Wednesday 25 November 2020

Keeping Them Safe: Interview with Norma Cruz of Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation)

November 13, 2015
I first heard about the work of Fundacion Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation) from our translator of Equipo Forense Interdisciplinario's Cristian Silva's thesis on Gender-based Violence in Guatemala. The Organization was created by Norma Cruz and her daughter Claudia Maria Hernandez Cruz who were first hand victims of rape within the home. We were honoured to hear her story.

Arriving at Fundacion Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation), the door was answered by an armed security guard since their facilities and the women that seek help  have been under death threats from their abusers. We walk into the waiting room where there are men, women and children waiting to be assisted by reception. Norma personally greets us and we head upstairs. We sit down at a round table, Cristian introduces us and I am allowed to film, as we ask her questions and she shares her stories of how her organization came to be.

Norma pushed to created the organization after finding out her own daughter had been abused.  When asked if she could share her personal experience about her daughter, she hesitated but did begin to tell the story.

Guatemalan artist depicting the Civil War
At the age of 6, she had lost her parents, and at 6, you have to mature fast. She was born and grew up during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996). It was during the course of her studies that she learned and witnessed the corruption and impunity of not justice. She explains, that "education is quite important here or else you are not fully aware of how to effectively work to reducing corruption”. As a student at 19,  she witnessed the burning of the Spanish embassy and the loss of many of those she worked with at the Catholic Church. Then there was the Rios Mont military coup, which forced her to go in exile in Nicaragua. In 1985, Claudia was born. Then in 1988 she decided  it was safe enough to return to work with the church again to work on human rights issues. Her and her partner decide to part ways as he wanted to stay in Nicaragua. She started building her new life with a new partner, a well known political figure.
By  1999,  Claudia was 15. Here in Guatemalan culture, turning 15 is a big celebration for a girl. As Norma describes it as a parent, "It is something you live up to, prepare for", but she began to notice Claudia did not care about turning 15. Norma kept insisting that all her friends cannot wait to be part of it.But then on her special day, all she said was "All I want is to die." Claudia's step father had been sexually abusing Claudia while Norma was not around.
As Norma explains,  we all make up our minds in how we perceive or see things. When Claudia told her, Norma, at first, did not want to believe it but she knew she needed to confront both her daughter and the father.

Even today, people choose to blame Norma, for leaving her alone during her active work in stopping the injustice. She begins to tear up here, but only for a moment. She is so strong. She remembers that after her father died,  she promised herself  to never leave her children alone.

"Violence and abuse we knew was around us, army violence, abuse of governments,  but did not fully realize that I could  find violence in my own home. I  was totally new to the violence that comes inside your home." The most frightening thing was that before finding out, she had been seeking assistance and help for Claudia's depression. All the available psychologists would say or diagnose that what she needed was more discipline. No one could 'figure out what was wrong' with Claudia or at least open to the options of parental rape and abuse. Instead. they were blaming both of them.
Once again nobody knew what to do in this case, especially when the partner was a well known figure. There was no expert in the country who would or could deal with the case. Finally, a lawyer from Colorado specialized in PTSD came to her said she was going to solve this case. Norma barely scraped by but she managed in increments to pay. She had found out in that time that Claudia had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Norma realized too, her son would feel the effects of this family trauma so she decided to work with him too. They did eventually get their case recognized and he was given 30 years in prison. Unfortunately, he only ended up serving 4 years of the 30, and still has power in politics.

The organization sprouted from these experiences. Norma knew that if this had happened in her family that there must be countless others in the similar situation. So alongside a media blitz  and teaching herself about these matters she was able to begin incorporating and training others in the similar situations on how to deal with therapy, and steps towards justice in prosecuting the perpetrator or abuser.

Before it was officially a foundation, it was an association of victims and survivors. But to create and sustain an association you need to make money, and the government had no interest providing funding. So for years she would work a separate job, at lunch she would knock on doors and talk with victims, and from 7-10 do workshops, seven days a week. On weekends she started doing workshops in rural areas where she received some extra money. By then Claudia had another boyfriend. In his little car, they would help move victims from place to place such as the Public Ministry. And not just women, came to her association. Norma had started talking to men who had lost their daughters to violence and murder. At the beginning, they asked how they could provide their service while many of them had other responsibilities, families , jobs that would limit them from coming. What about evenings  and weekends? They would need the facility to be always  open. They would need to ensure, comfortable, safe,  and flexible hours for whole families. For you "cannot just deal with one victim.” They would then need to start providing, legal support. “You are suddenly dealing with victims of a crime, so you need psychiatrists, lawyers. And that is when Canadians did a lot of work for us. You need enough witnesses or else you have lost your case. This is when we sought for techniques to prosecute.

One of the main questions we had was on the barriers of how do you then get the victims to come out and talk? How do you protect them when their abuser is always close by or their family refuses to accept? I remember outright from Human Sexuality and Forensic Psychology stats that the percentage of actual reported cases for rape victims is incredibly low  and the data is administered does not accurately match the actual cases. Well, her answer ended up in the form of little newspaper ads and daily words of advice. There is a well known newspaper El diario in which they would submit information on steps to take after rape: to not shower or clean one’s self, to save clothes and make sure to say something and submit themselves to a clinic.

From reading Cristian's thesis on the increasing gender-based violence since post-Peace Accord in Guatemala, I had been made aware the issues around societal views towards women but I wanted to hear more from her.

