Published by the Christian Science Monitor, 10/19/05
The US and other regional countries agreed last week to form a relief force.
By Jill Replogle | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
PANABAJ, GUATEMALA - Two graveyards are nearly all that is left of this Maya Indian village in the highlands - and they frame locals' views of the Guatemalan military.
Authorities declared an entire hillside a graveyard last week when they gave up the search for dozens of poor villagers buried in a mudslide triggered by hurricane Stan's rains. The other cemetary, whose gravestones stick out of the mud, contains the bodies of 13 locals killed in a 1990 massacre perpetrated by the Guatemalan army.
This and numerous other abuses committed here during the country's 36-year long armed conflict has left locals with an acute distrust for government security forces. So they were wary when troops showed up after the mudslides to offer assistance to the victims.
"People are scared because of what the army did here in the past," said Manuel Sisay Sapalu, former mayor of Santiago Atitlán, the municipality that includes Panabaj.
The Guatemalan military took steps toward mitigating those fears while playing a key role in responding to the disaster provoked by Stan, which forced over 140,000 Guatemalans to evacuate their homes. At least 663 people have died in Guatemala as a result of floods and mudslides provoked by the hurricane.
But at a time when military aid has been crucial for relief efforts in recent natural disasters from the Gulf Coast of the US to Pakistan, governments and citizens of affected areas are increasingly faced with questions as to the limits of appropriate military action. How long should the military stay? Should troops take a more active police role?
Questions like these were tackled at a two-day meeting of defense and security ministers from seven Central American countries and the US in Key Biscayne, Florida last week. With the recent devastation of parts of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and other Central American countries fresh in their minds, the ministers - including US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - agreed to speed up plans for a rapid reaction force for use in disaster relief efforts, and discussed the possibility of creating a joint force to battle crime and narcoterrorism.
"I think coordinating disaster response is a good idea," says Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America. This issue is separate, she clarified, from the idea of creating a rapid response force to deal with regional security threats.
"Where the [Guatemalan army] most helps us is in terms of transportation," says Benedicto Giron, spokesman for the National Disaster Reduction Coordinator, the government's disaster-response unit. Military helicopters, planes, and trucks are being used to deliver emergency food and supplies to populations affected by the storm.
Two-thirds of the country's army personnel have been directly involved in disaster relief for the past two weeks, according to army spokesperson Colonel Jorge Antonio Ortega Gaytán. Nine helicopters on loan from the US Southern Command are also being used in relief efforts.
But, when it comes to creating a regional force, some critics question the idea of expanding the powers of Central American militaries with poor records in human rights and transparency.
"The problem is that their range of action is easily extended," says Arturo Chub, an analyst at the Guatemalan non-governmental organization, Security in Democracy. Mr. Chub and other critics say the Guatemalan military has traditionally been involved in a range of abusive and lucrative activities outside of its mandate.
A UN-sponsored truth commission found the army responsible for 85% of human rights violations committed during the country's bloody civil war. More than 200,000 people were killed in the war, which pitted leftist guerrillas against a repressive military state backed by the US. The vast majority of the victims were poor and indigenous.
The peace accords signed between the government and insurgents in 1996 called for cutting the military's budget and personnel. The accords also strictly defined the military's purpose as defending sovereignty and ensuring territorial integrity.
Still, the military and government authorities have been criticized for expanding the army's role to include an array of tasks, from delivering school lunches to carrying out joint security patrols with the national police.
At the same time, numerous accusations of corruption have been made in recent years against high-ranking military leaders, including retired general Enrique Ríos Sosa, son of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. Ríos Sosa is accused of helping divert millions of dollars from the Ministry of Defense into private, foreign bank accounts when he served as head of army finances in 2001. The case is still under investigation.
Some worry that potential financial cooperation for organizing a regional security force could be misused.
"International funds have sometimes ended up enriching a few military officers," says Mario Polanco, director of the Guatemala-based Mutual Support Group, which monitors human rights and military spending. "What we should be doing is improving coordination among governments and strengthening civil institutions," he adds.
Nevertheless, Mr. Polanco and other critics of the military said the army should be involved in disaster relief.
Chub, from Security in Democracy, agrees but says the military's participation in disaster relief should be brief and its expenditures should be strictly monitored.
