Speech by Tom Grauman


This has been translated from the Spanish version.

I am not a person who particularly likes to get on his feet to speak. At times, I feel quite nervous.  Notwithstanding, on this happy and momentous occasion, I do so eagerly. Today is a day if great promise but, to be completely frank, I also sense danger. In other words, today is a day which is deserving of celebration but with caution about the challenges ahead.

Today is a day, nevertheless, to pay homage to a dream begun more than 50 years ago. The founding Mothers and Fathers of the Cooperative arrived to a wilderness in the 1950s. It took backbreaking work to open fields, build houses, and fashion an existence in an environment alien to their previous experience in the mountains. Here we find ourselves today, thanks to them.  We remember them with respect and great affection. But not only them but you, who are present today, and many others who are not with us. Each person has made their mark with their efforts, their dreams, their thoughts, and their love.

While we are happily and unwittingly gathered as sisters and brothers here, I should warn you that, lurking in your houses and in the fields you farm, four species of rats are devouring the seeds intended for your  future harvests. This plague of rats threatens all Tanhoqueños. The only means of defense is to be found in a community-wide effort, rather than in individual measures. What are the four species of rats to which I refer?

     1.  The first rat that is eating the seed is the careless exploitation of the environment. (I refer to the physical environment that sustains life, composed of plants, trees, Earth, and human beings.)

     2.  The second rat represents the debts assumed by each family that have, in turn, consumed them.

     3.  The third rat that is threatening your future is the shortage of will and courage to enforce the laws of the country and the legal statutes of the Tanhoc Cooperative.

     4.  And finally, the fourth rat is the most destructive of all. It is the rat that surely can annihilate. I refer to the rat that sows division among you.

I will now describe in more detail the characteristics of each species of rat.

     1.  The first rat represents the careless exploitation of the environment. Of course, I have no authority to criticize you for causing environmental degradation because I hail from a people who have destroyed and poisoned the environment as if the environment was our enemy rather than our ally. We have behaved so and continue to behave in that manner because we have an insatiable appetite that cannot be sated with limitless foodstuffs nor with all the comforts at our disposal. We need to learn, somehow, perhaps from you, how to be contented with the basic elements of life. I implore you to resist repeating the same error we have made of devastating the environment.

     2.  The second rat is a close friend of the first rat. The second rat is the face of debts, debts that continue to gnaw larger and more urgent fissures, making us increasingly desperate and leading us to take actions that we know will bring misery in the medium-to-long term future. We make mistakes in order to escape an immediate demand without evaluating carefully the possibly negative outcomes that will dog us for years to come. Any device, be it a chainsaw, a TV, a fridge or a cellphone, offers convenience but not one is without drawbacks, some of which may be very harmful and unexpected. When electricity was introduced in Tanhoc, families borrowed money to have it installed. When the acquisition of a TV proved to be irresistible, another loan was procured. When cellphones became available, no problem! We’ll ask for yet another loan. If we do not learn to live simply, meeting only our basic needs, all of us will exhaust our Mother Earth.

It is in response to debts, and the desire to acquire unnecessary items like a TV, that some people “sell” or “rent” their fields. How is it possible to sell or rent property that belongs to someone else? That someone else is the Tanhoc Cooperative, which is the owner of all lands. The Cooperative as an entity needs to summon the resolve to countenance the rat of debts.

     3.  Let’s proceed to the third rat, who interacts closely with the first and second rats. This particular rat has the trait of avoiding the responsibility for complying with Guatemala’s laws or the Cooperative’s statutes. This rat shows no remorse in assaulting  his wife, his children, or other animals, even if assaults violate established laws. This rat feels no responsibility to intervene in, nor to bring to the attention of the authorities, the domestic affairs of his neighbour when the neighbour assaults his own wife, his own children and other animals. He keeps his silence. He says and does nothing when the neighbour fells trees in the forest without securing the Cooperative’s permission, when the neighbour hunts animals on the cusp of extinction, when the neighbour “sells” or “rents” his fields. He leaves the responsibility entirely to the authorities, even going so far as to allege that the authorities don’t do their jobs. Furthermore, he doesn’t offer his candidacy to serve as an authority, such as allowing herself or himself to be an elected member of the Cooperative’s Governing Council. All of us have the obligation to be vigilant. Everyone has to play the disagreeable role of  maintaining order. Let us not allow this lazy rat to become so obese that we are unable to dislodge it from our midst!

     4.  We now arrive at the fourth rat, the most lethal of the four species. This is the rat that sows division. If we cannot approach our companions in times of need nor break bread in a time of jubilee, like today, our lives have lost meaning. In fact, our lives would be without prospects. The notion of living independently of one another is a false idol, born from cowardice. At the end of the day, we are sisters and brothers. I would like that today we pledge to act as sisters and brothers forevermore. United together, committed to the tasks at hand, let us arrest the advance of the rats that forsake the environment, the rat of debts, the rat that assumes no responsibility, and the rat that sows division. We stand together against the rats that devour the seeds of our future!

Today, the Cooperative finds itself in the enviable position of securing, for once and for all, its land title. I stress that it is the Cooperative, I do not say the families, which make up the Cooperative. Just as a tree lends its branch for a bird to locate its nest, just as the puddle offers refuge to the frog, the Cooperative exists today and ad infinitum to host a space in which Tanhoequeños can play out their lives in freedom.

The bird is a tenant of the tree it occupies. The frog is a guest of the puddle. In the same spirit, the Cooperative lends a space in which to live, assuring future generations that they will have a place to build their nests, not necessarily in the very same tree in which they were born. The very day that the tree is felled and its trunk and branches are distributed among many is the day that the tree no longer provides a home to the birds, is the day the tree dies, is the day the tree cannot reproduce itself. The very same course of events can take place if the integrity of the Cooperative is compromised. Sure, the tree’s wood will provide cooking fuel for perhaps a few weeks, but afterwards? Please be careful to avoid felling the Cooperative, do not divide and distribute it because in a few years, what? It will become necessary to find another tree (if one exists) in which to live.

We, your Canadian, American, Spanish and Guatemalan partners, have gone to this effort to achieve a common good, not merely for a few families to get ahead. We did it so that the community, that is, the Cooperative, could move ahead. If one person suffers, we all suffer with her or him, if one person prospers, all of us have the promise of prospering.

To conclude, I invite you to fully enjoy the achievement of today – but tomorrow, back to work! Work together with a long-term vision for the future, just as the founding mothers and fathers did. Above all, let’s work with love for our neighbours, be that neighbour the forest, water, the moon, the person next door or a former enemy. All are our neighbours.  On behalf of Pueblo Partisans, I congratulate all my sisters and brothers in attendance, from the bottom of my heart.

Thank you.