Human Rights in Guatemala

Silence and Gendered Violence in the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Lynn Stephen, Founding Director of CLLAS and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology

Read Dr. Stephen’s opinion piece in The Globe Post here:

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Friday, July 10th, 2020 Human Rights in Guatemala No Comments

Spring 2020 CLLAS Notes, Part 1

Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve moved our newsletter online for this edition. This is the first of three newsletter installments to be published over the next several weeks.

Director’s Letter
by Gabriela Martínez, CLLAS Director

As I write this, I’ve been stranded in the highlands of Peru since mid-March when two days after my arrival the government closed all of the country’s borders, suspending domestic and international commercial flights and inter-departmental land transportation, imposing a curfew, and giving the police and the army control of streets and roads. Peru is one of the countries in the region that began responding early to the crisis; however, for weeks it has been suffering a rapidly rising number of cases. Although COVID-19 has touched all social strata, still the most affected are people living in shantytowns, and in large working class and populous areas where the living conditions tend to be substandard and people subsist by working in the informal economy. Thus, this population doesn’t have a safety net allowing them to shelter in place for weeks or months.

At the beginning of the academic year CLLAS got off to a great start launching its new two-year theme (2019-21): “The Politics of Language in the Americas: Power, Culture, History, and Resistance.” Throughout the fall and winter the line-up of research and creative events filled rooms to capacity, attracting undergraduates and graduate students, faculty, staff and extramural members of our community. You can read more about fall events in our fall newsletter here (insert link). Winter term ended with the arrival of the unprecedented pandemic COVID-19, which has impacted CLLAS operations as well as that of our entire campus, our state, the country and the world. We had to recalibrate everything we do, and change most plans we had in place for the rest of the academic year and beyond.

Although CLLAS has continued its operations remotely, and has successfully held its research grantees presentations via Zoom, our new grantees setting out to do research over this coming summer are going to be limited due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Some researchers may not be able to travel abroad to their sites of study, thus most will need to conduct research through virtual platforms instead of in-person. This situation is no doubt causing anxiety, as there are many uncertainties facing the future. CLLAS remains supportive and we have changed some of our policies for grantees given the circumstances, for example, some will be able to defer the use of funds beyond this summer and potentially until the next academic year or next summer. Others will conduct research locally or remotely.

There seems to be no corner in the world unaffected by the pandemic, and millions of people around the world are suffering the multiple consequences of it — illness, death, loss of jobs, serious economic hardship, among others. In Oregon the Latinx population remains disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and its consequences. This is principally due to the structural racism in the state (and the country) where there are systemic disparities. Much of the Latinx population lacks access to healthcare, has no job security (much less jobs that can be done remotely), and many live in small houses or apartments, in some cases, with large families or sharing the space with multiple roommates to cover rent.

The pandemic has made social and economic disparities all over the world more salient. It has shown how broken the public health systems are in a large number of countries, including the United States. Existing social, economic, political, and racial gaps in the US have become exacerbated and deeper due to this health crisis. However, we should always remain hopeful that our societies can change with the will of the people and with citizens claiming changes through voting. Now we need more than ever an ongoing civic participation.

Finally, I want to say how proud I am of all students from the Latino Roots course who have shown resilience and commitment. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our students were able to produce significant work, adding their documentaries and multimedia work to the Latino Roots digital repository administered by CLLAS and UO Libraries. This new addition raised the number in the collection to 82. This work is more important than ever given the times we live in where open racism and anti-immigrant policies and sentiments are harming our society.

CLLAS rejects racism and the violence that this generates against people of color. We should always remember that the richness and greatness of this nation was (and continues to be) built on the backs of Black people and immigrants of color, mostly Latinx and Latin Americans.

I wish everyone a healthy and restful summer! And may health and life conditions improve for all in the US and around the world regardless of race, religion, and nationality!

“Fue el Estado!:” Justice for the Guatemalan Fifty-Six Girls and Embodying Emotional Geographies

By Carla Macal Montenegro, PhD Candidate in Geography

Altar of the 41 girls located in Central Park Guatemala City Zona 1. This altar was taken apart by city authorities after two years on September 11, 2019 to make space to celebrate Guatemala’s independence. Feminist organizations created a new altar to continue commemorating the memory of the 41 girls.