But some victims of the mudslide in Panabaj were still cautious about welcoming military aid.
"If they come to help that's fine, as long as they don't do anything else," says Juana Ixbalan Vásquez, who lost her home in the mudslide. Former mayor Sisay Sapalu said soldiers were welcome to help rebuild the village, as long as they left their guns in the barracks.
"If people see the army constructing and not destructing, there's going to be a change in this country," he says.
De bittere herrineringen van de tropische storm Mitch die in 1998 Centraal-Amerika teisterde werden opnieuw werkelijkheid onder de naam Stan.Dit keer met heel wat meer kracht en vernieling in Guatemala. Het aantal dodelijke slachtoffers op het moment van publicatie (10/10/2005) ligt op bijna 600. Na Mitch moest CONRED, de Nationale Coördinatie voor de Voorkoming van Rampen, er voor zorgen dat dergelijke catastrofes in de toekomst zouden beperkt blijven. Maar zeven jaar later herhaalt de ramp zich in viervoud. Noodhulp over het wegennet is bijna onmogelijk t.g.v. de overstromingen. De climatologische omstandigheden laten zelfs niet toe om de getroffen gebieden met helicopters te bevoorraden. Hopeloze Guatemalteken zoeken hun familieleden onder de dikke lagen modder.
Naar schatting 3,5 miljoen inwoners van Guatemala werden slachtoffer van de tropische storm Stan tegenover 770.000 in 1998 t.g.v. Mitch.
Volgens de eerste ramingen van de materiële schade blijkt dat er op de belangrijkste wegen van het een 400-tal zware instortingen gebeurd zijn.Daardoor is 26% van het geasfalteerde wegennet zwaar beschadigd. In de landbouw werden hele oogsten vernield of weggespoeld.De schade aan de landbouw zal nog meer werkloosheid en extreme armoede veroorzaken onder grote delen van de inheemse bevolking. Eén van de gekendste oorzaken van modderstromen en aardverschuivingen is de ontbossing.
Het dorpje Panabaj in de nabijheid van het Atitlánmeer werd bedolven onder 2 a 3 meter modder. De gemeenschap bestaat ongveer uit 2300 mensen en nog tot heeft men er enkel 71 van kunnen localiseren.Santiago Atitlán ligt er hulpeloos bij, enkele politieagenten staan de burgers bij, maar van hulpploegen en graafmachines is er geen sprake.Twaalf van de dertien dichtst bevolkte departementen zijn het zwaarst getroffen. De grootste schade werd opgemeten in San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Escuintla en Sololá.
Reddingswerkers en NGO’s vragen om dringende hulp: Er is vraag naar noodrantsoenen voedsel, naar infrastructuur voor noodopvang (bouwmateriaal, matrassen, lakens en dekens, keukengerei, zeep en ander toiletgerei, enz.), drinkwater, medicijnen (vooral tegen diaree en koortswerende middelen), babyvoeding, ontsmettingsmiddelen en gereedschap.
Via het rekeningnummer van Oxfam-Solidariteit zamelt het Vlaams Guatemalacomité fondsen in voor noodhulp aan de slachtoffers van de tropische storm Stan. Die fondsen worden rechtstreeks overgemaakt aan onze partners in Guatemala. U kan uw bijdrage storten op rekeningnummer: 000-0000028-28 met vermelding van de code 9080-Guatemala
(Voor een gift van 30 Euro ontvangt u een fiscaal attest.)
Het Vlaams Guatemalacomité is lid van de Europese Coördinatie voor Guatemalacomités. Tijdens de jaarlijkse vergadering worden in Guatemala gemeenschappelijke partners gekozen. Eén van onze belangrijkste partners is de milieuorganisatie “Madreselva”, zij zal de coördinatie van de noodhulp op zich nemen.
Stort nu uw bijdrage !
Voor 40 euro kan voedsel gekocht worden om 1 persoon 2 maanden te voeden. Voor 25 euro kan 1 persoon onderdak krijgen en een basispakket keuken- en toiletgerei.
By Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 11, 2005; A12
PANABAJ, Guatemala, Oct. 10 -- With a machete in one hand, Candelaria Ramirez Tiney, 67, chopped at the mass of dried mud surrounding her small adobe house Monday, trying to salvage whatever she could before abandoning the village where two of her eight children had been swallowed up and lost five days before.