As she points out, during the conflict hundreds of women and children were raped and murdered. The stats of men murdered were just as high. However, the way women were and are being murdered is notably different as far more cases of mutilation and torture are involved. Prior to and after the '96 Peace Accord which formally ended the Civil War (but might I remind that the formality of a treaty does not end the systematic problems), there is little information and research on victims and family's trauma because there was little consideration of the human rights abuses of gender-based violence. "Suddenly we find ourselves in the Peace Accord era and nobody knows where the numbers of femicide are coming from. A lot of people believe this is something new but it is because no has paid attention. “At the end of the Peace Accord was when both parties signed , then in '97 there was an expected start fresh of no violence but yet finding 100 women murdered. Then in '98,  200 women murdered,  and in 2000 the numbers start increasing more. "We were asking  where this was coming from."
"When these doors were open, women were coming not for themselves but for their daughters, but asking how they wouldn't be raped and abused like themselves." They questioned why this may be. And this is where the acknowledgement of socio-cultural history on expected gender roles of machismo and marianismo of which I previously discussed in a previous blog post.  During the conflict as a woman you had to be silent. There were no rules on domestic violence. If your father was committing the crimes, your father would just kill you if you said anything. When talking about silence, Norma had been silenced, when standing up for political views, especially gender issues. Also during the conflict, there was little consideration of the effects experienced by both urban areas like Guatemala City and the rural areas. All women were affected, whether you were literate or not. Here, like in other parts of the world (just think India’s Daughter ), "women’s inequality and the lack of dignity and respect for the other sex is at every level, no matter what background you were from". In this case violence towards women is and was not discriminate to who you were or where you where from. “All women were and are at risk of being raped and abused”.

"Still people are afraid. During  the conflict,  society blamed women for  giving birth to guerrillas and communists, so it was giving the OK to kill women. To whatever happened to them was justified. You go to the police, you were told you better go home before I beat you up,  And they still remember those issues."

Then she notes the cultural violence, "Societies are at fault for this justification and continuation. They justified murder in paper.  Their death of abuse was their fault, It was deserved, It was their fault for being out at night too late, dressed too provocative. You have piercings, shorter skirt, nails painted or nailed painting; she was probably a worker. And that is justified for rape, violation and murder.” Unfortunately, this is not an isolated concern. Such justifications and the impunity of horrendous murder and violence we seen in Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women or the many unsolved cases of the Long Island women, meticulously documented in Rob Kolker's Lost Girls.

"During the Conflict, if you saw a body in the street, you though, 'He or she was probably doing something wrong, he or she was probably a Communist'. Now, after the conflict when we have cases of femicide, people say 'She was probably out too late, she was probably dressed to provocatively', and the police are saying the same thing."
To start with her personal case, Norma was up against a whole system against her from the process of organization and identification to the public ministry. When collecting the bodies, they were not respecting them. They'd strip the bodies naked on the street and then would sweep their privates using a comb right in the street. There was no appropriate training or respect. You have to treat the victims, dead or alive with dignity and respect, as probably the family is  watching. In the beginning of her research, 99 % of these cases were not  being investigated and that was 10 years ago.
In going back to the Peace Accord, both sides signed, but the judicial system still in place that had been  created to coerce people, police to torture people. How do we deal with this when it was created and perceived to coerce people. Ministries did not know how to operate in this time or how to properly investigate these crimes. Families instead, had reverted to leaving it to god justice when the system was not there to provide justice. So society has decided to  just to forget about it. If a body was found, it was just left , and not investigated. Before,  fireman, police, funeral homes, there was no investigations. In '98,  after she found out about Claudia, she organized this in her house. As victims,  you needed to make sure they collected all the evidence, so "we had to do it ourselves, at times." To put in perspective, how would we put denunciations on perpetrators when authorities still blame you. She pushed for more credibility in having a legal background, they needed a  lawyer, a forensic pathologist, start making authorities accountable, we were there. But people did start approaching her, wanting to help, volunteer,  so started educating herself. A student in law helped her on how to properly make forms to present these cases. She believes it was in 2004, it was the first time she was invited to do a lecture in LA. By 2005 they had an organization with name and their first donor from Oxfam of $5000. They were able to put enough pressure to sustain 200 legal cases, by 2005 they had 6000 denunciations, and today 5600 investigations.

Norma and her daughter have worked so hard together to hold these  abuses and crimes accountable in order for these victims to remain safe and respected. Norma has never stopped being active despite hundreds of death threats. She stresses that it is really important to note that this organization was not founded by an international community like most NGOs. Her goal was to make the Guatemalan judicial system and government accountable and responsible. She has gone on countless number of hunger strikes at National Palace. She has gone after 150 congressmen. It was her works that directly was impacted in pushing the Guatemalan congress to pass  the 2008 Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women, as officially recognizing femicide as a punishable crime. But most importantly, "when you talk about violence, we are seen as feminists. But when we talk about victims, we do not talk about genders.  We are all affected and we cannot separate genders here, We consider all victims as a whole and that is why our staffing is is equally balanced with the same opportunities. My first goal was to make sure people had place to go, safe place, a shelter. Now Fundacion Sobrevivientesis the best in Central America. Their legal team is now 1500 and the 20, 00 victims who ever came for help are still safe and alive.

Later in her office we saw a picture of her with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama In 2009 she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award!

“From Guatemala, Norma Cruz. We are recognizing her
    for her unyielding efforts to end the culture of impunity
    surrounding the murder and other forms of violence against
    women in Guatemala. At great risk to her personal safety,
    Norma Cruz has been outspoken and extraordinarily brave, and
    we are honored to have her with us today.”

Norma Cruz & Claudia Hernandez Cruz

Claudia here is the executive director, and next year is going to be a criminologist. And that boyfriend, they are happily married with two daughters. "As you can see I have my granddaughters. My goal was to prove that these victims can be happy again. I do realize that I have to start take caring of self, as those hunger strikes did affect me. But I am not going to stop, still following up and continue to follow up.

