Q: You’ve done human rights work in various countries, could you talk a bit about that?
Kevin: I started in Guatemala where I worked a human shield for opposition leaders during negotiations that led to the peace accords, including (Nobel peace Prize winner) Rigoberta Menchú, some deans from the university and a couple of labour lawyers. I also went to El Salvador a couple of times as an elections observer to their legislative and presidential elections. All those trips were under the auspices of the Central America Support Committee (CASC) in Victoria.
From Colombia, I met a trade unionist named Liliany Obando, who toured across the country in 2006 to meet with Canadian labour and solidarity groups, she stayed with me and my late wife. When she was jailed without charge for almost a year and then finally came to trial in 2009, I decided to go down to Colombia witness her trial and to stay with her family. Her family was being threatened, in particular her young daughter was being threatened by paramilitaries. So I went and stayed with them to try to make things safer.
In 2002 I worked as a human shield with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine; I spent three weeks in Bethlehem. The plan was that I was supposed to stand with Palestinian farmers as they tended their olives trees and protect them from attacks by Zionist settlers, but in the end the Israelis invaded the West Bank and I spent most of my time in a refugee camp in Bethlehem acting as a human shield again.
Q: What do you see as the link between your solidarity work in Latin America and in Palestine?
It’s really the same bullies, the same oppressors in both cases. I remember when the Somoza dictatorship fell in Nicaragua in 1979, the new government announced that they would honour all of the debts the former dictator had left except for one: the debt they refused to repay was what Somoza owed to the Israelis for weapons and training of the death squads that had oppressed the Nicaraguan people. I heard the same thing from people in El Salvador, about how Israelis had helped train the death squads and torturers in that country. And we hear the same information from Argentina and Chile, about how the Israelis had helped train the torturers and death squads under those dictatorships as well. There have been lots of links between Israel and political repression in Latin America, sadly. And now more recently with Cast Lead (the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-2009 which left more than 1400 Palestinians dead), some Latin American countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have sent their Israeli ambassadors packing as a diplomatic protest. Sadly, in these cases where the Israeli ambassadors are kicked out because of that country’s human rights violations, the Canadian embassy ends up volunteering to look after Israeli interests — our diplomats working for another country. It’s shameful really, but what can you expect from Harper’s government?
David Heap is a member of the Canadian Boat to Gaza national steering committee and active with the Latin American Canadian Solidarity Association in London, Ontario.
Pupusas for Palestine: Salvadoran Solidarity with Gaza
Sunday February 13, 12 noon – 4 p.m. Fire Roasted Coffeehouse, Western Fair Market (upstairs), 900 King St. E. (at the corner of Dundas E. and Ontario, next the Western fair grounds). London’s Movimiento Farabundista invites you to enjoy their traditional Salvadoran specialty — pupusas! — and help support a great cause (http://canadaboatgaza.org/). Made with corn dough, pupusas are lightly fried pancakes filled with a variety of savoury stuffings. On this occasion they will be made with 100% halal ingredients — black beans, cheese and vegetables — to welcome our Palestinian friends and Muslim community at large (as well as everyone else who love great food and justice!). Pupusas are delicious eaten on the spot and can also be taken out to be enjoyed later. Just $2.50 each, but you may find it hard to each only one! LTC bus lines 2, 7 and 20. Ample free parking. Join, invite to and share this event on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=121196064618438 More upcoming Palestine solidarity events in London: https://sites.google.com/site/people4peacelondon/palestine-solidarity-february-2011