Week One in Guatemala. A big success on a few fronts. Extraordinary encounters with prominent and everyday witnesses to the overthrow and civil war. Getting the recording tools and publishing process down. Making the travel process more efficient.
Traveling by bus across Guatemala to Livingston today, a 5-6 hour trip. I’ll be reviewing and transcribing the hours of interviews on the bus. Week one is on-budget, with travel, lodging, food and incidentals coming in under $60 per day. I am adjusting to the joys and challenges of near constant travel. My biggest adjustments so far are balancing time spent on logistics versus hunting down interviews versus writing, editing and posting. I’ve focused on gathering the content and now need to focus on pushing out a consistent volume and quality of posts.
Some of the week’s highlights:
Creating a spontaneous social network here via introductions from my airbnb hosts. Intros beget more contacts beget encounters with remarkable people.
Speaking to classes in the rural town of Santa Lucia, getting stories and political perspectives from middle schoolers. Experiencing both the frightening innocence with which they relate tales of horror from the civil war, and the passion with which they question the motives of American intervention. Going to the market to buy provisions for a spontaneous BBQ and sharing food and drink with teachers and neighbors.
Visiting the Universidade de San Carlos, scenes of student protests through the coup and civil war years. Successive military governments invaded the school and shot teachers and students on campus. The military and the campus were primary sources of guerrillas who left their lives behind and moved to the mountains to oppose the government. Talking to prominent historian and professor Dr. Oscar Pelaez Almengor about the conflicts and the killing of three of his faculty. The mural honors the victims. Cesar, my host, a former congressman and architect, was friends with the fellow painted on the left. Almengor organized the first ever conference on the Arbenz overthrow last year and gifted me with a program.
Visiting the Parliamento Centro Americano to meet with Julio Gonzalez Gamarra, former head and current deputy of the EU-like regional assembly. The picture we are holding is of Jacobo Arbenz on the left, the president deposed in the 1954 CIA coup, Juan Jose Arevalo, the first democratically elected president on the right, and his father in the middle. Humberto Gonzalez Juarez was Arbenz’ secretary, his right hand man. A widely loved national figure who had to escape the country with his family when Arbenz was overthrown. When he returned in the sixties, he was assassinated by the government. Humberto’s son, Julio’s brother, entered politics and was killed by the military in the seventies. Julio entered politics to honor and continue the legacy of his family. The two hour conversation took a dramatic change in tone when the conversation shifted to his father’s story. At the end, when I asked for other contacts, he paused for a long while and began to instruct his secretary and peruse his phone. There will be a meeting of past and present Central American presidents in the Parliamento later this month and he said he would invite me to attend and get more interviews.
Visiting the ASIES policy institute and getting fresh historical insights from Hugo Novales, who wrote his thesis on the life of Arevalo. Hugo was the only interview in English, and as a younger man, provided a more contemporary perspective.
A surreal, amusing and poignant evening chat with politician, preacher and businessman Jorge Fuentes, who swept things off the table and leapt out of his chair for dramatic effect, waved his arms to make key points and diagrammed Guatemalan politics in my notebook. He also wrote down the personal email and cell phone number of his uncle, a former president, who I will contact for an interview.
Coming back from Santa Lucia, teacher Marco Antonio had his mother’s friend Wilma meet me in a dirt lot at 6:45am to catch a bus to Guate (Guatemalan City). She led me around like a little boy with a backpack, holding my hand, sharing treats out of her bag, paying for my bus ticket and wiping away seeds spilled on my book. The bus, a brightly painted, decades old blue Bird school bus, broke down on the highway en route. And we were entertained by a preacher who spontaneously got up in front of my seat, pulled out a bible, then closed his eyes and recited verses for us.
LiAnne is on my case for not posting regularly. Consider me chastened! I have reams of notes and recordings and intend to use this first regional tour to lock down process and style.
Thanks to all the Kickstarter pledgers. We are approaching 40% of the way there after the first 10 days. The Europe, Middle East and Southeast Asia legs of the trip will rely on funding the $10,000 goal. Pledge now!