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Last week, I visited Guatemala and Mexico to pay my respects to the memories of four brilliant friends and fierce human rights defenders who died in a terrible car accident: Ana Paula Hernández, the Fund for Global Human Rights’ Latin American Program Officer; our Honduras consultant Sally O’Neill; longtime driver Daniel Tuc; and Ana Velásquez of the Council of the Wuxhtaj Peoples of Guatemala. During a time of tremendous personal grief, I was deeply grateful to be with friends and colleagues whose lives were forever changed by these four people. Receiving hundreds of messages of condolence and seeing scores of people at memorials was both a comfort and a testament to how much they meant to so many.
Daniel was an important member of the Guatemalan human rights community and the Fund for Global Human Rights family. He was a steady presence in my life for more than 15 years, and while spending so many hours together traveling around Guatemala, we developed a personal connection that I cherish.
Sally, whose human rights work spanned four decades, was fiercely devoted to the region, and she did it with warmth, humor, and impeccable style. I learned so much from her during our time working together and she will always be an inspiration to me.
I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Ana, but from what I know of her life and activism, she was a strong and committed advocate for her own and other communities. Her promise was cut short much too soon.
Ana Paula was both a colleague and a dear personal friend. She took over the Latin America grants program from me at the Fund and built it into one of the most strategic and creative in the region. Ana Paula was a true ally to individual activists and the human rights movement. Grantees sought her counsel and support on a regular basis, as well as in moments of crisis. Her leadership will be deeply missed.
Personally, Ana Paula was there for me during difficult times and always ready to celebrate with me in the good times. She was open and authentic, with a constant interest in how I was doing, even when we were far apart. She lived life fully and with great joy, and it’s hard to imagine not having her uplifting presence in my life.
Ana Paula and Sally’s untiring commitment to the rights of individuals and communities in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador served as the foundation of the Fund’s strategy in the region. While it’s hard in these first days of grief to think of how to move forward, we must. It’s what they would want us to do and how we can best honor their memory.
Particularly critical today is to maintain support in Guatemala, where President Jimmy Morales and his allies persist in eliminating the few checks on their authority. Our campaign to help grassroots activists remain safe and push back against this consolidation of power—a priority for Ana Paula and Sally—is ongoing. We’ll continue to use the Fund’s channels, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to help keep friends and supporters informed of the latest news and ways to help.
While there may be no better way to honor Ana Paula and Sally than advancing Latin American movements for justice and equality, doing so requires incredible resilience. I am grateful to my colleagues for their extraordinary dedication in coordinating communications and outstanding work with grantees, all while deeply mourning their friends. And I am thankful to our human rights community, in the region and beyond, for their support and solidarity as we continue the struggles that meant so much to those we lost.
Our hearts are heavy, but our purpose remains resolute. Rest in power, Ana Paula, Sally, Daniel, and Ana. Your legacies will live on in the work of the Fund, our partners in the region, and beyond.