Polinizaciones emerged in 2007 as a proposal of the Beehive Collective, and started out as a mobile process to meet, share, and accompany different movements of territorial defense, mostly in Colombia but also in Venezuela and Ecuador. For some years now, Polinizaciones has focused on working closely with a few specific processes of territorial defense, while still maintaining contact with other processes that we have had the privilege of exchanging experiences and working with. One of the projects we are committed to is the process of territorial defense in Central Huila against the threat of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project, which resulted in Ríos Vivos Movement Colombia inviting us to participate in the 5th Gathering of the Latin American Network against Dams (REDLAR) in the community of Retalteco, Department of Petén, Guatemala, Central America.
Since we had the privilege of being able to go to Guatemala for the gathering, we took advantage of the opportunity to also do a small pre-launch tour with our latest graphic: ¡Mesoamérica Resiste! After over nine years of work- of research, interviews, design, and illustration – we have completed this graphic campaign about the struggle against the megaprojects that are part of Project Mesoamerica (formerly known as Plan Puebla Panama). We will continue to develop additional educational materials and resources to accompany this graphic, but for now the initial narrative booklet is complete, and we've started touring and distributing the graphic in many communities to get feedback on how to best tell the story. Right now we are raising funds through Kickstarter for a big print run of posters, so that we can continue pollinating these stories throughout the hemisphere and the world. Check out our video about the making of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic, and help us spread the word!
In addition to the REDLAR Gathering we had the great privilege of getting to know some different territories and communities where we were able to share Mesoamérica Resiste. On the outskirts of the capital, in Ciudad Quetzal, in the company of youth and mothers from EPRODEP (Studies and Projects of Popular Efforts) we did our very first story telling of Mesoamérica Resiste. In the same space, the group IXIM-Collective of Rural Studies (CER) launched their new photo-novel about agro-ecology, created with the youth from EPRODEP. We also did a story telling at a gathering organized by the Tz´ikin Network of Independent Audio-Visual Makers, where there were participants from all over Guatemala and southern Mexico. In both spaces, folks were overjoyed with the new graphic campaign and expressed interest in helping spread it, the great task we take on now.
A special part of the work of cross pollinating is being able to take illustrated stories back to the people and communities that participated in the research that was done at the beginning of the project. One of the groups we were able to connect with again that participated in the 2004 research tour is H.I.J.O.S.-Guatemala. We shared a personalized storytelling with H.I.J.O.S., highlighting the scene they inspired where the caterpillars of monarch butterflies are painting murals as part of the work of recuperating memory. We are very happy and pleased to say that H.I.J.O.S. approved the scene that they helped create.
The REDLAR gathering in Retalteco was a space that brought together people from impacted communities who are fighting against dams in their regions, as well as allies from the majority of countries in Mesoamerica and South America. There was also widespread participation from all of Guatemala´s regions that are impacted by the construction of hydroelectric dams. Before arriving in Retalteco, the event started with international delegates visiting and accompanying the different areas of the country impacted by dams, meeting the communities leading the processes of territorial defense and then continuing together with folks to Retalteco.
One of the territories to receive a delegation was Santa Cruz Barillas, in the Department of Huehuetenango, where days before the Guatemala government violently repressed local peoples who were non-violently resisting the imposition and construction of the Dam Hidro Santa Cruz. As a result of this the national government made a declaration that all international people involved in internal political issues would be deported immediately. Nonetheless, the solidarity delegation visited Barillas to document the grave situation of human rights violations and community repression towards local inhabitants. What was observed in Barillas is what is seen across Latin America: that human rights violations are systematic. There are killings, finger pointing, threats, criminalization of those who are interested in preserving the balance of life on planet Earth, for those who understand in their own body the pain and anguish of what it is to be displaced.
For better or for worse, it appears that these declarations influenced the staff of various non-profit organizations that were scheduled to participate in the gathering to not participate, leaving the space open for people from affected communities and from processes of territorial and river defense to share stories and struggles. During the entire event, we the Bees, like all the other delegates from Ríos Vivos-Colombia, had the pleasure of meeting and sharing with sisters and brothers from all over the hemisphere that just like us love and fight for a territory that is more healthy, just, autonomous and free.
One project that Polinizaciones contributed to the REDLAR gathering was the painting of two murals at the school in Retalteco, with local youth and children and youth from afar. The two murals depict the territory of Petén and the Usumacinta River, which is currently threatened with the building of various dams. In the murals, the river is being protected by different species from the area that are cooperating in the destruction of a dam. Polinizaciones was in charge of mixing colors and helping coordinate the project, though the two murals were painted almost entirely by the children and youth participating in the gathering. The murals will remain in the community as an artistic creation and to hold the collective memory of the gathering that occurred in Retalteco, an example of the strength of REDLAR as a space of meeting and sharing between communities from Latin America that live and struggle to defend their territories and their rivers.
