Sandra Moran was elected last year as a member of Guatemala’s parliament. This is surprising, given that she is also an openly lesbian advocate for LGBT, women’s and aboriginal rights, in a country where violence toward all those groups is very common.
Moran is a longtime feminist activist and artist who lived in exile in Mexico and Canada between 1981 and 1994. She grew up in a world of run by military dictatorships that jailed or killed anyone they regarded as subversive.
She will be one of the keynote speakers at the International Peace and Justice Conference to be held on September 22 to 24 at Selkirk College in Nelson and Castlegar. Another speaker will be the Canadian indigenous leader Wab Kinew.
Moran was one of three people elected to parliament last year, despite their radical stances, by what she calls a new social movement in Guatemala.
“We have a movement that is about the struggle against impunity and corruption. It mobilized many citizens to look for other kinds of people, not the traditional politicians,” she told the Star in an interview by phone from Guatemala this week.
“They saw us as people that can do different and better things. They looked at us and voted for us.”
At the conference in Nelson she will address the conference’s theme: to change things, should you work inside or outside the system? And how do you decide?
“I think it depends on what you are looking for,” Moran said. “Until now the struggle has been one or the other, do it this way or do it that way, but it can be complementary. This is the way we see it now, by getting into the government and doing the work we (have always been) doing. This is a discussion that is happening in different parts of the world now.”
Guatemala suffered under a 36-year civil war, ending in 1995, in which 200,000 people, mostly Mayan villagers, were killed or “disappeared.” When she returned from exile, Moran was part of a new women’s movement that took part in the peace negotiations.
“After the peace accords were signed you don’t break the fear easily,” she said. “It is something that is there, and the last government (was led by) a member of the army that built the system of fear in Guatemala. Now we have a government where some of the members are former members of the army. This is something we live with, and it is not over. But to break the fear and be able to talk about it is very important.”
Asked if she has broken the fear within herself, she said, “I did it when I came back in 1994. I was in exile for 14 years, and in my decision to come back to Guatemala, the first thing I had to do is break the fear. It is not just one moment, it is day by day, situation by situation. Even now sometimes it is there, but you have to make decisions.”
At the conference in Nelson, she will talk about “exactly that conflict or challenge that we have, when we try to combine both ways of action. I will explain how I see it and how we have been working. I will share that experience, and give some ideas about how that will be useful for Canada and other countries, because there will be people from different parts of the world there.”
She said she is looking forward to coming to the conference because she spent some years in Canada during her exile.
“Canada is like my second home,” she said.
Moran will speak at the Brilliant Cultural Centre on Saturday, September 24 at 7:30. Tickets will be available at the door or at the Castlegar campus bookstore. To order tickets over the phone, call 250-365-1281. Tickets are adults $16, seniors and students $13.
Preceding the talk, also at the Brilliant Cultural Centre, a traditional Doukhobor dinner will be served starting at 5:45. Tickets are $35, available at the Castlegar campus bookstore or at 250-365-1281, starting September 6.