See Also:

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Captain Fantastic: A Reflection on our Future Generations to the realities of Death and Closure

It is not very often do I laugh in film. Mainly, I believe it is because what is broadcasted mainstream is often correlated to the extreme ideologies and insensitivities, such those exhibited by certain Trump supporters, we are so many are terrified of.  From breasts and genitalia to mocking other cultures, races, or genders, this content most often never provides a method which allows us to critically think about the societies around us in the real world.

Captain Fantastic was an incredible roller coaster Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic took me on. I do not think I have ever laughed so uncontrollably to the point of crying (believe the last similar experience was ‘Alive Inside’). It definitely tapped into feelings, values, understandings, and experiences, and it definitely was empowering to know others are challenging our stagnant realities. From funerals and closure, education and critical thinking, parenting and honesty, and the to understanding has happened through the choices in urbanization and understanding modern agricultural practices

Almost everyone will experience being a parent, babysitter or (unknowingly or not) a role model to the youth we shape around us. Our society, preoccupied with censorship, seems to have a very hard time giving honest answers to children. Death and sex are one of the major contenders of lack of honesty. But aren't those some of the most difficult conversations for us to have, because we couldn't find the confidence to. But what if we were honest and reduce the stress and hype to begin with? One of the key goals of parenting is to provide a safe space for children to come to you for answers and support. Who are you really protecting when you’re not providing information they will inevitably confront? Wouldn’t you rather it come from you than someone or something else that may not have the same consideration for them? Whether it be about how a baby is conceived to mental illness, child developmental psychologists lead that it is the parents and those around them that teach children to be deal with stress by being dishonest and to lie. What is really aiding the cousins at the dinner table about not just being honest what happened to their aunt. Suicide is a hard reality so why not benefit our children for being aware of the signs and the realities of countering unhappiness. Mother Meg Rosoff gives personal insight on how You can’t protect children by lying to them - the truth will hurt less. Like when the youngest asks about sex and rape, the father is honest and matter-of-fact about the differences it is consensual for pleasure, procreation, while the other be degrading and disrespectful. The child cringed, not because she was scared, but because she was educated and aware of good and bad behaviours.

Education is to be a tool to understanding, but what is its purpose if we are not using it to its full potential? Two main scenes stand out to me in the film when the father is pushing the daughter to think more critically, and encouraging her to go beyond the synopsis, rather towards her personal feelings of reading Lolita. More specifically, the point was proven after a parental debate on the effectiveness and capability of father’s home-schooling over public education. The teenage boys could hardly convey what the the country’s Bill of Rights was, while the eight year old girl not only versed out but could independently explain the fundamental importance of upholding basic human rights. Education must be about nourishing children’s understanding of facts beyond memorization. We treat and educate children like we assume children cannot think critically for themselves but in fact it is us holding them back from reaching their potential. Sir Ken Robinson who throughout his career, has dedicated to ensure youth are growing up towards their potential, whatever form of education parents choose, that currently:
Do schools kill creativity : “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.” What he is describing, is education that originates for the purpose of feeding the Industrial Age that feeds consumerism and the challenges we face today of blind exploitation. Like the education the father has given to his children, will greatly exceed the money of academics. They will most definitely be the leaders and initiators for sustainable living. As Ken Robinson concludes, “The only way we'll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way -- we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.” We all want the best for our children.

One of the major in-your-face eye-openers was at the very beginning when the family worked together to kill and gut a deer for meat. Forget the most violent human - to - human violence, instead I hear a great cringe from the audience. The volume of violence on our screens is definitely  messing with our psychies on the emotions that truly matter. Funny enough, seeing the respect and care they took towards the animal, over the processes promoted by superstores, I can relate. It is because I've done it myself, growing up in an environment where my parents, frustrated over continuously contending with the moral of the meat we wanted to eat that  was not raised or treated well, decided to do it ourselves, even when it is emotionally difficult to do the act of killing.
My experiences growing up raising produce and animals on a hobby farm

Having left that environment and stepped into urban life, I have began to see the hypocrisies of opinions over animals and food. I have had into adulthood, people shocked and horrified that we raise and butcher ourselves, while they are completely in support of eating their McDonald's burger. So why not shame the acts of violence and disrespect over shaming the complete intake of a particular animal? Often those who have never lived out of the comforts of their kind of society, for example Western North America, find it hard to grapple with mindfulness in respecting cultural sensitivity and diversity,  or making the distinction of viewing animals other than pets.Given the encouragement to think critically about our consumption and impact, we have the power of clearheaded choice. Much like this 11-year old boy motivated to come on TED Talk on What’s wrong with our food system, the children of this film were encouraged with the necessary awareness to be the next generations to a sustainable society that is no longer solely dictated by business.
Another lovely topic the film brings up is that of what happens after a loved one dies. Do all parts of family respect the wishes of the deceased despite differences in personal views? How about setting personal views of others aside, so to work together from the common struggles of dealing loss and healing? The film confronts not only the harsh realities currently in our societies who lack the respect of either the deceased and family choices, but also the methods we go about in hopes of finding a sense of closure. Focus their efforts to the Psychology of Death and Dying as Kubler-Ross, we are beginning to understand the  stress and human dissatisfaction that has come from businesses preying on those who are most vulnerable, promising closure, and leaving people with massive death debts, while it was not the wishes of the deceased in the first place. Let wills and respecting wishes be the family's process of healing and even learning more about this loved one, by respecting their loved ones freedom of choice one last time. The second theme found in the film,  is the importance of following through with an effective process of grieving, which is inevitably following what the loved one asked to be done. The father and kids would have had an unbearable and family-breaking result, if they had not had the safe space to express how they felt from the loss. In their case, they did not feel that there was respect from the parents of their daughter wanted; to not have a funeral in a church, to be cremated and have her remains flushed down the toilet. Moreover, it is a reminder that you have to really be part of the process to achieve personal healing. Just look at the power of music for this. In a TED Talk, Nancy Burns discusses going Beyond Closure, concluding, "We live in a culture that tells us to be happy all the time. Sometimes, life sucks, bad things happen. Knowing that joy and grief can be held together is so important, because it’s a long journey without the possibility of joy."