With the other hand, Ramirez held a cloth to her worn, toothless face to block out the smell of rotting flesh. Her traditional Mayan cotton skirt and dress, hand-woven of bright blue, purple and pink threads, was caked with mud.
Nearby, two black vultures waited on a field in this Mayan village where as many as 500 people, including entire families, are believed to have been buried alive early Wednesday when heavy rains following Hurricane Stan let loose an avalanche of mud, rocks and trees.
"Nothing like this has ever happened here before," said Ramirez, shaking her head and speaking in the Tzutujil language of her people. "I'm . . . too afraid to live here again."
In the places where her neighbors' homes had stood, there was nothing left, just a flat plain of mud covered by rocks, fallen trees and other debris that had tumbled down from three volcanoes surrounding the village. The survivors had already abandoned the search for their loved ones, and the area had been declared a mass grave.
The destruction of Panabaj, a traditional community of about 3,000 subsistence farmers in central Guatemala, is only the most recent tragedy inflicted on the village and other communities of indigenous Mayan people.
A cemetery called "The Park of Peace," where gravestones are now covered in mud, was built in this village years ago to commemorate the deaths of 13 Mayan inhabitants in an army massacre in 1990, during the country's 36-year civil war.
The war claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, the vast majority of them Mayan civilians. The conflict left thousands of widows and orphans traumatized, according to Anita Isaacs, an associate professor of political science at Haverford College who visited Panabaj repeatedly to research the civil war destruction.
Now, the mudslides have left more families in tatters. Diego Chichom Ramirez, an official at the mayor's office in Santiago Atitlan, a nearby town, said the authorities have no idea what to do with the children who were orphaned after the mud swallowed their mothers and fathers.
In other cases, parents survived and their children perished. Candelaria Ramirez said the villagers were warned to leave before the torrents came, and she fled with many others to Santiago Atitlan, several miles away, and took refuge in a church. But her two grown daughters did not want to leave their homes. At 4 a.m. last Wednesday, she said, she could hear the roar as the giant wall of mud began to plunge downward on Panabaj.
For now, the survivors are living in shelters, churches and schools in Santiago Atitlan. Food is arriving regularly by boats from the other side of Lake Atitlan, and medicine has been flown in by helicopter.
But the roads leading to the highland village are still covered by as much as 10 feet of mud in some places. In Panabaj, rows of adobe bricks that were used in houses are strewn about like Legos in the mud. Metal pipes that held homes together are bent like straws. Ditches 10 feet deep have been carved where the earth was once level.
The Mayans have lived in Guatemala's highlands since ancient times. The demise of their civilization began when the Spaniards conquered Guatemala in the 16th century, turning the Mayans into slaves. Although the country later won its freedom, its indigenous people never recovered.
They are still among the nation's poorest residents, and in the 1980s they were also its most persecuted. Anti-government insurgents were based in the highlands, and authorities considered Mayan villages to be bases of rebel support. Under a succession of military rulers, hundreds of villages were destroyed and tens of thousands of people killed. The war ended with a peace accord in 1996.
"The people have suffered much," said Diego Ramirez, the official in Santiago Atitlan.The mayor of Panabaj, Diego Esquina, told the Associated Press on Monday that survivors did not want soldiers coming to the area to help them now, because the memories of the 1990 massacre were still vivid.
Rigoberta Menchu, a Mayan activist from Guatemala who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to bring attention to the plight of her people, said the destruction of Panabaj and other highland villages could erode the region's cherished culture.
"I am worried because we want to maintain the culture of the population, and specifically the use of their traditional clothing," she told La Prensa Grafica newspaper in Guatemala City. "Many people giving help are giving blue jeans."
Menchu said she was launching a campaign to ask that other Mayans donate women's blouses, called huipiles, and other traditional woven clothing.
The ancient Mayans buried their kings in elaborate tombs that still exist at sites such as Tikal and El Mirador. In modern times, Mayans have buried their dead in Roman Catholic ceremonies. But many of those who died in Panabaj last Wednesday will remain buried in the thick mountain mud.
"There's nothing we can do," said Diego Ramirez. "When you move the mud, it falls right back in place."
