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January 18, 2012


I grew up in Guatemala, during the height of its undeclared civil war (right before that turned into outright genocide). I remember a lot of Peace Corps volunteers who served in tiny villages as well as larger towns. The majority of those I knew were big-hearted people who soon grew to love the people they were trying to help. They weren't particularly safe there at the time because, honestly, few were safe during those years. Some of them were made even less safe because they were additional voices from out in the field confirming that the atrocities the government denied in the "official story" were, in fact, happening and widespread. They served a really important function - witness to the world at large - when all other witnesses were being killed or disappeared. Their American citizenship ensured (to some extent) that a) they wouldn't be targeted for disappearance as readily, and b) their witness was deemed fairly credible.

I find myself strangely torn up by the Peace Corps decision to stop sending volunteers to Guate. and Honduras now that the violence is purportedly more random and gang-related. On the one hand I do think it is the organization's obligation to protect those volunteers better than it has in the past. On the other hand those who will suffer the most from the decision are those without voice, means and most systematically disenfranchised - the very people the Peace Corps was created to serve.

I have to say that some of the (deliberately?) narrowed understanding we (the U.S.) have of the current drug-trafficking and gang-related violence problems in Central America concerns me. It stokes the fears we already have about immigrants from Mexico and Central America being "dangerous." It also ignores that some of the pernicious and entrenched problems in Guate. are - at least partially - the legacy of our (Pres. Reagan especially) having offered support to the governments that prepped the ground for the current level of violence and that were the architects of the Guatemalan genocide back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

In any case, the same people - the indigenous, the rural and urban poor - who suffered most during the civil war and genocide are also the ones who are suffering most now. And they'll do so now with fewer people willing to go, roll up their sleeves, and help them out.


Thanks for the extremely insightful look at what the Peace Corps decision to pull out of these countries--or to no longer send new Volunteers--means. As you said, it's not the Peace Corps or the Volunteers who will be harmed by this. It's the people the PCVs helped.

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