Interview with Lolita Chávez, Guatemalan indigenous leader: “We are an ancient people of warriors”. Part II

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The struggle of the indigenous peoples against transnational companies is a breaking point between the old and new insurgencies in Latin America. Therefore, it is indispensable to rescue them from the media’s silence. This is the case of Lolita Cháez Ixcaquic, leader of the Maya people of Kiché, from Guatemala, who due to its militancy against the hydroelectric multinationals and the eviction from their lands (as a feminist communitarian activist), she has received death threats from gunmen and repressive forces from her country. In an interview with Resumen Latinoamericano, Lolita shared her story.

Read Part I of the interview here.

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In your struggle to defend your territory and against extractivism you also raise the flag of communitarian feminism. What does this mean?

Well, take a look at my clothing for example. What I’m wearing are ancestral fabrics from my sisters, who have weaved their entire life. In Guatemala, in the indigenous feminists have always weaved, the thing is that we don’t always talk about that. It’s important to talk about it, and feel that identity, because we also have several identities. One of the them is communitarian feminism, which we found along the paths we travelled and entered our lives, but also through the ancestral journey of women and other experiences that came from the West. Through other sisters we have learned about feminism, and that’s why we salute the feminists of the world, and we incorporated the struggle for the life of the peoples and justice, against the violations and oppression we suffer on a daily basis. On that road, we have analyzed that the Western patriarchy is very tough, it leaves scars on our lives and bodies, and on our essence as beings.

This is about rebuilding our maya beings, we discuss our mayan calendar, our cosmovision, our network in life, the relationship with the cosmos. The most important thing is to talk and analyse how difficult life has been for our ancestors, for ourselves and for the generations to come.

Oftentimes these things are not analysed because those expressions are considered to be sacred and we don’t question what oppresses us. As women we have the right to question them, because neither the states nor the philosophies will give us that right. We must give ourselves these rights because we have suffered in our bodies many violent experiences, we have felt and experienced the patriarchal yoke in our day-to-day lives, in our territories, and that’s why we have such clarity to talk about that and to overcome fear. This does not mean we are no longer afraid,but  we handle it, we work against it internally, we watch over our lands, which are a part of our body too, and have been violated throughout history.

– How do you think we can continue contributing to defend the land against the depredations of multinationals and governments?

A better defense entails conceptualizing and having clarity about the possible roads to take. Land is not only valuable in and of itself, but also from the territorial perspective, which provides new ways of looking at things, it gives history: it is the body of grandmothers and grandfathers, biodiversity, relationships. That collective work, the relation with biodiversity and the network of life create new inspirations, not related to the capital. Capital is our main enemy. It predates on human beings who dissociate themselves from Mother Earth. The codes of life are quickly changing, people seem to be lost, oppression has reached such a perverse stage that people are only interested in capital. And it makes sense, because if beings are not related to Mother Earth, to biodiversity, to generating food and energy, if companies are providing everything to them, they became sorts of gods on Earth, and that sets people apart from mother earth. Thus, by recovering our link with energies, with Mother Earth and the cosmos, we’re taking power away from the capital. This is a profound challenge, it’s not easy, it’s a long way, but there’s hope —there’s hope because there’s life.

– Guatemala has suffered a terrible genocide, as well as El Salvador and other countries of Central America, and there the State still has an unpaid debt regarding Human Rights.

We speak about ancestral justice, cosmic justice, and not about the justice of the States. The State has its judicial, legislative, executive system, but those systems are not for the peoples, there was never justice for us through these mechanisms. The sort of justice we are looking for means that the State must be accountable to the people, the indigenous people —especially the women— for all they have done: the murders, the genocides they have committed. This debt is not only from the Guatemalan State, the US also has debts with the indigenous people. The UN has a debt of amplifying the conception of Human Rights because there are also Collective Rights of the peoples, of collective existence.

– On a more personal note, when did this awareness arise in you? When did you feel that you had to struggle and that you could lead your people?

I feel that rebellion was born in me before consciousness. Since I was a little girl I was a rebel —for example, I rebelled against the church, even though I was a catholic. Everything I believed in emerged from reality, from the experiences I had in my own life, my body, my community, my family. When I kneeled down to pray and I had to repeat those dogmas, those absolute truths, such as: “I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed”.

I questioned why I had to say that I was unworthy. This sort of thoughts turned me into a rebel, and I obeyed only to myself and questioned many things. After that, I joined a group of women from communitarian feminism. Then, I began to see that I was a rebel but that I was accepting forms of violence, belittling expressions, etc. In women’s groups, we began a process of training and analyzing the forms of oppression we suffer. So we discovered that we have the right to decide over our lives and our bodies. Training has helped raise awareness, combined with looking at my own environment, I was not alone, and I started to feel one with other sisters, and after that, with my people and my community. All of that helped me a lot, along with my comrades from the revolutionary movement. I carry awareness in my cells, we are an ancestral people of warriors. Then, I can’t think of a particular moment in which I started being aware of what was happening around me, it grew in me little by little. Our people has a lot of strength, in believing that we need to take care of our territories and forcing the oppressor out. We tell the world that there are thousands of people here and even though they tried to eliminate us, here we are, fighting, raising more and more awareness.

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