Just as they have for everyone, these last few weeks have changed a lot for me. On Friday, March 13th, I accompanied the Association of Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) to the Ixil Genocide Trials. That day, while we sat and ate lunch, cable news in the restaurant announced that the first case of COVID-19 had been identified in Guatemala. We watched the news, shrugged, and went right back to our conversations. But from that point on, every hour of every day was brought on with a little more collective concern. Things were changing rapidly and everything was becoming increasingly uncertain. On Sunday, a close friend had to make the extremely difficult decision to leave the country due to health concerns. Later that evening, the Guatemalan government announced its borders would be closing at midnight the following day. And by Monday, March 17th, I had to pack my life up and get on a flight 3 hours after buying my ticket. I feel anger, sadness, powerlessness and shame in leaving. Abandonment of my life there. A loss of community. A mourning for the ones I love. Deep concern for their safety. I also know that this all needs to be held in perspective–the virus is going to affect everyone but on a sliding scale, and in vastly disproportionate ways.
As we have seen repeatedly throughout history, in times of shock comes an increase in collective care, but also an increase in militarization, capital exploitation and privatization. Since the first case was announced in Guatemala, the country has only become more militarized, and, just as it has here, inequality has become that much more overt. The Guatemalan government responded by imposing a 4pm-4am curfew. All services deemed “inessential” have been shut down, as well as all public transportation. The informal economy, where 75% of Guatemala’s workforce makes a living, has greatly slowed, causing millions of people to be uncertain about where they will get their next meal. Assemblies and freedom of movement have been completely restricted. The Xinka Parliament, a resistance movement against the Escobal Mine, has, for the last two years, maintained a 24-hour road encampment, blocking the entrance to the mine. As a result of the implementation of a curfew, they have had to make the extremely difficult decision to disband the encampments in order to protect public health. A few hours north, the Swiss-owned Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) mine, ordered to suspend operations last July, has continued to ignore the court order as well as the current curfew orders mandated in response to the COVID-19 health crisis.
COVID-19 has taken over our lives. It has made everything else seem inconsequential, and larger struggles feel impossible to hold. Here in Colorado, we are all called in solidarity to quarantine. Yet, most people, in the US and internationally, cannot quarantine. Most people cannot stop working. Most people do not have the financial capacity to stock up on two weeks of supplies. The virus will kill many, but I fear that hunger will kill more.
“Solidarity Sunflower” by Roger Peet from just seeds collective
COVID 19 is not just a health issue. It is a political issue that is tied up in economic systems that prioritize corporate greed over public safety and social systems that leave our most vulnerable populations unhoused and uncared for. Previously colonized countries will feel the burden of the economic fallout the heaviest. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued to raid neighborhoods and mass incarcerate migrants in for-profit prisons. Although international travel has been barred, deportations have not. Women are being forced to quarantine with abusive partners and access to sexual and reproductive health services are being frozen.
Movements for housing, public health care, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights and economic reform are all fundamental to how we respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Every single movement towards liberation is interconnected, and we need mutuality, human solidarity, and grassroots movements now more than ever.
As the globe becomes more militarized, resistance has become more dangerous. The involvement of and contribution from women and femmes in these resistance movements and solidarity networks is significant and increasing, as are the threats that they face. Our compañeras in Latin America are fighting every day, despite grave risks, to secure a future free of resource privatization, militarization and exploitation. This has not changed in the COVID-19 context.
This letter was written in conjunction with a series I have been working on to highlight the struggles of seven different human rights defenders and to commemorate their lives.