WHERE WE COME FROM
The founders of Oxib’ B’atz’ are Maya K’iche’ women from Guatemala. We are from rural communities in the department of Quiché, with a predominantly indigenous population. Quiche, like much of rural Guatemala, is an area of extremes. Its intense physical beauty masks a painful legacy of dispossession, violence, marginalization, and poverty – conditions that continue to this day.
People often ask us why we are in the United States. From the early 1960s until 1996, Guatemala was wracked by a violent armed conflict as the Guatemalan government attempted to wipe out what started as a small guerilla movement. During the 1980s, the government unleashed a brutal counterinsurgency campaign. The Guatemalan government and its armed forces targeted our communities and our families. Our families and neighbors were attacked by the army foot patrols and helicopters and forced to flee to the mountains. The armed forces burned our homes, destroyed our crops and livestock, and forced the men in our families to participate in military patrols. The army tortured, raped and murdered many of our relatives – sometimes in front of the rest of the family, and other times people simply disappeared, never to be seen again. Over 200,000 people, the vast majority of them Maya, were killed, and nearly a million became refugees.
Peace accords were signed in 1996 but the violence has not stopped. Many former leaders and soldiers in the Guatemalan armed forces have turned their energies to drug trafficking and gangs. There are approximately 25 murders a day in Guatemala, many of them politically motivated. Human rights advocates both inside and outside Guatemala argue that the daily death toll over the past 14 years since the peace accords were signed is higher than that during the war itself.
The peace accords also did little to repair the underlying conditions of inequality. Nearly 80% of the population still lives in poverty. There are few jobs available in Guatemala aside from back breaking (and only temporal) agricultural labor on coastal plantations, sewing garments in assembly-line factories called maquiladoras, or domestic work. Most of those jobs are poorly paid, insecure and offer few benefits, and they are located far away from the rural highland communities we come from.
Particularly troubling is the rise in murders of women. Since 2001, there have been over 4650 women and girls murdered in Guatemala. According to researchers, Guatemala leads the countries of the hemisphere in femicides. These femicides are notable not only for their frequency, but for their extreme brutality. Many of the corpses show evidence of rape and torture before killing, and an alarming number of the victims’ bodies have been beheaded or dismembered or otherwise brutalized.