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A los que no se olvidan

December 17, 2009

A powerful poem about Walter written by Angel Luis Martinez, a colleague.

A los que no se olvidan

“La sangre tiene razones
que hacen engordar las venas.
Pena sobre pena y pena
hacen que uno pegue el grito.
La arena es un puñadito
pero hay montañas de arena.”

-Letra de Atahualpa Yupanqui


Dicen que a Víctor Jara le quebraron las manos y millones lo recordamos
Y tu, quien las quebraste, quien recuerda tu nombre y ¿a cuantos te atreves
decirle en voz alta, “Yo lo hice”?
En emboscada mataron a Zapata y millones lo recordamos
Y tu, arquitecto de emboscada, ¿quien te puede nombrar?

Oye trabajador pagado por opresores que te matarían solo por hacerlo, hoy
mataste a Walter Trochez.
Odio lo que hiciste
Te perdono y te olvido como serás olvidado por todos
Y los que te emplearon se preparan para hacerte desaparecer.

Y en mí, como en muchos, Walter vivirá
Walter Trochez vive
En corazones y mentes, en acciones y compromisos.


Walter Trochez

December 14, 2009

I woke up this morning to the tragic news that one of our AGALI program fellows, Walter Trochez, was gunned down in the street last night in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  Walter was a passionate LGBT activist and an outspoken critic of the coup and the Honduran regime. He was only 27 years old.

Walter was killed for the most brutish of reasons: the will to power at any cost, and the fear of dissent. He had already been offered an asylum arrangement by the government that would have allowed him to leave the country in exchange for his silence. Just ten days ago he was beaten by the police as they attempted to kidnap him. He fought back and somehow managed to escape.

Walter and I became friends earlier this fall over email and phone, as I tried to arrange transportation for him and other participants from Honduras to our training in Antigua, Guatemala. A 24 hour curfew had just been put in place by the government in response to mass protests. Although the borders had effectively been sealed, after two days of trying everything we could think of, we managed to get Walter and four others out of Honduras by bus. Walter took charge of the group, working to find a solution that would allow them to participate in AGALI, and maintaining a sense of humor under impossible circumstances.

When I finally got to know him in person, I was humbled by his dedication to the intimately connected causes of gay rights and human rights.  Today, I can’t help thinking about the costs of that kind of dedication.

Walter (center) celebrating the end of a week of advocacy training in September, with me and Guillermo Leverman, a participant from Guatemala.

Walter after being attacked and beaten by the police

Not surprisingly, I can’t find any mention of Walter’s death on any of the major Honduran news sites. Slightly more information, in Spanish, is here:

Walter is not the first human rights activist to be killed or disappeared by the regime in Honduras. Please do your part to spread the truth about what’s happening there, so that we can at least have hope that he will be the last.

UPDATE: Posts about Walter are starting to appear in English. Amnesty International released this:

Africa in General

December 12, 2009

“I love Africa in general; South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries.”

-Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton with my favorite African First Lady, Chantal Biya of Cameroon

I spent last month working in Africa, which, in between interviews and meetings, gave me a lot of raw blog material. The program I coordinate, AGALI (the Adolescent Girls’ Advocacy and Leadership Initiative),  works in Mexico, Central America, and a random trio of African countries–Liberia, Malawi, and Ethiopia.  No, there’s no secret connection between them, at least not that I’ve been able to divine. They are the UN Inter-agency Task Force on Adolescent Girls  “Africa focus countries” for 2010, and we’re funded by the UN Foundation, so that’s where we work.

Liberia and Malawi were my introduction to the great, big continent of Africa. They share the same ubiquitous red clay soil, an insane love of Barack Obama, and a per capita GDP below $900, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.  The most telling difference is that Malawi has never been at war, while Liberia’s second civil war ended only with the arrival of armed UN peacekeepers in late 2003.

Driving into Monrovia from Liberia’s tiny international airport, that history revealed itself almost immediately. Power poles trailed frayed electrical wires, burned out houses had been repossessed  by squatters. We drove past Charles Taylor’s mansion on the outskirts of town, empty because he is on trial at the Hague for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Groups of men in their 20s were hanging around on every corner, leaning against a motorcycle, or a bullet-scarred wall.  They had the hardest stares I’ve ever seen, a nearly archetypal reflection of the ruthless desperation of the “Africa at War” stereotype.

We were in Liberia to interview people who had applied to participate in our advocacy training program. These were leaders who work on behalf of adolescent girls–running safe homes, managing girls’ clubs, or working in the Ministry of Gender.  After a few days of interviews, I started to notice a pattern. Our applicants were almost all either over forty or under twenty-five.  There was a lost generation there that had watched its opportunities disappear during the war, forced to either fight for one of the guerilla factions or hide out in the jungle instead of going to school. Now, the people in leadership positions are either older adults who were educated before the first civil war and had escaped to refugee camps during the worst of the fighting, or those who had been very young during the war and have now been able to go back to school since the end of the conflict.

The evidence of this missed childhood is everywhere, and it is horrifying. Eighty percent of rape victims are under the age of 15, and the national literacy rate stands at only twenty percent.  Even if the still-precarious peace in Liberia holds, it will take years of children going to school, girls living without the constant threat of abduction or assault, and young adults creating their own opportunities, to repair the damage inflicted by the war.

It’s not always easy to remember that even the most war-hardened men and women were once children, but they were.

A young girl selling cassava leaf in the market

Boys playing at fighting near the Sierra Leone border

I’m baaaaack…

November 16, 2009

I thought that blogging while I was living in Guatemala would be just a short experiment in social media procrastination. But with all the time I spend in airports and doctors’ waiting rooms, and all of the circular thinking I like to do about international development, I figured I’d start writing again without any goal in mind, without an expiration date.

Besides, I really needed a forum where I could post cute pictures of my dog.