Guatemala is home to the Maya, Garifuna, and Xinca people, as well as Ladino and European settlers. It thrives with cultural traditions, delicious cuisine, and beautiful landscapes. Guatemala is also a colonized territory and experiences ongoing land dispossessions and exploitations by imperialist powers such as the United States and Canada. Colonization in Guatemala has generated race, class, and gender inequalities, from structuring a system of patriarchy that normalized gender roles based on power dynamics and domination. Due to this system, indigenous women are still rendered invisible and subjugated to domestic care roles. A tragic component of this inequality is the high number of femicides in the country. From 2001 to 2011, 5,000 women and young girls were murdered in Guatemala with less than four of the cases resulting in a conviction (Stephen, 2015).

As a Guatemalan woman living in the Global North, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to share the stories of Central Americans experiencing the ongoing violence of colonial imperialism (Speed 2019). On March 8, 2017 Guatemalan people responded to state oppression and demanded justice for the fifty-six girls. Forty-one were burned to death at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, and fifteen survivors are physically and emotionally injured. Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción located in San José Pinula, Guatemala is a state-operated shelter for adolescents identified as “troubled youth.” Families trust this shelter as it promises good caring conditions for their children.

However, on March 7, 2017, a day before the fire, a group of girls ran away from the shelter due to cases of rape, sex-trafficking, inadequate food, and physical abuse. The shelter authorities punished the girls by locking them into a room to the point of causing the death of forty-one girls ages twelve to seventeen. This tragic story enabled me to ask the following question:

How are feminist organizations in Guatemala responding to state level gender-based violence?

With the support of a graduate student research grant from the Center for Latina/o and Latin American Studies (CLLAS) I embarked on my first ethnographic field work during the summer of 2019 to conduct preliminary research for my studies. I identified 8 Tijax and MuJER, two organizations that are entrenched in the work against gender-based violence leading me to do a comparative study.

8 Tijax is a small volunteer collective that began providing support to the families of the fifty-six girls. They support the families with different roles such as hospital accompaniment, social work, journalism, and advocates of justice for the girls. I was able to interview all of the collectives’ participants in addition to one of the mothers of one of the girls. They shared how their work is to humanize and highlight each of the girls’ stories. As one of the participants’ shared, “Within deep pain, love is born.” She mentioned how they do this labor of love to amplify the truth and to valorize each of the stories. 8 Tijax has created commemorative altars to aid in the perseverance of public memory and even an international campaign #NosDuelen56 as a tribute to all the girls who were inside the shelter.

MuJER is the second organization I approached to interview and compare the work on gender-based violence in a formal setting. The director of the organization shared that they identify as a community-based organization providing services to women facing domestic and sexual violence. The organization’s main campaign is to provide a safe space for sex workers by providing skillsets they can use to generate different sources of income. MuJER is one of the organizations in Guatemala helping to advance gender equity and is part of a feminist network. One of the best moments during my field work was when they invited me to provide a natural deodorant-making workshop for the women in the organization. I provided the materials and shared with them a step-by-step natural deodorant recipe. We were building community as well as reciprocity.

From the interviews I made the connection that MuJER could potentially provide emotional support to the mothers of the girls. In addition, both organizations were deeply connected emotionally with the people they were supporting. Compassion was demonstrated by eating a meal together or applying on each other a calming essential oil during the interviews. Embodying emotional geographies throughout the interactions with the participants abolished the feeling of being an outsider. Instead we were weaving feelings of solidarity and sisterhood.


Speed, S. (2019). Incarcerated Stories: Indigenous Women Migrants and Violence in the Settler-Capitalist State. The University of North Carolina Press

Stephen, L. (2015). Gender violence and female indigenous Guatemalan refugees. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon. Pp. 1-27

About the author

Carla Macal Montenegro is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Oregon. She is studying the interconnections between borders, migrations, and feminist geographies. She is an educator involved in a pedagogy of liberation. She enjoys reciting social justice poetry with 3 Generaciones and Sin Fronteras group. Carla is also the creator of Ixoq Arte, an herbalist self-preservation project to reclaim ancestral indigenous knowledge. She was raised in East Los Angeles and was born in Guatemala.


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Spring 2019 CLLAS Notes


The 2019 spring edition of CLLAS Notes, our twice-yearly newsletter, is now available online and in print.

