Monday, November 28, 2005

Reclaiming Christmas

The government rose up against its own people, plotted against them, kidnapped and killed them. The powers-that-be, with the force of the military to support their wicked plans, instituted a years-long policy of genocide and systematically killed off those they feared constituted a threat to the government's power.

Sadly, this is not the plot to the latest Hollywood Armageddon movie.

This is exactly what happened from 1960 until 1996 as Guatemala waged war on her own people. In separate reports issued since the end of the war, the U.N. and the Catholic church have well-documented the atrocities committed by the Guatemalan government over the course of the 36-year armed conflict.

I bring this up because it seems appropriate as Christmas nears. It is, after all, not the first time a government waged war against its own citizens for fear of loss of power.

We are all aware of Luke's version of the Christmas story, with the visiting shepherds and angels singing glories to the baby Jesus. Let's not forget, however, Matthew's telling of the same story, in which governmental authorities plot to kill Jesus with the end result being the wholesale slaughter of male children under the age of two in the vicinity of Bethlehem.

Matthew recalls those days, saying there was a voice "heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

I'm told that this is the Nativity story that is preferred in Guatemala, for they are a people who identify with the loss of their children and loved ones. These are a people who have known sorrow.

Although Guatemala is our neighbor to the south, I don't believe most of us in the U.S. are very aware of its recent history. What has the killing been about and who is being killed? Most of us, if we know about it at all, probably believe it to have been a civil war having little to do with us.

Here are some facts from the Catholic church's Recovery of Civil Memory report (REMHI) and the U.N.'s Historical Clarification Commission (CEH):

*83% of the victims of violence were indigenous

*90% of human rights violations occurred in rural areas

*According to the CEH, 93% of the atrocities were credited to the governmental forces, with only 3% being committed by the anti-government guerrillas

*200,000 people were killed or "disappeared"

*The Guatemalan army committed over 600 massacres

This was not a civil war. This was a war by the government on the poor and indigenous people of Guatemala.

It gets worse. As it turns out, the war is not over. While the fighting has mostly stopped and the military violence has been curtailed (thanks partially to the peace accord signed in 1996), economic violence has taken its place.

Instead of keeping the poor masses in their place with bullets, the people are threatened with starvation and being kept from a living wage (half of Guatemala's rural population lives on less than $1 a day!)

But why? Why would a government attack its own people? For those who hate to hear anyone disparage this great nation of ours, I've some bad news, folk.

According to the U.N. CEH report, the U.S. government supported Guatemala in its 36-year war on its people. Our tax dollars went to economic and military aid for the government of Guatemala. We did so to protect our economic interests.

And now that the peace accords have been signed, our government is supporting the Guatemalan government in "economic restructuring" that will benefit multinational corporations and the rich minority in Guatemala at the expense of the poor and indigenous who were the targets of the military violence that has just so recently ended.

is why our country and Guatemala has waged these wars: To protect the economic interests of companies such as Basic Petroleum (a U.S. oil company) and Del Monte, the banana people.

This is why you and I are implicated in the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalans.

And this is why Jesus was born: to forgive you and me and to show us how to repent and work for justice for the oppressed.

And this is why Jesus, like so many innocent Guatemalans, was killed.

As we approach Christmas this year, let us make up our minds to join with Jesus in working to bring God's kingdom on earth. It's not too late to change sides.

On a related note, you might be interested to visit my church's blog, Life at Jeff St. which has information about our Reclaiming Christmas Project on board right now.


Daniel Levesque said...

While much of this post is excellent and compassionate reporting I must take exception to this statement:

"And this is why Jesus, like so many innocent Guatemalans, was killed."

Jesus didn't die for multinational corporations or for profit. He was killed for religious reasons. The Bible clearly records that.

I understand the greater theme here is the government commiting atrocities against it's own people. It's just that this statement micharachterises Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our sins.

Sylvia said...

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Dan Trabue said...

As well you should, Sister Sylvia.

Daniel, on the reasons for Jesus' death: I'm not one that believes the bible teaches a separation of the religious and secular.

Jesus came and spoke words that were a threat to those in power. He came speaking about a new kingdom where the poor would have their needs met, where the hungry would be fed.

Where, as Mother Mary said, "The Lord has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

And those sorts of words got Jesus in political trouble. No, he was not killed by or for multinational corps, he was killed by a coalition of the religious establishment and the Roman gov't.

