latin America .  This year, in mid-November I had the huge honor and responsibility of interpreting for many speakers at the vigil, many videos of which are online.  The video of the stage on Saturday is good for getting fired up, but the most inspiring experience for me was interpreting for Yolanda Oqueli, in the video above. 

Yolanda is a nonviolent resistance hero.  She has helped to organize her community (San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc) in Guatemala to stop a polluting gold mine that wants to come in and continually worked to keep the resistance peaceful.  They have maintained a round the clock blockade for 9 months and kept the mining company trucks out.  The company tried to break through in the middle of the night when there were only 20 people on shift - and thanks to the miracle of cell phones and great community organizing they managed to turn out 4,000 people in half an hour to stop them!  

So then the company increased the pressure.  They kidnapped Yolanda's husband, also a community leader, and gave him the option of fleeing the country or having his family hurt - and then when he fled they went ahead and tried to kill Yolanda anyways two weeks later! She survived the attempt, but has a bullet left lodged too close to her spine to safely remove.  Amazingly, her first words to her community when they found her shot were to please not be provoked into responding with violence.  And she has gone back to the blockade, and faced large gangs of "private security" thugs (former Guatemalan military) who have come to the blockade and specifically targeted her for harassment.  She continues to be a strong voice in her community for remaining peaceful in the face of these provocations, as she describes in this video.  She has even been brave enough to go on tour in the US and tell her story - even telling it in front of the gates of Fort Benning (minute 8 here).

Please, will you join me in walking with Yolanda and her community as part of our larger struggle for justice?  You can take quick action here to send emails to the US embassy and to the mining company itself.  It helps if you can take a minute to change the first line or two of the letters so that they stand out as different. 

Please also hold Yolanda in the light, send her love, pray for her, or however you think of these things, and ask for her body to move the bullet away from her spine so that it can be removed.  This can take from months to years, and it is causing her great pain while it is there.

I was disturbed, at the vigil, to see people reaching out to touch Yolanda after she gave her testimony on stage in a way that reminded me of how people reached out to touch Rufina Amaya, as if she were somehow saintly.  I wrote about how Rufina, the only survivor of the El Mozote massacre, found this disturbing at the vigil in my article about colonial patterns in the movement to close the SOA, and solidarity movement more broadly - and how survivors are distanced when they are put on a pedestal.  But I continue to work inside the movement to do solidarity differently.

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