History professor Carlos Aguirre reviews his tenure as CLLAS interim director and takes us on a look ahead at the new two-year plan for CLLAS, a series of initiatives and events under the theme “The Politics of Language in the Americas.”

Learn about Judge Yassmin Barrios’s visit to the UO campus in March and her lecture on “Justice and Reparation in Guatemala,” where she talked about her experience with the High Risk Crime Tribunal over which she presides. Check out the accounts of graduate student research in Peru and Guatemala and faculty research in Bolivia. Read about CLLAS founding director Lynn Stephen’s experience as the president of the Latin American Studies Association.

CLLAS event planner & project manager Feather Crawford fills us in on the January CLLAS Town Hall with Mae Ngai, the 2018-19 Wayne Morse Center Chair. And thanks to Crawford’s excellent reporting, you can find out more about why migrants are fleeing Honduras when you read her account of historian Dana Frank’s detailed talk held in April.

The 2019 Spring edition of CLLAS Notes, Volume 10, Issue 2 includes:

  • Letter from Interim Director Carlos Aguirre
  • “Justice and Reparation in Guatemala”—Judge Yassmin Barrios’s lecture about justice & human rights in Guatemala
  • “Lynn Stephen Completes Her Tenure as LASA President”
  • Faculty Research—“Strugging with Sustainability: Guarayo Cultural and Environmental Management Challenges”
  • Graduate Research—“Responses to Gendered Violence in Costa Rica and Guatemala”
  • Graduate Research—“Sounds of Power: Peruvian colonial pipe organs in the interplay of cultures”
  • Graduate Research—“Environmental Justice and the Local Effects of Glacier Melt in the Peruvian Cordillera Huayhuash”
  • News & Book Notes
  • Event Reports
  • 2019-20 Grant Recipients

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Erin Beck: The Uneven Impacts of Violence against Women Reforms in Guatemala

May 10, 2019
12:00 pmto1:00 pm

PLC 348

Join the International Studies Community for a discussion at the INTL Lunch Talk Next Friday, May 10 @ 12 p.m. in PLC 348

The Uneven Impacts of Violence against Women Reforms in Guatemala: Intersecting Inequalities and the Patchwork State
Presented by Dr. Erin Beck, Associate Professor, Political Science, UO

In 2008, Guatemala passed one of the most comprehensive pieces of violence against women legislation in Latin America, which criminalized various forms of violence against women (VAW) and mandated the creation of a specialized court system that would focus exclusively on VAW.

This talk explores the passage of such agenda-setting reforms and analyzes their impacts. It demonstrates that the reforms’ impacts are unevenly felt, with those who are already the most marginalized benefiting the least. It explains these uneven effects by drawing on a historical intersectional analysis of gender violence and an an analysis of state-society relations at their local instantiations where reforms do (or do not) affect state officials’ behavior and individuals’ expectations and experiences of the “reformed” state.

Among other theoretical insights, this analysis reveals the importance of including place in an intersectional analysis alongside more commonly studied categories of difference such as gender, ethnicity, and class. 

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Judge Yassmin Barrios, “Justice and Reparation in Guatemala: Challenges and Possibilities”

March 5, 2019
6:00 pmto7:30 pm

156 Straub Hall, 1451 Onyx St., UO campus
Free & open to the public

Justice and Reparation in Guatemala: Challenges and Possibilities

CLLAS Inaugural Lecture in Latinx and Latin American Studies

Please join us for the CLLAS Inaugural Lecture in Latinx and Latin American Studies with Judge Yassmin Barrios. Judge Barrios will deliver her address, “Justice and Reparation in Guatemala: Challenges and Possibilities,” in 156 Straub Hall at 6pm on Tuesday, March 5th.

Judge Yassmin Barrios is president of one of the two Guatemalan High Risk Crimes Tribunals. She was the presiding judge in the case of General Efraín Ríos Montt, convicting the dictator for genocide against the indigenous Ixil Mayans of Guatemala.

Sponsored by the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies and cosponsored by the President’s Office, the Oregon Humanities Center, the Center for the Study of Women in Society, the Latin American Studies Program, and the Departments of History, Political Science, and Romance Languages.

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Upcoming Events

8/13 - Latino Roots exhibit at PK Park
8/26 - Latino Roots exhibit at Father Bernard Youth & Retreat Center (Mt. Angel)