13 October 2005

Hurricane Stan and Guatemala

Message from Judy Loo, of Breaking the Silence Maritimes:

Over the past few days, I have received information about the situation in Guatemala in the wake of Huricane Stan, and decided to send a summary to folks who I think would be interested, but may not have received it through other channels. To Wilmoteers on this list, I am sending the info to you because of the crafts and coffee that we sell, and the ongoing solidarity connection that we have had.

Guatemala has been the hardest hit among the countries of Central America, with approximately 650 confirmed dead and many more unaccounted for. Many small communities are still cut off with no road access and loss of phone and power connections. Reports that I have received are mainly from the Lake Atitlan area, the area where Breaking the Silence coffee is produced. Apparently Guatemala City was not too badly affected and Rabinal, the location of the school that has received support from Maritime groups and which is also Jeremias Tecu's home area, escaped the worst of the storm.

The western part of the country was the hardest hit, with parts of Quetzaltenango (Xela) inundated two metres deep in flood water. If any of you remember CEIPA, the street children's organization that Frederictonians have helped to support, or Mario Morales, the student for whom we raised money to help complete his law degree, they are located in Quetzaltenango. I haven't heard any details from individuals there, and can only hope that they came through it safely.

San Lucas Toliman, where a number of groups supported by the Maritime Breaking the Silence Network are located, was cut off from all outside communication for several days. As of Saturday, there were still no supplies coming into the town. Caitrian MacNeil, a young woman from Nova Scotia, volunteering in San Lucas wrote, "In San Lucas, everything is in short supply. We waited too long to search for agua pura (pure water), and now there is none. There is no more gasoline, eggs, pan (bread), maiz (corn) or frijoles (beans). Everything else that may be left in the tiendas (stores) has tripled in price."

Breaking the Silence coffee comes from several small communities near Lake Atitlan, including the community of Chitulul which is located on a plateau above a deep ravine. The community coffee plantation is located in the ravine and the processing facility is also located at the bottom of a very steep hill. Some of us have visited the community and have raised money to assist the community when they were developing the coffee project. No news has been received from this community. They were due to begin harvesting coffee within a week, but the plantation and processing facilities are likely under water.

We have heard from Leocadio Juracan, the vice-president of CCDA, which is the organization that runs the fair trade coffee project, suppying Breaking the Silence coffee. A contact from BC wrote "I wanted to let people know that Leocadio Juracan, Vice President of the CCDA called me today to let us know that Hurricane Stan is having a strong impact on the Mayan communities around Lake Atitlan and beyond. The heavy rains have caused flooding and landslides that have isolated communities, destroyed houses and killed many. He said that it is hard to assess the full extent of the damage as the small communities on the mountain and volcano slopes are now inaccessible and their electricty and phones (where those exist) are down. Even Quixaya, a village on the main San Lucas Coastal highway where the CCDA headquarters are and Leocadio lives, has been cut off as swollen rivers have taken out bridges on the route to the coast and a slide has cutoff the route to the Lake. Leocadio says that dozens of families from nearby villages and Fincas have taken shelter in the church and community centre in Quixaya as their homes have been destroyed. He also knows that an entire community was destroyed (Panabaj) near Santiago Atitlan when a mudslide came down the Toliman volcano and swept away the homes—at least 200 are dead there. He has heard of other mudslides taking out other communities in the region but is unable to confirm because of lack of communication with the CCDA villages in the region. Leocadio said currently the CCDA is not yet appealing for aid as they do not know the extend of the damage and what is needed, but they may communicate with BC CASA (and Breaking the Silence) about this when they are able to re-establish contact with their communities."

The crafts brought to the Maritimes by the Breaking the Silence Network and sold at Tatamagouche, Wilmot United Church and other locations, come from small communities from the Department of Chimaltenango. We have not heard from any of our contacts there, but there are news reports that the area has been heavily damaged, and one community along the highway is known to have suffered loss of lives as well as lost and damaged homes.

If I receive additional information that is not in the mainstream media, I will send out more news if you are interested.


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