The cloth banners of the Beehive's Mesoamérica Resiste graphics were hanging throughout the gathering, adorning one of the school buildings and creating a space for observation and reflection for the participants who took time to admire the banners. During the days of the gathering in Retalteco, about 500 people were able to study the portable murals. One afternoon during the gathering we had the opportunity to do a storytelling with the banners, including sharing the history of the Beehive Collective and the process of making the graphic over the past nine years. People had a very positive reaction to the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic and were very interested in how to get copies and use it as a tool in their processes of territorial defense. The gathering ended with a ceremony in the Usumacinta River, where participants from all over made paper boats, wrote the names of their communities, rivers and countries on the boats and released them on the river during sunset as a symbolic act, creating a giant anti-dam flotilla.
After the gathering we stayed buzzing around Petén for a couple more days. We visited another group that participated in the research trip for the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic, the community and cooperative of Nuevo Horizonte. Nuevo Horizonte (New Horizon) was founded two years after the peace accords were signed in Guatemala in 1996. Founded by Guatemalan demobilized guerillas and refugees, the people who founded the community started on deforested and over-exploited land that today has projects such as reforestation, agro-ecology, aquaculture, cattle, a cooperative store, and solidarity tourism. Within the forest of over 240 acres of reforested land, community members have used camera-traps to document the existence of families of ocelot and puma that live in an area that less than 20 years ago was just grass. We once again had the privilege of being able to share the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic with a group of over 40 people from the community, of all different ages. Folks from Nuevo Horizonte reacted positively to the graphic and congratulated us on a job well done. A combatant told us during the presentation that, “what you all (the Bees) show in these banners represents everything that we all fought for during the time we were in the guerrilla.”
After a special time in Petén that included the REDLAR gathering, swimming in the Quetzal River, being in Nuevo Horizonte, and having the privilege of visiting the sacred sites of Tikal and Yaxha, we the Bees took off flying to the southwestern region of the country. On October 4th, 2012, the indigenous peoples and peasants of the Department of Totonicapán were peacefully protesting against the price hikes in electricity costs, the building of a hydroelectric dam, the policies around mining in the constitutional reform, and the education reform, when the army reacted in an oppressive and brutal fashion. Seven people were massacred by the army: Rafael Nicolás Batz Menchú, José Eusebio Puac Ordóñez, Jesús Francisco Ordóñez, Santos Nicolás Menchú Fernández, Jesús Baltazar Puac, Arturo Felix Sapón Yax, and Domingo Pascual Solís. Over 40 people were injured in the area of the Cumbre de Alaska where there was a nonviolent road blockade - nonviolent until the military arrived. The indigenous communities of Totonicapán are organized within the Council of the 48 Cantones, which represents all the villages that exist in the department. The day of the massacre, the leaders of the 48 Cantones were in Guatemala City, waiting for President Otto Pérez (former military general from the 1980s) in a meeting they had with Representative Miguel Angel Balcarcel.
Since then the communities of Totonicapán continue to organize and struggle, demanding justice because of what happened last year and at other moments. The artist youth collective K´astajinem brings together young people who work with theatre, film, puppets, marimba music, clowns and other people who use arts and culture as a tool in the process of territorial and community defense. As part of the one year anniversary of the Massacre of Totonicapán, the K´astajinem Collective organized an entire month of cultural and artistic activities to commemorate those who lost their lives on that day.
Polinizaciones linked up with the K´astajinem Collective to participate in the cultural and musical activities one afternoon in the area of Aldea Chipuac. Over eighty people participated, including the families of the martyrs, enjoying the performances and sharing a meal at the end of the day. During the entire event the Mesoamérica Resiste banners hung on the walls of the space, and right before dinner we were able to share the storytelling with everyone present. Those who participated in the storytelling were pleased with the graphic and insisted that the Beehive return with Mesoamérica Resiste to share the story in the other cantones of Totonicapán.
Before finishing our small Polinizaciones tour of Guatemala we went to Lake Atitlán, where we were able to share Mesoamérica Resiste with the Association of Women Stars Tz´utujil in San Pablo de la Laguna and with the Association for the Development of Women K’ak’a Na’oj in Santa Catarina de Palopo (ADEMKAN). This journey through Guatemala confirmed that the work of the Beehive Collective and the Mesoamérica Resiste graphics campaign is really just beginning, and many more pollination efforts in Guatemala and the rest of Mesoamerica are in the works.
Traveling the territories of Project Mesoamerica (Mexico, Central America, and Colombia), to share the Mesoamérica Resiste graphics campaign with the communities that are struggling against these policies and in defense of their communities, territories and all life, is going to take a long time. More than a visually appealing artistic piece, all of the works of the Beehive are created with the intention of being educational and communication tools, hopefully to be appropriated by the communities that are living the realities that are illustrated. The graphics are offered as a contribution to processes of skills building and social organization. We are also aware that the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic is a much needed tool in South America, where IIRSA, the Regional Integration Initiative of South America (the South American version of Project Mesoamerica), is causing the same problems in the south. The cross pollination of Mesoamerica Resiste is just starting, and the Beehive is going to depend on a lot of you; activist ants, plants and other animals connected to these processes of social struggle and territorial defense, to be more effective in our distribution and supporting communities taking on the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic as part of their fight against the megaprojects of Project Mesoamerica and IIRSA.
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