15 of us arrived for our pre-planned meeting with Embassy officials. Security in the building is tight and after turning in our passports (info had to be sent ahead of time on who would attend along with our passport numbers - were we being screened before being allowed in ? - hum and these folks work for us?) we had to be escorted at all times in the building and moved in groups of 5. We were introduced to the folks that would spend the next hour and 1/2 with us. All except one were actually with USAID. What we came to learn was in the last few months there has been a complete turnover of staff in the areas that focus on human rights and women's rights sections of the Embassy. We met with Ronald Flores and 5 others representing our US system in Guatemala.
Having spent several hours over the previous days to prepare we had an agenda and speakers for each section pre-assigned. A very strategic decision we made was to have a moderator and as soon as we sat down we relayed our plan and it became clear it was our meeting and we would control the time we had together. I got to be the moderator - which was very challenging, but worked. Our goal was to ask the Embassy to consider Violence Against Women a priority in funding and in programmatic and strategic areas.
We wanted to address 5 areas overall which represented what we had seen and learned during our previous days of meetings and discussions: rule of law/impunity and democracy utilizing the Myrna Mack Foundation report, issues around databases that have been required by law for years - data that would provide consistent and reliable information on the demographic and investigative characteristics of femicide cases, funding for domestic violence programs in all 22 departments, education which would focus on economic justice and prevention, and discrimination against indigenous women.
We felt strongly that we were the voices for the women and families we had seen and that we have the privilege and opportunity as US citizens to question and ask how our foreign policy and money is being used in Guatemala. After attempts by GHRC and our group to get information on how much money we spend in Guate and what kind of programs we are supporting we finally got a half answer and were outraged to find that we only spend $500,000 a year on violence against women efforts in Guate. YET we are soon to send two helicoptors to them to fight the narcotics problems that cost $18 million each. With 2 women being murdered everyday in Guatemala and 722 dying last year we pressed that it was not enough funds or demonstrating enough committment from the US government to have the Guatemalan government do more to end this brutality against women.
Many in our group had long relationships with Guatemala and knew in depth the policies, history and practices of the US government, so they were able to challenge some of the responses we were hearing on resources, accountability and initatives aimed at ending the violence.
Speak Truth to Power !!!!
I guess I want to believe we all had the same aims to improve the situation, end the terror and fear women live with in this country and build a responsive and collaborative justice system, sadly though it is a deeply entrenched problem and the United States seems to have made other areas that have more possibility of economic benefit for our country to take precedent. We have the power to use US leverage in Guatemala to do more - our groups hopes to continue along with GHRC to ask for this for the people of this country.