In November 2013, Lorena Cabnal, accompanied by GHRC, spoke at a School of the America’s Watch Vigil about the Xinka community, their defense of land and women’s rights, and the recent impacts of remilitarization. Her story reflects both the historic struggles of the Xinka people, as well as the transformation of a group of women into a nationally recognized political force.
The Xinka people are not widely known outside Guatemala. And, until recently, the Xinka were not even recognized as an indigenous group in Guatemala; when Lorena was growing up, she didn’t know anything about that part of her heritage. Then, with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, and after extensive work by Xinka communities themselves, the Xinka people were officially recognized as a non-Mayan indigenous group.
Lorena herself settled in Santa Maria Xalapan, Jalapa, the largest Xinka community — often referred to simply as “the Mountain.” The promises of the Peace Accords, however, didn’t materialize in the Mountain. When the government claimed that Xalapan was not a target for social programs because “no indigenous people lived there,” (the government’s official count was 16,700), the women took the lead in organizing a community census. They showed that there were 85,000 Xinka people on the Mountain, and then organized marches to denounce racism and the “statistical ethnocide” that sought to minimize and disregard the population. Continue reading
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.
Lorena Cabnal and GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones with Father Gerry, of Maryknoll house, and members of the RPDG and ADOGUAH — co-sponsors of a great event on Monday evening!
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. Continue reading