Local activists and political exiles seeking support from their community
Updated: Jun 22
LOUISVILLE, KY - A local journalist and a local therapist who were once and believe they are currently on a Guatemalan political hit list are considered political exiles seeking support from their community as medical and pandemic debt add up.
Luis de León and Shannon Lockhart met in 2001 while each were actively participating in community outreach and activism in Central America. Luis at that time was part of an investigative journalism team for a major news outlet and was reporting anonymously on the politicians and corruption within the Guatemalan government. Shannon was working for the Human Rights Office of the Arch-diocese of Guatemala offering mental health services to the families affected by a decades long civil war that had ended only a few years prior. We were fortunate enough to acquire more of their story in an incredible interview with Shannon.
"So my job on the mental health team was to be in these communities. Be present at exhumations, providing mental health support as people either found or didn't find relatives that had been buried in clandestine mass graves. We also trained other people in Mental Health First Aid all over the country."
Both Shannon and Luis had been contributing to exposing actions carried out by the Guatemalan government and it's officials during the 36 year civil war that had ended just a decade prior. Many of you may not be aware, but it's estimated that anywhere from 32,000 to 166,000 Mayan people were slaughtered and buried mostly in mass graves between 1981-1983. These occurrences are now often referred to as the "Silent Holocaust" or "Maya Genocide."
"I was also translating declassified US documents to support some of the human rights cases about human rights violations in this particular setting against people who had ties with the US," Shannon elaborated," So I was looking at and translating US Embassy cables, State Department stuff, military analysis, like all of the Intel..."
In 2003, just 5 years after the end of the civil conflicts in Guatemala, they began to experiences some very real harassment believed to be from government influence. It was also the first time they felt the need to go into hiding for their own safety.
"So in 2003, Luis and I were married by then and our house was broken into. They only took things that were very trite and meaningful to us, which in Guatemala is the government's way of saying we know exactly who you are. So what they took was the first present that each of us gave to each other when we were engaged, and then threw papers around, took our favorite music. They literally went through our music collection and only took our favorite CDs, again, they left money, they left credit cards, they left jewelry..."
Aside from the number of sentimental items that were taken by these unidentified burglars there were files, floppy discs, and even their work computer were taken. This combination of items taken and further the combination of items not taken gave them the overwhelming feeling this was definitely a warning.
"It was intimidation and they even wrote "ESCAPE" on our house. They also took some papers, they went through all our diskettes, and they took our computer which had some of our work. All my stuff was on the old diskettes, Shannon explained, "So luckily, that diskette had a bug in it or had a virus, and it was encrypted, so they didn't get that, thankfully."
Their experiences as well as the experiences of other colleagues and community members gave them great reason to take the threats seriously. Shannon shared some stories of friends and family who unfortunately lost their lives, presumably at the hands of the Guatemalan government.
"The head of the recovery of Historical Memory Project, or REMHI, he was murdered two days after that report was presented. And that was basically a report about the Guatemalan genocide, but from the perspective of the victims, not the official government or military or oligarchy stories. He was my boss, the Bishop [Juan José Gerardi] was murdered in 1998. My friend Barbara Ford was murdered, she was another mental health worker, a therapist. She was killed on May 5 of 2001."
Two days after he announced the release of the project's report on victims of the Guatemalan Civil War, Guatemala: Nunca Más! (Guatemala: Never Again!), in April 1998, Gerardi was attacked in his garage and beaten to death. In 2001, three Army officers were convicted of his death and a fellow priest was convicted as an accomplice. A 2020 documentary titled "The Art of Political Murder" dives deeper into facts surrounding this atrocity.
In 2008 their suspicions that they were in jeopardy were confirmed by a source they considered credible. While their collective work had made them some pretty powerful enemies, it had also apparently made them some pretty powerful friends as well.
"We got a call from the German Consul General. So not the US Embassy, but the German Consul called us. I was pregnant with our youngest, and this was in Guatemala still in 2008." Shannon explained, "December of 2008, he brought us to a private country club, had his bodyguards kind of look out, took us off to a corner and said, 'You guys have a little kid, you're about to have another. You're really great people. We really love you a lot. But you need to leave as quietly as you can as soon as you can. You're on a hit list, I have sources that have confirmed it."
From there, they quietly started to prepare for the journey that would eventually find them here in Louisville. Unlike the threats they suffered prior, years before, they now have children to consider.