Moreover an aerospace engineer once told me that “Joy and grief are BOTH necessary. Experiencing one without enough of the other devalues both. If things are going too smooth, there's a good chance you aren't going anywhere. In the same way, if things are too rough, you won’t be going anywhere either. Suitable perturbations are necessary to move forward or change paths: be it in life, or in physics (yay Newton!)”. Other works please see The Final Frontier

Films like Captain Fantastic are excellent reminders and providers of empathy. There is no superhero as no one is perfect, but there is something pretty super in the ability to apologize and say you’re sorry. Even if it was not one that tickled your fancy, it helps to understand others’ point of view, and to see where we can meet the common ground of values and needs.



Canadians for a Sustainable Society #SustainableCND

Born to lie - CBC Ideas
Snapshot of Different Learning in the Classroom
Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor Frankl


Tuesday 14 June 2016

Màmawi Together, Hon. Senator Murray Sinclair, & The Critical Role of Education in Reconciliation

Senator Murray Sinclair speaking at 4th Annual Aboriginal Lecture Series

One of the most important messages from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the report to redress the catastrophic legacy of residential schools and the degradation of our Canadian indigenous populations, is this can no longer be just seen as an indigenous issue. It is a Canadian issue.

We cannot move forward until the country as a whole understands and addresses this systemic inter-generational trauma as indigenous and non-indigenous. It is time for the Canadian government along with all its citizens, to move from ignorance and discrimination to empathy and understanding. As the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, First Nations lawyer,  chair of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Senator, had explained: “Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts”.

'Project of Heart 'witness pieces' created by students 
And that is just what husband and wife Tim O’Loan and Margaret Embleton of Ottawa have been empowered to do as models, like their marriage of indigenous and non-indigenous cooperation. The couple realized that a word was needed for Canadians of all backgrounds to better understand the concept of reconciliation is. As Margaret explained, Màmawi in Algonquin, the language and territory of the Ottawa region, means “Together”.  Together is exactly how we achieve reconciliation. Màmawi Together is a grassroots initiative of parents, students, community and cooperative supporters working together to bring indigenous awareness, education, and reconciliation projects to life. Tim and Margaret initiated this organization in order to grow more caring and inclusive communities based on greater knowledge, respect, and action of indigenous persons.

Ottawa River Singers

Màmawi-Together began by contacting parent-teacher associations, and their hard work and determination has lead them to host their 4th Annual Lecture Series on May 25, 2016 at Rideau High School in Ottawa.

Featured at the Lecture Series was Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair. Sinclair discussed the critical role of education in reconciliation. The event opened with the Ottawa River Singers presenting to an auditorium packed with people of all ages and backgrounds. One of the drummer's baby sits on his lap as he drums. Barbara Hill, Algonquin Elder and Meeka Kakudluk, an Inuit Elder began with blessings and prayers. Gabrielle Fayant represented Metis youth affected by the seven generations of abuse and separation from the Canadian government. Senator Sinclair opened the floor with a powerful art interpretation of Aaron Peter's “The Perfect Crime” as a reminder that through art comes a critical point of healing.

 “From unmarked graves, their bones cry out” -Aaron Peters

Residential schools were instituted by the Canadian government and was justified by non-indigenous families due to inherent prejudice and discrimination. The separation of indigenous children into church-run school was ordered, followed by years of beatings, sterilizations, and sexual abuse in the name of unlearning their indigenous identities. The Residential School Era has left inter-generational trauma during their 116 years of existence. The last residential school was closed in 1996, and the effects on indigenous youth in contemporary society is apparent today. 

Ottawa River Singers
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Sinclair explained,  came from such legal breakthroughs as Blackwater v. Plint (2005) which concluded the ability to sue a church. The United Church of Canada was held as a responsible factor for physical, sexual, spiritual, and mental abuse of these generations. The government was held as the primary responsibility as Indian Affairs was deemed superintendent for the children once they were taken away from their families. The Catholic Church has yet to make a formal apology. 

But Senator Sinclair reminded the audience that it was not just the residential schools that are responsible for this mistreatment of our indigenous populations, including Metis, and Inuit, but also private and public schools. Since colonization, schools have continued to teach the inferiority of indigenous persons while failing to incorporate education that include non-colonial narratives of indigenous peoples' history and existing social structure. Government policy makers and businessmen who also have also gone through this education system have consequently, felt apathetic and justified to breaking land treaties throughout the years. From pagan, to savage, to degenerate, we have taught Canadians to be apathetic to this inhuman and degrading treatment throughout these many generations, leaving indigenous populations a the very lowest socio-economic level.

Sinclair himself admits, he himself was victim to these single-sided narratives, taught to believe the Western way of life as superior or progressive, even though "we have never been told what the other, the alternative even was”.  It wasn’t even until 1970 that Sinclair could hear the first indigenous drumming, as it had been illegal up until then. Once out of university, Sinclair began connecting the dots and challenging the narrative of the treatment of indigenous Canadians.

