Resisting Fear with the Politics of Indignant Possibility: An Interview with Sandra Moran of Guatemala's Women's Sector

Article excerpt

A decade after the 1996 signing of Guatemala's peace accords-an event that marked the formal end of three devastating decades of civil war-another, undeclared, war on women rages on. According to official reports, between 2001 and the first half of 2006, more than 2,200 women and girls were murdered in Guatemala. Between January and May alone, 299 women were reported killed (2006). As the number of dead and missing women continues to climb yearly, there is no corresponding rise in investigations, much less convictions. The office of Guatemala's human rights ombudsperson reports that up to 70 percent of the murders have not been investigated, and in 97 percent of the cases no arrests have been made (2006). This violence echoes some of the most brutal aspects of the civil war, during which more than two hundred thousand people, mostly civilian indigenous campesinos, were killed, the overwhelming majority by the state's military and paramilitary forces. The Guatemalan women's movement played a central part in the peace process to end the war and, thanks to the movement's tenacity, women have made some important social advances since 1996. But patterns of the war continue and its aftermath has meant an official peace ravaged by widespread social violence. A cessation to the violence is seriously hindered by Guatemala's stifling postwar climate of impunity, which is, women's movement activists argue, one of the war's most enduring legacies.

In this atmosphere of pervasive insecurity, over the last five years much of the work of the women's movement has focused on drawing attention to, politicizing, and halting this terrifying spike in gender violence. The issue is starting to receive more attention thanks to the hard and dangerous agitation of the feminist movement, along with that of human rights advocates and the families and friends of the victims. Drawing on the language used by the women's movement in Ciudad Juárez-a city on the U.S.-Mexico border that has experienced a similar pattern of gender violence and impunity-Guatemala's women's movement asserts that the surge in murders and disappearances of women and girls amounts to a femlcide. Leveling the charge of femicide, a juridical term for gendered genocide, is a way of politicizing the murders in the face of official victim-blaming and serves to make the crime both public and globally significant (Schmidt Camacho 2005). One of the most important grassroots women's entities organizing around the femicide in Guatemala is the autonomous feminist-platform organization the sector de Mujeres (Women's sector). This coalition of women's groups, drawn from a range of social sectors, has been very publicly agitating for a genuine social security that applies to everyone, which, by extension, means a halt to the impunity that continues to thwart Guatemala's postwar justice system.

In June 2006, the office of the sector was attacked twice over the course of a single week. The break-ins acted as both threat and message, clarified by the perpetrators' making off with only a mobile phone and the organization's fax machine and their searching of files containing critical information on the sector's activities. To be sure that the message was unambiguous, the assailants poured blood on the floor around the office. In the week's second attack, they deposited a shard of bloodied glass at the center of the desk of the sector's most public face, high-profile feminist activist Sandra Moran. Two years previously, the organization's offices had been similarly assaulted. To sector activists, it was clear that these attacks were in retaliation to their increasingly visible and vocal role in the movement against the femicide and the impunity that fuels it. In a sharp contrast to its intended effects, the coalition of women's groups responded with a large and loud street demonstration in Guatemala City that brought several hundred women, men, and children out into the city's increasingly fear-tinged streets. …