Monday, 15 February 2010

Interview with Guatemalan human rights activist Jorge Lopez

Source: -12 Feb

By Oli Balcazar

While Britain celebrates LGBT History month, the fight for basic freedom and equality across the world rages on. Jorge Lopez is a testament to this ongoing struggle.

A human rights activist from Guatemala, he’s visiting London this week to raise awareness of the crises facing LGBT communities in Central America. He spoke to exclusively.

“The widespread homophobia in Guatemala is symptomatic of its broader problems; poverty, corruption, social and economic inequality all foster feelings of discontent and hatred against minorities,” says Lopez. “Anger at the system is directed against the LGBT community, making it more of a target than ever.”

We might expect those on the fringes of society to be protected by the State, but it is the Guatemalan government that most hinders Lopez and his gay rights organisation OASIS in their struggle for equality.

In 2006, an transgender member of OASIS, Paulina, was killed, prompting the human rights organisation Peace Brigades International to provide protective accompaniment to OASIS. The case has yet to come to trial, though witnesses alleged attackers were officers of the National Civil Police.

“The executive and judicial powers have absolutely no interest in protecting the vulnerable or enforcing justice. Attacks on gay people remain unpunished, leading to a culture condoning violence against the LGBT community. This impunity exists because of a fundamental failure of the State.”

Lopez himself has faced numerous threats and attacks while campaigning. He refuses however to be silenced by such tactics, continuing to run a programme of services, training and advice, as well as documenting and reporting the human rights violations, exclusion and discrimination that LGBT communities, including sex workers and those with HIV-AIDS,  suffer in his country.

He has met with openly gay MEP Michael Cashman to highlight the violent persecution across Guatemala and central America. “Our meeting was a great step for us. It can take a while for the severity of the situation to implement action, but I’m confident OASIS can raise the global awareness we need.”

Lopez is also meeting with the All-Party Parlimentary Group on AIDS, a backbench cross-Party group of MPs and Peers, to discuss the critical situation for HIV sufferers in Guatemala.

“The country is facing a HIV epidemic, yet the government refuses to acknowledge the problem. Any money for HIV treatment is given solely for the rich elite, leaving poorer people such as sex workers with only international aid to treat the virus.”

The tasks of protecting LGBT people from violence, as well as changing social attitudes of his country, are ones Lopez is ready to tackle. “I want to put a face to the struggle in Guatemala. People need to understand the problems we face and how we can unite to uphold justice and freedom.”

Lopez will visit Madrid later in the week to alert the Spanish government to the severity of Guatemala’s situation.


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