But, if Jesus were here today preaching his radical economics and denouncing the rich and powerful, I'd suspect that there are some big corporations that would be in line wanting to see Jesus go away.

Yes, Jesus died for all our sins, but those sins include the greed and hypocrisy and abuse of power that so often go hand in glove with those in power.

Dan Trabue said...

But thank you, Daniel, for the polite and courteous manner of your disagreement. Feel free to believe other than I do.

And a late Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

Son of Lilith said...

I hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving Dan. While I admire your aim in this post, the sad truth is that most people just don't care. The popular belief is that " I didn't kill them, so I'm not accountable."

But for us evil Socialists, it sure is another example of the evils of Capitalism.

To use a very inappropriate (yet equally fitting) metaphor--thanks for the ammo!

the Contrary Goddess said...

and to be able to fight (and overthrow) a tyranical government is why the Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to bear arms. And why all citizens should bear arms willing to wield them. The government has to always know we are stronger than they are.

Oh, and right now, they don' imo. Who will survive?

Daniel Levesque said...

Goodness. i actually agree with something Contrary Goddess has said. Amazing.

but as for what Jesus preached . . . There are plenty of people the world over preacing equally radical ideas, and in enlightened (Christian) countries like ours they are allowed to express these ideas freely. Consider this; I know of no socialist leaders, in the US at least, that are the hit list of any major corporation. Can you name any?

On the other hand, I can think of plenty of people who are wanted dead for religious reasons by various people, and even entire religious organizations.

Dan Trabue said...

Why do you think Bush wants (and has tried) to see Chavez overthrown? His corporate masters told him so.

Just a hunch.

And if not in his case, then what of Haiti's Aristide? Or certainly in the case of Nicaragua's Ortega or the case mentioned in this post in Guatemala.

The US has been acting in the interest of national and multinationals for quite a while now - including black ops. You honestly think not?

And good to hear from you Ms. Goddess and President Robbins.

For a helpful list of the dozens of US interventions in the last 60 years:

Son of Lilith said...

Get it right Dan!

SIR President Robbins. Remember, first American to be knighted.


Still working on my platform. I thought it would be interesting, once I'm done, to have a "debate" between Daniel L. and myself. Maybe you would host it on your blog?

Just a thought.

Eleutheros said...

So .... the troubles in Guatemala are the result of our corporate interest. Don't doubt a word of it. ALL military action through history has been because of economic reasons, this is no exception.

Perhaps same song second verse, but since Dan has played the melody line, let me add the counterpoint (which harmonizes it, Dan, not distracts from it):

It is true that oil interest are at the heart of almost all the Central American troubles, the rest are corporate mining and agricultural interest (and in S.A. itself, it's our idiotic war on drugs as well).

We might make some progress when we make this connection: When someone goes to turn up the thermostat this winter instead of hardening themselves to a cooler house and/or putting on a sweater and/or moving into a smaller house -- every time they reach for that thermostat, they are killing a child in Guatemala.

When someone gets into their car and drives to Taco Bell, they are running over a Guatemalan child to get there.

It's that direct, that stark.

To cry that to do without the over heated house or that they just really, really had a craving for that seven layer burrito does not absolve it. If oil interest in Guatemala is responsible for the deaths, then a finger on the thermostat is a finger on the trigger. The sack full of tacos is cannibalism.

The ceaseless whining about Bush and his cronies is wearisome. Bush is the tip of the tail, the corporations are the tail proper, and we are the dog. It is OUR consumption that is killing them and so many like them around the world. And until we stop that consumption FIRST, all our protests and prayer flags and chanting and letters are inappropriate levity in the face of the serious crimes WE are committing.

Sorry to be so vague and candid in my comment, but you get the idea, eh?

Dan Trabue said...

I agree brother El.

And just to remind us that this is not a problem of the 80s or 90s, this sad note from Christian peacemakers in Colombia:

It pains us today to share with you the tragic news that another leader of the peace community has been murdered. On November 17, 2005, Arlen Salas-David and six other
unarmed civilians were fired upon -- by members of the Colombian Army's Seventeenth Brigade, according to the survivors -- as they cleared weeds from a cornfield near Arenas Altas, which is a part of the San Jose peace community. A grenade thrown at the group exploded
near Arlen, causing his death. The peace community reports that when they sent a delegation of people to Arenas Altas to investigate the attack, soldiers from the Army unit
there ordered them into a house, called them guerrillas, and fired several rounds at houses and at the school in Arena Altas. A class was in session at the school.

