Editor's Letter: A Daily Threat

By June Carolyn Erlick

Suddenly, I was seeing violence everywhere. Just after I started thinking about this issue of ReVista, I went to a sweet documentary film about Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, who captured the famous iconic image of Che Guevara. He transformed himself from glamorous fashion cameraman to a socially conscious documenter of the revolution. What changed him were the sad eyes of a little peasant girl cradling a piece of wood because her parents could not afford a doll. That’s what we call structural violence.

I listened to speakers at the DRCLAS weekly Tuesday seminar as people talked about moral outrage, wars past and present, the wielding and witnessing of violence. In my first book, Disappeared, A Journalist Silenced, I retraced the life of a journalist disappeared by violence and then recounted the aftermath of suffering and impunity. In my recent book, Una gringa en Bogotá, I tried to understand how violence invisibly penetrates daily life in that city. But I’d never before thought of either of those books directly in the context of violence.

Even though I had chosen the topic of violence and violence prevention, suddenly it seemed too big. “What kind of violence are you going to talk about?” curious colleagues asked. “Gangs? Security issues? civil wars? domestic violence? structural violence?”

I then realized that many previous articles in ReVista had focused on the theme (see the listing on p. 63). Despite the wealth of work on the subject in Colombia—those social scientists even have a name, violentologists—I decided that this would not be another issue on Colombia nor another issue on human rights. Rather, I chose to focus on how violence affects contemporary daily life in Latin America. Even so, from Guatemala to Paraguay, a recurrent and unanticipated theme hammered at the dangers of daily violence encouraging a yearning for past authoritarianism.

Yes, you will find here the legacy of civil war and the transnational impact of gangs. You will find articles on security and structural violence. But beyond that, we have tried to look at issues affecting women and children, issues like femicide and violence against homosexuals that fade when headlines drop from sight.

This ReVista is not only about fear and turmoil; it is also about hope. Rodrigo Guerrero frames violence as a public health problem with public health solutions, while Maria Ospina describe letters of persistence; Donna Hick recounts of face-to-face encounters between victims and perpetrators; Victor Vich describes how Peruvian artists have responded to the memory of violence. It is no coincidence that many of the articles here and in previous issues of ReVista have focused on violence prevention by building society through arts and culture. As Harvard professor Doris Sommer recently pointed out in the issue on dance, cultural agency is one way of fighting violence (for more on the Cultural Agency Program, see www.culturalagents.org).

We have also tried to convey this sense of hope through the amazing images provided by Donna DeCesare and two young photographers she has mentored: Sandra Sebastian and Meredith Kohut. A journalist and photographer, as well as a brilliant teacher, Donna, who was a Fulbright Scholar with me in Bogotá in 2005, sensitively conveys in her work the stories of gang members, displaced people and other victims and perpetrators of violence in Central America and Colombia. She, perhaps more than other photojournalists, understands the nature of violence. And she has taught her students well. The cover photo by Sandra Sebastian, depicts violence, hope and a quiet dignity that reflects Donna DeCesare’s philosophy. “Hope begins with safely being able to speak truth,” Donna writes in her photo essay.

We hope that here in these pages, readers will find through words and images some hope and understanding that will allow them to confront Latin America’s daily reality, the threat of violence.