"So then we moved here. Both of us had to take a break to heal, right? Mental health is central, not in terms of just what I offer other people, but also knowing that there are times when we also step back. So when Luis and I talk to people about social movement that's partly what the movement means. Sometimes we move forward to the frontlines. And sometimes we move back for some self care."
They have continued their activism work here in Louisville with various facets reaching out to the community. Luis founded and reports for La Esquina, a Louisville based news outlet that reports directly to the Spanish speaking citizens of the Metro. Shannon continues to offer mental health services, discounted or free to people of color and was also quite involved with the Therapists for Protester Wellness who were prominently active in the Breonna Taylor Uprising of 2020.
"So I was one of the people who quickly joined the initiative of the Therapists for Protester Wellness. When I reopened a practice here in Louisville, Luis and I kind of made a commitment that we were going to work for the people, with the people. That's our calling. That's what we do. That's the example. That's the world we want for our kids. So Luis started La Esquina, which is a local Spanish language site where he does reporting in Spanish."
During this time, Shannon was diagnosed with several auto-immune conditions which limited her ability to be active in the protests. The two of them made a decision to once again to assist the movement to the best of their abilities and in any way possible.
So by the time of the [Breonna Taylor] uprising, with COVID, I had been diagnosed with several pretty serious chronic illnesses, several of whom have elements of really hitting my immune system. So I was in danger being out in the streets. So for me, we kind of decided it was more important for Luis to be out and making sure that there would be somebody in Spanish explaining what's going on. Because again, some of our immigrants are like, 'Whoa, this is really scary.'"
Taking their example of community and sticking with it, a vast majority of the work they offer is done without any compensation. This creates quite the struggle in a capitalistic society that holds very little value for anything that lacks monetary value. Financial stress from the pandemic along with compounding medical bills put them in quite the difficult situation.
"And so my expectation in my practice is that those who have privilege and have access to read resources are the ones who pay. So I tried to start Patreon that did not really take off. And so we ended up, as my health got worse, with just having an accumulating debts, you know, things that it became impossible to pay. That was sort of the impetus of this, I've started getting calls and people like, 'Oh, yeah, your home is coming up for sale, let's buy it out from you first, we'll give you a better offer.' And it's like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Since I was sitting at home with round three of COVID, and had another infection on top of that, I got to do something."
To their pleasant surprise, they quickly hit their initial goal on their GoFundMe. In response, their goal was raised and yet again quickly raised. They were hesitant to raise their goal once again out of fear that others might perceive them as greedy or scamming, but a group known as the Collective Liberation Network stepped in to shoulder the burden of further crowd sourcing for the couple.
"It's hard for me to ask for help in the first place. So then to keep raising it, I really don't want people to think that we're trying to take advantage or exploit. On the other hand, though, when they [CLN] said yes, but could you use more? Do you have more bills than that realistically? And yeah, we know that there are upcoming bills. Ironically, today we took the car in for an oil change and turns out needs $800 worth of work. I am going to have to go down to Nashville, for some autoimmune testing on my autonomic nervous system. Vanderbilt said they will do it for free. But of course, we got to get there. It's going to be multiple trips down to Nashville in a car that hopefully works. It's going to mean hotels. I'm probably going to have to get a biopsy, so there's going to be some recovery."
In addition to the cost of tests and procedures, the recovery times takes Shannon away from her career and her clients for sometimes multiple weeks in a row. During these recovery periods, oftentimes they both have to miss work, further complicating their financial struggles.
I'm so grateful that I have Luis as a partner, my co-conspirator, but that mean oftentimes both of us need to be off of work, because I've had several surgeries already, I have at least two more coming up in the next few months. Each one of those is at least a week, and in many cases, two to three weeks off seeing my clients.
Ultimately these two incredible people aren't looking for your charity, but rather your support in assisting them continue the invaluable assistance that they provide to under represented groups of individuals. They're daily struggles are also our daily struggles and we can only get there together.
"I think, just... how grateful we are to be a part of this community. Our commitment is using the resources wisely, but also our continued commitment is to be with the community and in the community and work for the community, even if it doesn't have a salary. Community is what's most important. Thank you."
We would like to let everyone know that we conducted this interview with Shannon while she is currently fighting her third round of COVID. This is particularly tough for her given her other predetermined conditions. Even just today she left the hospital from COVID related complications that she initially feared may have been more.
All funds received have been pledged to assisting Luis and Shannon.
***If you send $$ via Venmo, Cashapp, or Paypal, please do it as a payment between friends and family. For payment comments, put “SL.”***
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