Every nation believes in the importance of educating young people. The following video best describes the current situations and the positive role this reconciliatory education currently plays.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action asks all Canadians to participate in the education of our citizens regarding the indigenous peoples' plight(s). it is the job of Canadians to start educating our youth, alongside our workforce. If all Canadians young and old have old heard or care to listen to such such single-sided narratives, how do you ever create empathy, respect, and understanding? Many Canadians remain blinded by their prejudice, but thankfully these initiatives are finally starting to receive more recognition, even if it is just the arts. We must look beyond and challenge these toxic and degrading stereotypes. Reconciliation begins by initiative, of listening to the accounts and impacts of the legacy of the residential schools. Initiatives like Màmawi-Together and Project of Heart open up community dialogue for issues such as to why and how their are so many missing and murdered indigenous women, why and how this demographic has the highest prison and suicide rates, why and how they still have the lowest access to education, and why and how there remains unsanitary water. It is time to hold the TRC's Call To Action and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples seriously.

Members of Mamawi Together

Saturday 23 April 2016

April 22, 2016: Earth Day and the Paris Agreement Towards Sustainable Societies

Earth Day, April 22nd has rolled around again since its first commemoration in 1970,  founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson. This time Prime Minister Trudeau has travelled to New York for the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.. This was, that in November 2015, Canada and 194 other countries reached this international agreement to address climate change that is “ambitious, durable and applicable to all parties”. Its framework recognizes the important roles of subnational governments, civil society, and the private sector. It also highlights Indigenous, community, human and gender rights. In specifics these countries pledged to work to limit the temperature rise overall below 2 degrees Celsius, but are aiming to achieve a temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2025 and 2030.

“The number of countries that have indicated their intention to attend and sign the Paris Agreement on 22 April is now up to 155”, said the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary General Farhan Haq in a press conference last Friday. It has been proclaimed to be a record number of countries to sign, validate and then to ratify it. They must also submit a proposal plan for actions for the agreement to be effective. Although, under International Law, signing treaties does not hold the power of enforcement but rather the voluntary dedication to individual countries to uphold the treaty. Preceding the negotiation period the signing of the treaty is to represent each of the states involved between national delegations as expression of intention to comply with the treaty. This process, however is not binding. In fact it is open to a far range of flexibility for countries to modify how they would like. For the next process is for each state to deal with it according to its own national procedures. Only after the approval has been granted under a state’s own internal procedures, will it notify the other country parties under ratification that they consent to be officially bound by the treaty.

Trudeau is holding plenty of baggage as newly elected Prime Minister after the UN Conference Board reports Canada  with a ‘D’ 14th among 16 countries when it comes to environmental performance; that’s just above United States and Canada. Nine years can greatly tarnish a country’s focus on the environment, of which was blatantly disclosed internationally when former PM Harper removed Canada from the Kyoto Accord. From our geographic size, to our society’s persistence of using dirty energy through coal and oil, our obsession with achieving an American Dream though ownership of gas-guzzling cars. So much of these large policy decisions have been the voices and pressures of the large corporation powers, which have taken control of the room. Where are the train systems that European and Asian countries are flaunting their environmental consciousness? Where is the business in alternative energy taking advantage to our geographical diversity?  Thus, it is not just a political or policy change but a cultural shift.

We hear the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ almost everyday but how well do those who hear and use these terms. One definition is an ability or capability of something to be maintained or to sustain itself. It’s about taking what we need to live now, without jeopardizing, the potential for people in the future to meet their needs
Sustainability is what most government policies struggle with. Even if a party at the time has truly made the years of dedication toward, sought insight from many consultants, research groups, and citizens voicing concerns; sustainability falls through the cracks of bureaucracy. Through elections we have lost focus of upholding sustainable goals and values. Parties have measured their focus so far to the left or to the right that they become blinded to working with what we have already established and how we can continue long-term rather than only foresight of  four years. It is however very reassuring that MPs including the House Speaker, are standing up against the party bureaucracy in order to focus on making more representative, partnership and planning in order to make Canada a more sustainable society by listening to civil society.

Referring to the political will and the wave of action that allowed for the agreement’s adoption, UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said in a talk at TED 2016 last February in Vancouver, “Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an attitude.” Perhaps, Prime Minister’s focus on Youth empowerment is just is just the step into the sustainable society we need and have been looking for.
See Also:
What is a Sustainable Society?: #sustainableCND

Sources of International Law explained:

Tuesday 19 April 2016

The Mockingjay, Guatemala and Canada: Reflections from the Hunger Games

While living in Guatemala City, a few of us girls under Equipo Forense Internacional took the afternoon off to watch the highly anticipated final part of The Hunger Games. It provided me with a much deeper reflection than before and brought a meaningful conclusion to the situation for Guatemala and my own country. 

 The book and the film have always intrigued me (other than being far more meaningful and far more empowering than the other teen book and movie series at its time ...cough..Twilight...). I have found that I have grown with the story throughout my undergrad in Conflict Studies and Human Rights, minoring in Psychology. Suzanne Collins has woven quite a few parallels between the novel's political, social, cultural and environmental messaging to our own world's truths and realities pertaining to both historical and contemporary issues. The messaging is a reminder that truly history repeats itself if both citizens and governments do not hold themselves accountable. Despite our innovations, we continue to forget, dismiss the pleas that have always been there, and continue to be silenced. Just some themes I found to have stood out include: the effects of being under control of tyrannical oppression, the propaganda of keeping citizens dorment, the control of first world over third world states, the psychological effects of killing, how rebel and extremist groups form and the propaganda around it that labels whole groups as enemies. The conception of the arena and its dangers, the weapons, the different machines - all are very futuristic but not too unreal. Thus we can see a direct relationship with the real world, which makes the story even scarier and the criticism fiercer.

