Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Guatemala Journey: Part III

The Human Rights delegation focused on Violence Against Women, which is endemic in the machismo Guatemalan culture and includes forcible, coerced adoption or kidnapping of children for child trafficking.

The issue was raised by many we visited: NGOs, those working in the field with victims of domestic violence and midwives, and those who worked with sexoservadios (sex workers ) - at times without even being asked. (But when it wasn't, Karen Rotabi, Prof at VCU asked!)

At our visit to Norma Cruz' Foundacion Sobrevivientes we did not get to meet Ms. Cruz herself, but instead we were met by her articulate daughter, Claudia Maria Hernandez, who told us that the violence is worsening. Others we met had noted this trend, stating that during the was you knew who your enemy was. I gave Claudia a shirt that reads: Hermandad y Solidaridad (Sisterhood & Solidarity).
Shirts are available at CafePress.

Last year six thousand Guatemalans were violently murdered, more than 700 just for being female - of all ages - and this year there already 300 more murders than last year at this time. Some were pregnant women. Women are attacked in their homes and on the streets. 55% of the femicide is committed by someone known to, or hired by some known to, the victim.

Regarding adoption Claudia told us that "the foundation is not against adoption. We are against the business of taking children for profit and exporting them....Children need a mother not to be sold for dollars."

She also informed us of two layers from the inspector general's office in charge of orphans have been selling the orphans, and a judge is being investigated for "abnormal adoptions."

At the Myrna Mack Foundation - a well known and respected human rights NGO which issued a recent report on violence against woman, we sit in a large conference room and view professionally made power point presentations, as we had at the Survivors Foundation.

We are reminded that the U.S. is the number one country adopting from Guatemala and that it is a $250 million dollar a year industry there with many babies being stolen.

We are told of women being "raped to produce children for trafficking in adoption."

At Presbiterio Kaqchikel, in Chimaltenango, which offers medical testing and psychological counseling for sex workers -- approximately 250 in a city of 60,000 -- Carolina Alvarado tells us of an "improper adoption" and that women are coerced to have their babies taken into adoption; "they are victims of trickery. They tell her someone will care for her child while she is working and steal her child."

Here, in a more rural setting than the previous two foundations, we are told of one case in which the grandmother received 5 thousand quetzals for her daughter's baby: $607.79 U.S. The 17 year old gave birth and did not want to relinquish her child, but her mother insisted. The grandmother's husband, we are told, saw the baby as a source of income. Not what many perspective adopters are led to believe that the women themselves often sell their babies.

At Association Neuvos Horizontes (New Horizons), a rural refuge and holistic service center in Quetzaltenango for victims of violence provided services for 1800 women last year and estimate 2400 this year. They have 35 workers, 15 in the shelters. Women are given the opportunity to share their story in a safe, validating environment and then are referred for services such as legal, psychological or shelter - depending on their need. two layers work there and another two within the court system. Women are provided accompaniment to all court appearances and all services are provided at no cost.

Maria Batres, a social worker tells us that 99.9% of Guatemalan women experience domestic violence.

Women who immigrate to the U.S. are often losing their children to CPS because of lack of interpreters in the courts for Myans, many of whom do not speak Spanish.

Batres tell us that it is "very common for abusive husbands to force women to accept payments by baby brokers. Many such women come seeking help, even if they are not being abused. Very common."

We visit two different prodomos (midwife) facilities. At CODECOT in Xela (photo left) we learn that 80% of all birth are assisted by the midwives, outside of hospitals. This is not because of lack of ability to pay for the hospital services, but because of trust. We are served a bounty of delectable, fresh steamed vegetables for lunch.

At At ACAM Midwifery Project, Concepcion Chiquirichapa, Elena Ixcot speaks of the 36 midwives and 21-22 who are currently studying and 13 student midwives. Elena spent 25 years in exile in New England and there she met many U.S. adoptive families who are providing wonderful care for their children. Elana said "No children are given for adoption in this town." One of our delegates said it reminded her of colleges who say there are no rapes on their campuses.

Elena and many of her midwife companaros, as well as her husband speak of the need to revive the Myan ways especially in the face of TV and cell phones which have led to young people having less respect for their elders than in the days when story telling was the only activity.

Speaking of the the history of the oppression of the Myan people Elena's husband, Felipe reminds us how the workers were made to take the names of those they worked for - just one more way of destroying their culture which honors nature.

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