Sunday, 18 August 2013

Who is Ramiro Choc?

A young Ramiro Choc.
Photo Credit: Unknown
"One delegate notably missing from the Health Tribunal in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and the Izabalense delegation was Ramiro Choc. Like his sisters, Angelica and Maria Choc, Ramiro is a prominent Q’eqchi’ peasant leader who has dedicated much of his life to the defense of indigenous communities in Eastern and Central Guatemala. But on February 14, 2008 six police officers dragged Ramiro Choc from a public bus en route to Guatemala City and took him to an undisclosed location. There he was unlawfully detained for 5 days and probably would have been made to join the country’s countless disappeared had it not been for a serendipitously timed call to a lawyer — a call Ramiro still believes saved his life. So, instead of having his image added the walls of the capital adorned with the faces the “desaparecidos”, Mr. Choc was suddenly made to reappear albeit in front of a judge on the trumped up charges of aggravated robbery, land stealing, and kidnapping.
Posters of the Desaparecidos in Guatemala City.
Photo Credit: Robin Newman
If not so tragic the irony would be comedic. Ramiro and the organizations for whom he worked, the National Indigenous and Peasant Coordinating Committee (CONIC) and Encuentro Campesino, dedicate themselves to defending embattled indigenous communities against the very same crimes for which he was accused and subsequently condemned.
In fact, Ramiro appears to have been convicted for his role in mediating a stand-off between police and an indigenous Garifuna community near Livingston in 2007. Invited by the Department’s Governor, he had travelled to Barrio Buena Vista la Esperanza to help negotiate the release of a group of men forcibly held by the community for trespassing and land theft. But as reward for mediating a nonviolent conclusion to a volatile confrontation - Ramiro was arrested and now, four years later, continues to sleep on a cement floor in the notorious Pavon Prison.
Ramiro Choc became eligible for parole in February of 2011 but was unable to pay the extrajudicial fine attached to his sentence effectively making probation and freedom luxuries he simply can’t afford. But there is hope. The stubborn determination of his sisters has collided with the dedicated activism of Rights Action and others. And this growing North-South alliance has raised sufficient funds to satisfy the states extortion. But for now, Ramiro waits."

I included this piece in OG Guatemala’s newsletter in 2012. In 2013, I had the incredible privilege of bringing our OG Extreme team to Pavon Prison to meet the political prisoner Ramiro Choc himself. If it weren’t for the guards, concrete walls and barbed wire Pavon Prison would appear to many as more of a town than a prison. Market stalls and small eateries or comedors line the paths and many prisoners continue to eke out livelihoods for themselves and their families on the outside by making artisanal crafts or engaging in the informal economy that serves the 2,500 residents of “Barrio” Pavon. An affable guide and fellow prisoner escorted our group through the maze of narrow hallways and makeshift homes that make-up this model of state cruelty and individual ingenuity. After a few stops for directions we found Ramiro outside a small shack and garden that he and another prisoner have devised as their sleeping and working quarters. There we talked with the soft-spoken Ramiro, about his case, about our program and about football – the Gold Cup final between the US and Panama was being broadcast by small hand-held radios and little TV sets throughout the prison. Our visit was than punctuated by an exchange of hugs and a small number of Ramiro’s own hand-woven bags and hammocks which OG will sell or auction in the coming weeks with all proceeds going to the maker and his family.
But the story doesn’t end there.
From our visit we learned that Ramiro had a probation hearing scheduled for August 11, 2013. Ramiro has had many other such hearings so, needless to say, neither we nor he held out much hope for a Guatemalan Judicial change of heart at this one. BUT on August 13 as our team sat with none other than Angelica Choc in the community of Aguas Calientes, Alta Verapaz listening to personal stories of repression, dispossession, and murder at the hands of the government, mining and agribusiness, Angelica got a call.
A smile began to spread and quickly overwhelmed her face. Unable to speak or understand Q’eqchi’, our group curiously waited to see what was moving our friend and host to near tears. “He’s out, Ramiro is free!”
Ramiro Choc, long-time indigenous activist and 5 year political prisoner is now free to be a father, a husband, and a brother. I, OG and our Extreme team thank Ramiro, Angelica, and all those in the struggle for land, livelyhoods, and basic human rights for allowing us to share in small victories like the one we witnessed on Tuesday at a picnic table in Aguas Calientes. Welcome home Ramiro! 
OG Guatemala Extreme with Angelica Choc

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