 Having had Guatemala's history and contemporary issues fresh in my mind I must have been sensitive to any occurring similarities. I sat in the theater wondering if these citizens ever felt the empowerment to do the same, rebel again, or assassinate a president due to the continuous oppressive corruption and blatant disparity. For example, Katniss in Mockingjay at knife point exclaims: “We have either reason to kill each just goes around and around and around...I am done being be pieces of his game. Why are you fighting the rebels, your family? These people are not your enemy. We have only one enemy, Snow. He turns the best of us against each other”. 

 So what really defines a radical or terrorist, like the Capitol labels to those who are so desperate for basic rights? It is now an open fact that it was the US CIA led coup to remove Guatemala’s hero presidents Juan Jose Arevalo (1945-1951) and Jacabo Arbenz Guzman (1951- 1954) because he was deemed a threat to US’s United Fruit Company. Companies as this were supported by the country’s authoritarian rulers and the US government through their support for labor regulations and massive concessions to wealthy landowners. After a series of authoritarian governments and great political instability, he was one of the most progressive presidents representative of the human rights and livelihood of his citizens, with sweeping social and economic reforms, including significant increases in literacy and a successful agrarian reform programs. See first hand footage in the film When The Mountains Tremble (Youtube FULL). No wonder much of the rest of the world is skeptical when all they see that human rights are the white and rich. 

 These progressive policies led the United Fruit Company lobbying the US government for their overthrow, and a US-engineered coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a military regime in its place. From that point on military governments took over, then sparking the brutal and genocidal 36 year Civil War (1960-1996) backed by the US military, the same one I helped uncover mass graves from! Catholic and California-based Evangelical churches had popped up, supported by the US government to preach “blessed be to those who suffer”. It was this ‘good-Christian’ mindset that the worst of the massacres, rape and genocides were conducted from Lucas Garcia (1973 - 1982) to General Rios Montt (1982-1983) including the scorched earth campaign, and the Plan de Sanchez massacre in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz of which I went to visit and heard the heart-wrenching recollections of locals there. Sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, Israel, and Reagan government, Rios Montt, a former minister, his signature for his campaign was “ If you are with us, we’ll feed you, if you are not, we’ll kill you”. 

 Now, just think on that for a minute: the height of the Cold War paranoia, not only is the government saying they will kill you, but just how do you think they decipher as an ‘enemy’? On what grounds? Let me just tell you, there was no such consideration as a fair trial for justification of gunning down hundreds and thousands of men, women and children. On December 4, 1982 Reagan declared, “ President Rios Montt is a man of great passion personal integrity and commitment...I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice”. Much like the praising relations with Hitler just before the war, Reagan even claimed Guatemala’s human rights conditions were improving and used this to justify several major shipments of military hardware to Rios Montt: $4 million in helicopter spare parts and $6.3 million in additional military supplies in 1982 and 1983. The decision was taken in spite of records concerning human rights violations, by-passing the approval from Congress. These records included 1982 Amnesty International report estimated that over 10,000 indigenous Guatemalans and peasant farmers (most of the demographic) were killed from March July and that 100, 000 rural villagers were forced to flee their homes. Estimates of over tens of thousands of non-combatants were killed by the regime’s death squads in the subsequent eighteen months. At the height of the bloodshed under Rios Montt, reports put the number of killings and disappearances at more than 30,000 per month.  These deaths would include the thousands of women abducted and taken into the military camps, repeatedly raped, then killed and buried in mass pits like the recent  Sepur Zarco case. With just a little US propaganda about removing Communism in the name of ‘democracy’ to keep other countries happy, the government and this corporation could do what they pleased, and the rest is history after repressive after repressive leader. It makes me sick to know how many wars, genocides and endless human rights violations around the world through proxy wars as Latin America, Vietnam and Laos. And the reality is that all the hundreds of thousands of individuals who were labeled Communists, in order to justify their violent deaths, where individuals who half the time had no idea what the term  even meant, rather just families like you or I. Therefore whenever I hear that name in the media, news or conversation I remind myself to question just what exactly you are using that label for and what are the root causes. Do you feel comfortable everything you hear? We fight a war against terrorism while our own money funds their gun supply.

As I hear the repeated phrase of “Never Again” in The Hunger Games and our own history and media, I now cringe as it is used over and over while the same disparity continues over. Plutark letter at the end of Mockingjay critiques this : “Now we're in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated," he says. "But collective thinking is usually short-lived. We're fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss."

 To my horror after visiting the interactive exhibit in Guatemala City, Por que estomos? (Why are we the way we are?) Por una convivencia digna/ Internaitional Training Institute Training Institute for Social Reconcilliation and Centro de investigacianes negionales de mesoamerica, so many of these last couple generations since the Civil War (1960-1996) have little knowledge as to the extent their governments carried out mass killings on non-combatants as acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. Why? Because their governments and the powers of control continue to refuse to hold themselves accountable past to present as their research proves. And why is it now one of the most violent countries in the world? Because the powers that are supposed to be in support of citizens’ well-being including the justice system and police, are left alone in fear and distrust from all the impunity. The sad part is, that technically you can say, a tyrant is gone, but where is the repair? Why are those who are ‘elected’ in, continue to not take the responsibility to work on fixing the issues that were created in the first place. Conveniently, this information continues to be left out of the history books, continues to leave out any progressive dialogue and organizational funding for social support for the families lost and those now paying the ultimate cost. As a result, there are little effective measures to crack down on the reasons of the endless cycle of violence. Up until Canada’s  recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the treatment of our own indigenous continue to mistreated, discriminated and refused equal social support as the rest of the population as we were left ignorant to the truths of history. The recent Attawapiskat suicides is just a glimpse that has been going on for years. Canada has also sent citizens to POW concentration camps during war times, has been quick to accept a label another as an enemy, as we have done to “communist” to “terrorist/guerilla”. Like the Hunger Games, the over-dramaticized shows, or the offensively shallow humour, we remain dormant; taken little social responsibility for the violence and discrimination which starts as a child is born. Just as Haymitch notes in Catching Fire: “They will continue to play your love story so people forget what the real problems are”.