Guatemala stopt met zoeken naar dodenIn Guatemala zijn vooral de armere Maya-indianen het slachtoffer van de doortocht van de orkaan Stan.
In Panabaj, aan het idyllische Atitlan-meer, zijn 1.400 bewoners vermist. Reddingswerkers hebben het zoeken gisteren gestaakt. De kans dat onder de metershoge modderhopen na vijf dagen nog overlevenden gevonden zouden worden, was vrijwel nihil.
Rond het Atitlan-meer in Zuid-Guatemala leven duizenden Maya-indianen, volgens de eeuwenoude tradities van hun voorvaderen. Sinds gisteren weten zij dat zij hun doden nooit zullen kunnen begraven.
Ook in het aangrenzende Chiapas, in zuidelijk Mexico, is vooral de indiaanse bevolking het slachtoffer geworden van de orkaan Stan. De indianen zijn kwetsbaarder, omdat zij economisch zwakker zijn dan de mestiezen en vaak in armoedige omstandigheden leven.
,,De orkaan heeft vooral Zuid- en West-Guatemala getroffen, een gebied van 36.000 vierkante kilometer groot'', zegt Edmond Mulet, de ambassadeur van Guatemala in Brussel, in een telefoongesprek. ,,Dit is een tragedie voor de indiaanse bevolking in Guatemala, die ook al het zwaarst heeft geleden onder 36 jaar burgeroorlog.''
Een oud verwijt van de indianen aan de regering is dat die hen discrimineert en als tweederangsburgers behandelt. Ook nu klinkt dezelfde kritiek: de Guatemalteekse overheid zou de getroffen indianen in de kou laten staan. ,,De getroffen regio's zijn erg bergachtig en moeilijk bereikbaar'', zegt de ambassadeur. ,,De regering doet wat zij kan, maar de wegen en bruggen zijn nog niet hersteld. Guatemala heeft helikopters nodig.''
Officieel houdt Guatemala het op 652 doden, maar de duizenden vermisten zijn daar niet bij inbegrepen. De stad Santiago Atitlan gaat uit van 1.000 tot 1.500 doden. Reddingswerkers vrezen in werkelijkheid voor 2.000 slachtoffers, al zal wellicht nooit helemaal duidelijk worden hoeveel doden de orkaan Stan heeft gemaakt.
Bovendien vreest Guatemala wat nog komen zal. ,,Gisteren heeft het weer de hele dag zwaar geregend. Het tropische regenseizoen duurt nog tot begin november'', zegt ambassadeur Mulet, die wijst op de rampzalige economische gevolgen van de ramp. De indianenbevolking leeft van de landbouw, maar Stan heeft hele maïsvelden en bananenplantages weggeveegd. Ook grote delen van de veestapel zijn vernietigd; zeker 100.000 koeien zijn dood. ,,De schade wordt op 715 miljoen euro geraamd'', zegt de ambassadeur. ,,Je kan je wel voorstellen wat dat voor een arm land betekent.''
De VN schenken 22 miljoen dollar noodhulp, België heeft 200.000 euro vrijgemaakt.
Van onze redactrice Ine Roox (De Standaard)
click for larger view
With food and water running out, governments in Central America and Mexico scrambled Friday to reach isolated areas devastated by a week of intense rains and residents who spoke to reporters via cell phone said panic was starting to grow among survivors.
Mudslides and flooding have left 258 people dead across the region. Guatemala has borne the brunt of heavy rains exacerbated by Hurricane Stan, which made landfall Tuesday in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz before quickly weakening into a tropical depression.
Increasing fears Friday was a preliminary-magnitude 5.8 earthquake that shuddered through both Guatemala and El Salvador, collapsing a rain-damaged highway bridge in the former country and sending thousands of frightened Salvadoran residents into the streets.
There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries from the quake. Telephone service was cut off briefly in some areas of El Salvador, and Interior Minister Rene Figueroa urged residents to obey evacuation orders for high-risk areas.
The quake also forced officials to suspend their search for two coffee workers missing since Saturday when the Ilamatepec volcano erupted about 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of the capital, San Salvador.
Authorities warned the volcano, 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of San Salvador, could explode again.
