Original article posted on CMI-Guatemala in Spanish on August 11, 2015.
Written by Alba Cecilia Mérida
Translation by NISGUA
On August 8, beneath the energy and protection of Kawok – symbolizing the strength of unity and wisdom – hundreds of women, men, boys, girls, youth, and the elderly gathered in the central park of Santa Cruz Barillas to celebrate life and come together for an Artistic-Cultural Gathering for Peace in Santa Cruz Barillas and Freedom for Political Prisoners.
This gathering is a continuation of many other encounters, caravans, demonstrations, and political actions that have taken place over the years. But now, more than ever, these actions are demanding the timely release of our compañeros from northern Huehuetenango who are being held as political prisoners: Don Tello Villatoro, Don Chico Palas, Arturo Pablo, Saúl Méndez, Rogelio Velásquez, Mynor López, Ermitanio López, as well as Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar, from Santa Eulalia.
The gathering began on Friday, August 7 when 108 people departed from Guatemala City, Totonicapán, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, and from various municipalities of Huehuetenango. Friends from other countries came to join the gathering, where musicians, singers, artists, poets, dancers, rappers, rockers, jugglers, alternative journalists, and other researchers poured all of our creativity and hope into one single demand: FREEDOM for our People.
The day was a gift from our Mother Earth; we felt joy, the sun, art, the wind, dignity. We felt the strength of each person who joined us before [the caravan] left for Barillas. Their support, generosity and solidarity were fundamental in being able to say to the people of Barillas: “Here we are. You are not alone. We are not alone.” In the strict sense, those of us who attended the gathering were not giving, supporting or helping; on the contrary, with our presence, we were returning the sacrifices made by the people of Barillas, Santa Eulalia and others in the region. It is they who have experienced first-hand the merciless attacks by the corporate criminal, Hidro Santa Cruz.
At one moment during the day, Juan Aguirre, one of the singers at the gathering, told Doña Ana Molina, the wife of Don Tello Villatoro: “I cannot come close to imagining your suffering.” Yet when he sang, he reminded us that dreams can become reality and that these dreams are enough to encourage us to not back down from the struggle each of us carry or from the struggle that depends on each of us.
The Artistic-Cultural Gathering for Peace in Santa Cruz Barillas and for Freedom for Political Prisoners included the participation of people from the grassroots and from all four corners. This movement has been articulate and mindful, and has presented creative proposals that rise above the oppression imposed by systems that promote death: political parties, transnational companies, racism, and the State of Guatemala, which at all costs, seeks to crush any sign of the dignity of our peoples. 

At different moments throughout the day, we couldn’t hold back our tears. One such moment was when Mónica Castañeda, Arturo Pablo’s wife, cried when she emphatically said “I know my Arturo. He has only defended his people. That’s why they have imprisoned him.”

 Other moments, only some of us were able to experience. Don Pablo Antonio Pablo was speaking with Rubén, and when I saw them speaking in hushed voices I asked, “What happened?” Rubén said, “He is very sad.” And Don Pablo cried, and cried, and cried for his son. All he could say was “I am sad for my Arturo, but I bless you because you are here with us.” I saw a man sitting on a corner for several hours. I saw him nodding along to many of the things that were being said, and at one point, he came over to me and said, “I am Saúl’s father. I came to get to know those who are supporting my son.” The tears overflowed and the deep sadness swept across the park for each one of the sons, husbands, brothers, grandfathers who are now absent because they are imprisoned. 

Once more, the wives and other family members of the political prisoners showed the deep love they have for and can give to the defense of their life partners. The composure and the strength Doña Ana, Doña Priscila, Doña Guadalupe, Doña Juanita, Carmelia, Zenaida, Juanita, and Mónica possess is a source of inspiration and encourages us to continue to accompany them.

The messages of peaceful resistance from the people of Barillas in the face of repression from Hidro Santa Cruz were overwhelmingly clear: “We want Peace. We respect Mother Earth. We don’t want any more plundering or violence.” More than once, people repeated the phrase: “There is no price on our dignity.”

Each artistic performance moved us. Seldom are we able to connect the energy of those of us who need to live life with intensity and fullness, but this connection of energy took place throughout that beautiful day. I’ll close these few words now with a poem written by Eulalia Hermelinda, an 11-year-old girl from Santa Cruz Barillas. She wrote about what needs to happen so that we all can have peace.
For there to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
For there to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
For there to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
For there to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the homes.
For there to be peace in the homes,
There must be peace in the hearts.
For there to be peace in Barillas,
The Political Prisoners must return to their homes.