We first opened the Guatemala Project in 1983.
After the signing of the Peace Accords sixteen years later in 1999, there was a gradual decrease in human rights violations and a corresponding decrease in the number of petitions we received for accompaniment.
This led us to close the project.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stay this way and human rights groups began, once again, to petition us for protective accompaniment and international presence. We re-opened the Guatemala Project in 2003 and currently still maintain a team of 10 full-time volunteers in Guatemala City.
Outside of Guatemala City, we also have a presence in San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Alta and Baja Verapaz, Zacapa, Chiquimula and Chimaltenango and every once in awhile team members are asked by local defenders to travel to other areas such as El Quiché or Sololá.
As of 2010 we have begun to increase our regular presence in both El Quiché and Alta Verapaz.
Because of the complexity of the human rights situation and the high demand for our international accompaniment, presence and observation we identified key themes to help provide a focus for our work. These themes include the struggle against impunity, access to land, environmental degradation and globalization and its effects on human rights.
In addition to this, we also accompany groups that are searching for the truth about Guatemala’s civil war, compensation from it, reconstruction and respect for its victims.
We work to help prevent incidents such as the kidnapping of Gladys Monterroso Velasquez, wife of the Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales, who was taken on March 25, 2009, tortured and later freed by her captors.
Velasquez was kidnapped by three unknown persons wearing balaclavas while she was driving to a restaurant. Fourteen hours later she was freed in a different part of town having suffered physical and psychological trauma.
A month earlier, Morales had threats of assassination against him.
Human rights defenders in Guatemala need us here in Canada to make sure they can stay safe and keep working to protect their human rights.
Here at home, through volunteer recruitment and the formation of political support networks with local communities, organizations and government representatives, we work to build awareness of the threats against both human rights themselves and the defenders we accompany in the field. We also strive to inform the public about the effectiveness of non-violent strategies for addressing conflict.
As is the case with other Peace Brigades International country groups, PBI-Canada is an “anchor” from which the organization’s political and educational work is undertaken. Our work is a necessary compliment to the work of PBI volunteers in the field.
Our presence in places like Guatemala discourages violence against human rights workers because our field volunteers are the symbolic representation of a global movement. This movement includes individuals, organizations and governments who care about what happens to those who work in favour of human rights and will respond to any threats against the personal safety and security of those activists.