The Commander of the Seventeenth Brigade, who is responsible for the Army's actions in the Arenas Altas/San Jose region, is General Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe. He is a
graduate of the School of Americas (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Georgia...

Dan Trabue said...

And, Brother El, while I agree with you, I hope you'll allow me to hold a bit of grievance with our political leaders who are making the decisions, even if they ARE acting upon what we're asking for with our dollars and actions.

Son of Lilith said...

It is unfortunate however, that we live in a society that demands conusmption. We can live without Taco Bell, we can live without a 65 degree house, but it's damn hard to live without oil. It is going to take a MASSIVE anti-consumerist movement to make any kind of difference, and the sad fact is that most people just don't give a shit until it's THEM under the lion's paw.

And Dan, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on my latest post.

Eleutheros said...

Grieve away.

However Bush is more of a symptom of the problem than its cause. Taking a swipe at Bush is like grabbing the final few hairs on the dog's tail. It does no good, even if you pluck out the hairs the tail will only grow more just like them.

My concern, of course, is that Bush is playing his role as Zaphod Beeblebrox all too well. Great amounts of energy and resources and people's attention are being squandered in a useless shaking of one's fist against the heavens IN PLACE OF doing anything effective. In this the Bush Bashers are playing right into the hands of the oil companies and ilk.

When Israel Hands (in Steven's Treasure Island) was trying to land a shot on the crew ashore by random shots from the long gun, Dr. Livsey suggestd that they strike their colors since the gunner could use that as a target. The captain rebuffed him and said as an aside to the pirates, "Oho! Blaze away! You've little enough powder already my lads."

And so the corporations say to you, Oho! Protest away, you've litle enough time and energy already my lads!!

It is my considered opinion that a focus on Bush dulls any focus on the gas pedal and thermostat (etc). The corporations win whether you are for or against Bush. They only lose when you begin to realize he doesn't really matter.

Daniel Levesque said...


I would be happy to debate you, but since this is a liberal forum, and I am a conservative I automatically lose to this audience. I suggest either multiple hosting, or promotion and trackbacks from many blogs.

By the way, it is unconstitutional for any American to accept a title. We cannot be knighted or given lordships as US citezens. The Constitution says so quite explicitly.

Toad734 said...

But I thought Jesus was a captialist who hated poor people, fags, AIDS victims, the homeless and anyone who wasn't an American Christian? At least that is what they say on TV.

Dan Trabue said...

Welcome Mr. Toad. Our paths have crossed elsewhere before and I nearly always enjoy what you have to say.

Daniel, you'd automatically lose whatever the forum. It's the ideas, not the forum...HA!

Brandon, great post. Everyone should check it out.

And Ellie, Yes, Bush is a symptom of the problem and not the sole problem in a similar manner that Hitler was a symptom of a problem and not the problem itself. Nonetheless, I will stand against both for their oppressive ways AS I change my life to not support the trends that put them in power.

And to all, NO. I'm not equating Bush to Hitler. I'm equating situations. Hitler went out and deliberately killed millions. Bush only does so indirectly and unintentionally and it's tens (hundreds?) of thousands and not millions.

Son of Lilith said...

Oh yeah, I remember learning that in the eight grade about not accepting titles. Oh well, doesn't mean I can't be ELIGIBLE for knighthood.

Nice dream while it lasted though.

Daniel Levesque said...

So, will the debate happen or not?

With a mixed audience I think I will win quite handily against all but the most experienced liberal statesmen.

Son of Lilith said...

I'd love for the debate to happen, but right now with the holiday stress--plus doing projects at work AND studying for the GRE--I hesitate to use my free time for a hypothetical presidential platform that would be good enough to combat yours, seeing that I'd have to shoot rather high to stand a chance against how organized and well-thought yours is (I'm serious; though I don't agree with it your platform shows a great amount of thought).

Besides, I'm not SERIOUSLY considering the Presidency. As I said, I'm too anti-establishment to be accepted by Washington, liberal and conservative alike.

But when I'm ready to debate, I'll give you a ring and we'll work something out.

Daniel Levesque said...

It's a deal. I await your readiness.