The temblor struck before residents had even begun to recover from the five days of heavy rains.
''We need food, clothing, medicine and help,'' said Lucas Ajpus, a former firefighter coordinating rescue efforts in Santiago Atitlan, the Guatemalan city near landslides that hit four villages.
At least 50 bodies have been recovered, bringing the death toll in this Central American country to 160. Workers continued to search for more than 100 people still missing after the side of a volcano collapsed. ''We've been pulling bodies out for two days, and we've found 50 in an area encompassing 100 square meters'' (1,075 square feet), Ajpus said. ''There's still a lot to be done, because two towns have disappeared completely.''
In Pathulul, 30 miles (50 kilometers) away from Santiago Atitlan and as close to the landslide site as an Associated Press reporter could get Thursday, creeks that normally stream down from the highlands had turned into raging rivers, cluttered with rocks, branches and chunks of debris.
Guatemalan officials organized an air-rescue squad of their own helicopters as well as those lent by the United States and neighboring Mexico. But poor weather conditions prevented them from taking off until Friday.
''We are going to review reconstruction policies and other important avenues to restore our country,'' Guatemalan President Oscar Berger said.
Residents and tourists in Panajachel, on the banks of Lake Atitlan, said they needed aid.
''Water is running out, food is running out and looters are coming now,'' said Stephanie Jolluck, a 32-year-old businesswoman from Atlanta who was reached by telephone.
Jolluck, who has traveled to Guatemala for work since 1999, fought back tears as she described watching rivers grow from their usual width of 6 feet (2 meters) to more than 50 feet (15 meters).
Berger planned to personally visit the areas hit by landslides, including the town of Solola near Lake Atitlan, as well as the western province of San Marcos, on the border with Mexico, where residents cut off by floods have been pleading for help in telephone calls to radio stations.
The president also announced that government workers had used heavy machinery to clear fallen trees and earth from a portion of the InterAmerican Highway, allowing rescue workers to reach other previously isolated communities.
The country's important Pacific coast highway remained impassable, however, after raging rivers destroyed three bridges.
Stan kills: other article
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) -- Rescue workers searched for victims of a mudslide near a volcano-ringed lake popular with tourists in Guatemala, as the death toll in the region from flooding sparked by heavy rains climbed above 160.
Downpours have battered Central America and southern Mexico since the weekend, causing rivers to overflow and sweeping away homes and people. The floods caused huge chunks of land to give way, burying everything in their path.
The storms have killed at least 79 people in Guatemala, but officials said they have not yet counted all the casualties. In neighboring El Salvador, 62 people have died.
Elsewhere in Central America, nine people have died in Nicaragua, four in Honduras and one in Costa Rica, most from landslides triggered by heavy rains. In the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, officials said six people were killed.
Forecasters at the U.S. Hurricane Center said the rain was likely to continue for the next few days.
The hardest hit area appeared to be a town close to Lake Atitlan, a breathtaking freshwater reserve surrounded by volcanos and Mayan communities, 60 miles west of the capital Guatemala City.
Emergency officials there pulled 15 bodies from the mud and said the death toll would likely rise when authorities were able to step up search efforts hindered by continued rains.
read another article here
photo: school's out, our first day in Antgua, we made a tour throught the little surrounding villages with mountainbikes. Here we arrived at a square before a cathedral. Schoolkids were fleeing out of school and were very curious about us.
photo: we, pushing our bus out of the mud...we were just returning from our first maya-site El Ceibal. We were in the middle of nowhere. It was the late afternoon and we had just been attacked by killermosquitoes on the site.
It was hot like hell.
then three of us went out for help. Julio the boss sent his driver after them, 'cos it was to dangerous in the region (we learned that afterwards)...the wind was blowing the clouds together that gathered above our sweating heads..when the rain came falling from the darkening sky and we fled for shelter in the stinking muddy bus full of insects and attacking mosquitoes and we waited in the pouring rain and night, deadly tired, wet and filthy...we ate cookies and we heared a strange kind of noise from the depth of the woods...horrifying but not many among us seem to hear it...later we were told that it were howler monkeys...
Finally arrived at the hotel, two of us had to be taken to the hospital due to allergic reactions of the mosquitoes and some bad feelings.
Read the report of day 11: here