Dear José –
My dear friend, we have to stop meeting like this – although we have never personally met. We have to stop discussing the persistent and resilient corruption that pervades the government of your country – although we have never personally spoken about it. We have to stop shouting from rooftops about the injustices in your country – although you have bravely done so for more than 30 years while I have been silent. We have to stop risking our lives and the lives of our children in the face of masked thugs and armed police – as you have done for years while I share the danger of your circumstances from the civil safety of Canada. My friend, my brother, my compatriot, you must stop embarrassing us with your indomitable courage.
My friend, my brother, my compatriot, you must stop embarrassing us with your indomitable courage.
My friend, my brother, my compatriot, you must stop embarrassing us with your indomitable courage. At your age – you are 66 – to allow yourself to be taken out of your home in handcuffs by armed police on trumped up charges of money-laundering, charges more appropriate to the politicians and prosecutors who have accused you. You knew this would happen when your newspaper, elPeriódico, charged President Giammattei and his cronies with corruption only days before.
I understand: your journalists have found the evidence, have spoken to witnesses, and someone must speak the truth – but why always you? You have been doing this since 1990 and, truly, I don’t understand. I appreciate that you live in a country with a history of extreme violence particularly during the civil war when more than 200, 000 people – mostly indigenous Mayan people – were killed, arrested, tortured, disappeared. There have been military coups, brutal repressions of civil rights, and violence, always violence, behind the mask of democracy. But that history makes it even more dangerous for you.
So, I must ask you, why must you always speak out? Over the years, you have been arrested, beaten, stripped naked in front of your children, run off the road, been the target of grenades, and still you insist on speaking the truth, publishing the truth. I appreciate that you have been successful in exposing corruption. That after your imprisonment in 1994, President Portillo apologized to you. So yes, some success. But at what personal cost? Over the years, you have been arrested, beaten, stripped naked in front of your children, run off the road, been the target of grenades, and still you insist on speaking the truth, publishing the truth.
Over the years, you have been arrested, beaten, stripped naked in front of your children, run off the road, been the target of grenades, and still you insist on speaking the truth, publishing the truth.
And now, on July 29 of this year, once again, arrested. Human rights organizations and international journalist organizations have come to your defense, charging that the corruption charges are false, manufactured by a corrupt government to hide its own corruption.
In Guatemala, that is an old trick. You have a name for it, unknown in Canada: persecución judicial. Despite all of the international protests, despite the flimsiness of the charges, you remain in prison.
And so I am writing to you, old friend, to say, with great reluctance, how much I admire your courage, your adamantine will, not to surrender, never to surrender, to the forces of political corruption that plague your country. I salute your determination to speak the truth and dearly hope that you will be released and returned to the comfort of your family.
However, I must ask you, no entreat you, that the next time you are presented with evidence of corruption, that you call me first before writing anything so that we might discuss the matter. We could meet somewhere, perhaps Miami or, better still, San Juan, somewhere safe, where we could sit on a veranda looking at the sea, perhaps a glass of rum, with ice, by our side. We could discuss our human right to free speech, freedom of the press. Between us, we will have enough courage to continue the struggle.
In solidarity, with profoundest respect,
Peter Showler is a former Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, former Director of the Refugee Forum, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, and author of Refugee Sandwich, stories of exile and asylum.