This week, GHRC kicked off our November Speaking Tour with Lorena Cabnal — an indigenous Xinka woman and community feminist — in Houston, Texas. After earning her degree in Community Social Psychology, Lorena co-founded the Association of Indigenous Women of Santa María Xalapán (AMISMAXAJ) in 2003.
At out first event, Lorena discussed the status of Xinka women in Guatemala, as well as her experiences as a community activist. She described seeing a great amount of violence against women, young girls getting pregnant at the ages of 12 or 13, and women with up to 15 children. There were also issues with human trafficking, with young girls being sold into prostitution or into illegal international adoptions.
As Lorena and other members of AMISMAXAJ began to denounce these attacks against women, they also organized against oil extraction on their ancestral lands. The group discovered that there were 31 licenses for exploration for extraction projects in the Jalapa region, and warned the indigenous government that oil and mining projects “will become a serious problem.”
Lorena also explained what she called a “statistical ethnocide” against the Xinka people — the fact that the Xinka were not recognized as an ethnic group until the peace accords were signed in 1996, and that the Guatemalan government estimate of the Xinka population was much lower than a self-organized census found.“People say that the Xinka are almost extinct,” said Lorena. “We no longer speak our language or wear our traditional dress. Despite our population of 85,000, and our ethnic identity, [we are still very vulnerable], and one single mine could destroy our culture.”
The backlash against the women for their organizing efforts has been severe; the group has received threats and dealt with break-ins. “We had to go to a safe house,” said Lorena, “because of the intensity of the threats.”
During a question and answer session, one of the event attendees asked why there is so much violence against women in Guatemala. Lorena replied that it is not a new phenomenon; there has been a continuum of violence throughout the country’s history. The first stage of widespread violence was during the Spanish conquest and the second stage was during the counter-insurgency war.
“The effects of military indoctrination changed the situation for indigenous women, as well as their relationships with men in their communities,” Lorena explained.
The country now faces a third stage of violence that Lorena believes is due to a cultural legacy of machismo, the belief in the supremacy of men over women, but also due to the fact that there are many more women human rights defenders [who are victims of sexual violence because of their work].
To learn more about Lorena’s work, follow GHRC’s speaking tour updates, or attend an upcoming event in Texas or Georgia:
November 19 at 6:00 pm: Houston, Texas
Rice University Ley Student Center
6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77005
November 20 at 7:00 pm: Dallas, Texas
Southern Methodist University, Prothro Hall Room 106
5901 Bishop Blvd., University Park, TX 75205
November 21 at 5:00 pm: Austin, Texas
University of Texas-Austin, Benson Conference Room #1.208
2300 Red River Street, Austin, TX 78712
November 23 from 6:30 pm – 7:45 pm: Fort Benning, Georgia
School of the Americas Watch Vigil Workshop
Fort Benning, GA (near Columbus)
November 24 at 10 am (approximately): Fort Benning, Georgia
School of the Americas Watch Vigil Stage
Fort Benning, GA (near Columbus)