Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Appeal in Support of AVANCSO

Donations are needed to help AVANCSO rebuild after a suspicious break-in, in which all their computers were stolen. Many GSN members have done research and published with AVANCSO, and all of us benefit from the opening for social science research and praxis that AVANCSO has helped create and defend. Please see below for how you can help. Por favor, disculpen que la carta esté escrita en inglés.

In the middle of the night between January 17 and 18, the offices of the Association for the Advancement of the Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO) suffered a destructive break-in. After drugging the nightwatchman unconscious, the intruders stole some 30 computers, along with disks, flash drives, and digital cameras. The intruders also rifled through paper files.

In a January 18 statement, AVANCSO noted that the goal of the break-in appeared to be to steal research information and intimidate the organization, since other valuable equipment (scanners, etc) was left untouched. "This is a clear message against the critical social sciences in Guatemala," the AVANCSO statement concluded.

Please see below for what you can do to help.

Why is AVANCSO so important?

Since its inception as an independent research center in 1986, AVANCSO works to create a space for social science research in Guatemlaa, focusing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and careful archival investigation, as well as mentoring and training a generation of younger scholars.

AVANCSO's mission is to help repair the intellecual fabric of the country, in a context in which more than 100 university professors were assassinated during Guatemala's armed conflict, and university-level field research collapsed. AVANCSO strives to create and preserve a space for critical thinking around the central issues of rural and urban development, historical memory, ethnic relations, violence and democratization, and identity. Its work includes dozens of books and hundreds of articles and working papers.

AVANCSO’s contribution goes far beyond these publications, however. Its researchers are dedicated to building relationships with a wide range of national organizations and to producing useful knowledge so that those organizations may contribute to a broad debate on development alternatives. As such, AVANCSO has become a vital node in the struggle to create political openings in Guatemala.

 Scholars and human rights groups protest attack against AVANCSO.

Following the January break-in, many sectors in Guatemala and abroad protested what is seen as an attack against AVANCSO, and, by extension, against intellectual freedom in Guatemala:

--On January 19, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement in support of AVANCSO, expressing "concern over the possibility that this could be an attack against the academic work that AVANCSO has carried out for over 25 years, which has been and is key to understanding and promoting many of the social processes in support of peace and the respect of human rights in Guatemala."

 --On January 21, The Myrna Mack Foundation, one of Guatemala's leading human rights organizations, noted that the AVANCSO break-in followed a pattern of intimidation against individuals and organizations involved in critical intellectual and development projects in Guatemala.

----On January 23, 100 international scholars and research centers published a paid in the Guatemalan daily newspaper El Periódico expressing support for AVANCSO and calling for a thorough investigation and prosecution of those responsible, as "the only way to ensure that the abuses of the past against scientific and intellectual life in Guatemala will not be repeated."

--On January 25, the Guatemalan Catholic Bishop's Conference issued a statement in solidarity with AVANCSO, expressing a worry that the break-in could be a sign of a "strategy of persecution and harassment against those who struggle to defend human rights, thus returning to the nefarious practices of the past."

--On January 30, a group of Guatemalan scholars held a press conference to express solidarity with AVANCSO. They noted that a letter calling for an investigation, signed by more than 500 Guatemalan and international scholars, intellectuals, artists and social and feminist leaders, had been presented to President Otto Peréz Molina and to the Guatemalan Justice Department.

--A number of Guatemalan scholars published Op-Eds in the Guatemalan press expressing admiration for AVANCSO's work, decrying the apparent effort to stifle critical thinking, and calling on authorities to investigate the attack.

This is not the first time AVANCSO has been targeted.
--In 1990, the research institute's co-founder, Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack, was stabbed to death by an army death squad outside AVANCSO's office in Guatemala City. Myrna Mack had been investigating the situation of Mayan communities displaced by army massacres in the early 1980s (the Myrna Mack murder became a major human rights case in Guatemala, eventually leading to the conviction of an army sergeant in 1993 and a colonel in 2002).

--On the night of March 20, 2002, armed men forced their way into the AVANCSO building. The men entered the offices of the Agrarian Team, without visibly removing anything.

--On June 7, 2002, a faxed death threat sent to numerous organizations in Guatemala named AVANCSO director Clara Arenas, along with Myrna Mack's sister, human rights activist Helen Mack, and nine others. During this period, AVANCSO detected continuous surveillance outside its offices, and at times outside the homes of some of its personnel.

Here's how you can help:

It is vital that AVANCSO not be forced to close its doors. The most important contribution right now is to help AVANCSO replace its stolen computers and research equipment. Over the past few weeks, GSN members donated and brought to AVANCSO a dozen laptops, although this is only an emergency stopgap measure. The Guatemalan Scholars Network is starting a support fund to help AVANCSO get back on its feet. So far, more than $10,000 has been raised for AVANCSO through foundational and individual support (a big shout-out to Marcie Mersky for her fundaising work). The goal is to raise an additional $10,000 so that AVANCSO can buy new computers and other research supplies. This is important material and moral support for our colleagues who face a devastating blow to their research projects. Let's stand by AVANCSO so we can continue to count on their cutting-edge critical research. If every GSN member gave $35, we could raise the additional amount AVANCSO needs....

The Guatemalan Scholars Network is receiving donations in support of AVANCSO. Checks can be made out to: Guatemala Scholars Network, and sent to Liz Oglesby, c/o Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, P.O. Box 210076, Tucson, AZ 85721. Please be sure to make the check out to Guatemala Scholars Network; donations will be bundled by GSN and wired to AVANCSO in Guatemala. Donations are tax deductible. For more information (or if you have connections with a foundation that might want to make a grant), please email Liz Oglesby at eoglesby@email.arizona.edu.

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