">Democracy is never officially presented in the book as a model to follow. Collins goes beyond the simplistic and is not afraid to show the limits. From Winston Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried”, I am appreciative of this from the endless debates we had in classes on the pros, cons  and challenges of democratically run states. Much of the academic discussions included how transitioning democratic models of government can be just as dangerous than per se a dictatorship, and the vast variety in whether a state will hold any amount of legitimacy and accountability (Goldstone, Jack). Collins addresses today’s people, those in power right now and the present population: “Everyone,” Plutarch tells him. “We’re going to form a republic where the people of each district and the Capitol can elect their own representatives to be their voice in a centralized government. Don’t look so suspicious; it’s worked before.” “In books,” Haymitch mutters. “In history books,” says Plutarch. “And if our ancestors could do it, then we can, too.” Frankly, our ancestors don’t seem much to brag about. I mean, look at the state they left us in, with the wars and the broken planet. Clearly, they didn’t care about what would happen to the people who came after them. But this republic idea sounds like an improvement over our current government.”

As vaguely hinted at in Mockingjay we can promise fairness and justice during, after rebellion, civil or ethnic conflict but most often the system and former political members have not just suddenly changed their values and methods of leadership from its history's dictatorship. So where do these former party leaders go? I’ll tell you. In Guatemala after the 1996 Peace Accord which in part, a Truth Commission was brought up, the military was disbanded. Then left jobless, they began to saturate into the police and justice system, taking on the same dirty work and bribery as they had learned in their previous career. These generations of police would continue to agree to bribes to let murderers discard of the evidence, not to mention the thousands of XX uninvestigated female femicide victims. Now there has been some international work such as with the Justice Education Society training in 2003-2011 with police and justice (see Most Violent Place on Earth film). Research and individuals on the ground as Christian Silva of EFI-IFIFT and the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses de Guatemala did express some positive outlooks on the newest generations of police and justice force but are still highly controlled from these ex-military.  As a result, I now hold a critical eye on Peace Treaties and Peace Accords, even though they are the very thing I hope for during the war and terror of conflict. This just marks the very beginning of the work to come. Just like Snow’s white roses, I see the statues of peace hands erected all around Guatemala City and the fresh white roses placed in their Cultural Palace. I see the dissatisfaction and lack of legitimacy and accountability they represent to so many Guatemalans; a false hope.

Furthermore, I want to discuss the real-world similarities around the centrality around Panem as a representation of just what first-world nations do to control of third-world countries. Just as we see the great poverty and abuse of the Districts in order to benefit of the first world in blinding ignorance, denial and desensitization of the real horrors of violence of the Hunger Games and the poverty of the Districts they live in, we see the glorified violence in our own games and entertainment. Guatemala, like the hundreds more countries that are pushed around and ‘raped’ of their resources, are without a fair payment, polluting and worsening corruption. And in most cases, these first-world countries like the US and Canada involve themselves calling it humanitarian aid or economic trade when their work contrary to our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a recent New York Times article Guatemalan Women’s Claims Put  Focus on Canadian Firms’ Conduct Abroad Mrs. Caal said, the men who had come to evict her from land they said belonged to a Canadian mining company also took turns raping her. After that, they dragged her from her home and set it ablaze. I soon found out this was not the only matter.

Ottawa artist Radchild Productions:

Just before the 2015 Canadian Elections I was presented to summarize a recently published book The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy , by Yves Engler. To my horror I learned of Canada’s disgraceful relations to Central and South America. Chapter after chapter was documented evidence of just how many multi-disciplinary issues had seriously risen up under the Harper government, from the tar sands and environment, to the Arab Spring, bombing Libya, concerning relations with Israel, at war with Lebanon and Iran, the consequences of our militarism and promotion as a warrior nation, mining, and business above all else. As Englar expresses, “No matter how much Canadians wish we were simply known for hockey or our comedians, the mining industry increasingly represents Canada abroad...thousands of projects outside of Canada, displaced communities, destroyed ecosystems and provoked violence. Pick almost any country in the Global South - from Papua New Guinea, to Ghauna, Ecuador, and the Philippines”. To understand some of the unrest, on a pre-planned visit to Chiapas, Governor General Michaelle Jean and deputy minister Peter Kent were greeted with chants of "Canada get out". During a July 2007 trip to Chile PM Harper was greeted with signs stating "Harper go home" and " Canada: What's HARPERing here?" This has been because not only did the Harper government provide huge support for the large companies as Barrick Gold, the funds had been pumped through internship and development projects. In June 2011, CIDA announced. $6.7 million in funding, the biggest was between Plan Canada and IAMGOLD...."to respond to the needs of the mining company..that the number of Graduates are expected to go directed into jobs at mining company". The company's CEO warned miners "I have zero tolerance for strikers. I will not tolerate anything that is negative to our stakeholders.The other two NGO-mining company projects announced by CIDA, were $500000 to to project between World University Service and Rio Tinto AlCAN, then $500000 to World Vision Canada Barrick Gold projects. In response, Miguel Palacin, the head of a Peruvian indigenous organization sent a letter to World Vision, Barrick and CIDA claiming that "no 'social works' carried out with the mining companies can compensate the damage done, particularly in the face of the rights having been violated". It is important to note from Engler’s research that CIDA-funded NGO-mining contracts are problematic:

1) taxpayers should not subsidize the social responsibilities of highly profitable mining companies,
2) while such CIDA contracts further weaken NGOS critical of Canadian operations while strengthening those groups willing to defend the work with mining companies,
3)it places moral weight of the aid agency (and NGOs) on the side of the company.

