Thursday, October 25, 2007

Antigua, Guatemala

The Media Development Loan Fund, whose board I chair, holds every other year a media forum, where our clients and some other invitees, including some funder organizations, some media people, etc., gather to discuss the conditions and directions and challenges for independent media around the world. This year we decided to hold it in Guatemala - because in part we would like to have a better and more visible presence in Latin America, and partly because our client in Guatemala, El Periodico newspaper, faces many political pressures and we thought it might contribute a little bit if it were known that it has friends outside of Guatemala. The country is undergoing enormous pressures from exploding common crime, and has a presidential election next week in which the billboards for one party say, "Confronting violence intelligently" and for the other party say, "Mano dura." The Salvardoran journalists who came here for the meeting told me that after having been carjacked on the Pan American highway last year, they thought they were lucky to be alive and preferred to take the 4 hour bus rather than the 2 1/2 hour car ride - if the highway gangs see Salvadoran license plates, they know there must be some money, they said. But although Guatemala is not easy to get to from Asia, Africa, or much of Europe, we have people here from all over. It is a humbling experience to be with people who manage to keep a media business going despite such enormous pressures from governments, gangs, mafia, competition, you name it.

The conference is being held in the safe and secure tourist town, Antigua, not far outside the capital, a beautiful mountain town in the shadow of the volcano. It is really lovely, always has been. We are staying at the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, a former convent turned hotel. It is much more beautiful than one could hope for, really lovely. My wife Jean-Marie, who spent many years here in Guatemala, shook her head when I mentioned the hotel and said, well, it's not so much a business hotel as a honeymoon hotel. Well, that's fine by me, it has internet in the rooms, and it is lovely - wish she and Renee were here.

Renee turns 15 tomorrow (!), and her daddy is not at home for her birthday, for the first time in I can't remember -maybe always. I hope she has a lovely birthday, notwithstanding the biology test coming on top of her three other tests this week. I got her some gifts that I hope she likes - you might say that daddy overcompensated and decided to shower her with presents. For the first time, I understand what a divorced father must feel like who buys his daughter to make up for feeling guilty for not being there.