Not only Canada’s mining relations, but the power of corporations and the focused mindset of business above all else has prevented of social change in the Latin Americas. For example, Engler reports of the impact of international political interference, when new policies do not help powerful corporations. “The coup in Paraguay had been the primary tool of foreign interference in this region”. Canada was one of only a handful of countries in world that immediately recognized new government: "Canada notes that Fernando Lugo (of Paraguay) has accepted the decision of the Paraguayan Senate to impeach him and that a new president Ferderico Franco has been sworn in" said Deputy foreign minister Ablonczy the day after the coup which was premature. Both the Canadian Labour Congress and IndustiALL Global Union criticized the Conservative's move to recognize the new government.
Then 3 weeks after Lugo alluded to Ottawa's hostility, " the coup now attempts to attack the South American regional integration efforts". On a couple of occasions the overthrown president claimed Canadian economic interests contributed to the coup saying, " those who wanted to solidify the
negotiations with the multi-national Rio Tinto Alcan... for a $4 billion aluminum plant". Even Vice President Franco had complained, "I told the president why did you send me to Canada to study the aluminum project if Deputy Minister (Mercedes) was going to oppose it". After the coup the vice president became president and Franco announced that negotiations with Rio Tinto Alcan would be fast tracked.

Then in 2009, Canada’s government supported the Honduran military removal of elected president Zelaya.  Soon after demonstrators took to the streets calling for return of president. In the midst of state backed repression, the Conservatives gave the regime a boost of legitimacy by commencing bilateral trade negotiations in October 2010 which was designed largely to serve the interests of Canadian investors, some $600 million but 10 Honduran human rights organizations reposed with "Pronouncement Rejecting the Extractive. Policy towards a more united Latin America joining the Bolivian Alliance for the People of our Americas, while post-coup withdrew the bilateral trade deal between Canada and Honduras" claimed the agreement would lead to further abuses by Canadian mining companies. Zelaya had tried to raise the minimum wage in 2009 but was blocked by Montrael-based Gildan, which met regularly with Foreign Affairs under pressure from US-based Maquila Solidarity, Nike, Gap and other US apparel operating in Honduras called for restoration of democracy. Gildan had refused to sign, whom is dependent on producing apparel at the lowest cost possible. Harper told reporters on a tour of the facility "Gildan pays about minimum wage. It runs health, nutrition and transport programs..and is a very good corporate citizen", while demonstrators carried banners criticizing its labor practices an Harper's support for the coup. Some tried to deliver an open letter to the PM by the Honduran Women's Collective explaining that the production quotas imposed are the highest in the Industry in Honduras. In 2008 Zelaya responded to grassroots pressure and announced no new mining concessions would be granted. Much to the annoyance of Canadian mining companies that dominate the Honduras Extractive industry, the coup interrupted final reading to raise royal rates and greater community consent. Vancouver-based Goldcorp had provided money. The most concerning aspect to me is the tarnished reputation that has been established in those 10 years and how hard it will be to ever re-establish a positive and trusting representation. Remember, those businessmen, or farmers affected don’t know we had a change in government who value upholding respectful and accountable relations. No matter how much people put blame, we need a government for a state to exist, so rather than complaining about it, actively participate in order of to monitor accountability

Lastly on a more positive note, I would like to acknowledge the role Katniss plays in opening discussion for the reality of violence, corruption and the struggle of dealing with trauma. Katniss struggles with overcoming loss and the trauma she and those around her face. Katniss' voice of humanity and realism is so very refreshing; for once this narrative is not silenced by the glorification of war we see in far too many stories and dialogues. She shows us the emotional and physical pain, the trauma of violence of which the protagonist and those around her continue to struggle with. From this it opens up the discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is very real and a very real human response we see around the world, diagnosed or not, as Lt. Col. Dave Grossman writes in the novel I am reading On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Just consider all the children who live though violence in domestic homes, interstate violence, ethnic conflict, the youth who are forced to kill their families and manipulated into killing machines or provide no other source of income other than join forces and destroy ‘another’ to survive or for a duty from a great threat to their nation. Some of these families I have met, all experienced serious trauma and after decades, still have little sense of closure. The character Gale, was so focussed on killing those of the Capitol,  says sometimes “you gotta think that the killing is not personal." But, Katniss responds right back, “I of all p
eople, know that it is personal". Seeing first hand the catastrophic effects of systemic fear, distrust, lack of proper support and social services, we need good reminders in our first world lives. As I sit in that Guatemalan theatre I wonder if at the ending scene they take her words to heart in dealing with and overcoming the pain of loss and trauma of violence, as the family we uncovered  the mass graves of:

"My children, who don't know they play on a graveyard. Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I'll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won't ever really go away. I'll tell them how I survive it. I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years. But there are much worse games to play.”

The Political Message of The Hunger Games

Guatemala: political security and socio-economic conditions and U.S. Relations

Digging Guatemala: Anthropologists Look For Clues To Past Political Killings