Graham Russell is a hero, you may never have heard of him, but he is a hero nonetheless. He is a human rights worker in Guatemala and all daylong he deals with atrocities, and how man can be so brutally cruel to his fellow man. It is not an easy job, and Grahame doesn’t have to do it, but he does.

Grahame (seen below) was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. From a well-to-do family Mr. Russell is tall, handsome, intelligent, athletic and blessed with a great sense of humor.  He is also in possession of a Canadian law degree. Grahame doesn’t have to trudge through the back woods of Guatemala taking testimonies from torture victims, but he does.


He could have easily followed in the footsteps of his father, noted Canadian attorney Aubrey Russell, QC. He could be on Bay Street (Canada’s Wall Street) driving a fancy car, wearing a pin-stripe, making six figures, holding court at power lunches, but he’s not. Why?

Grahame’s mother, Nancy, who works as a library consultant says, “It stems from his first trip to Mexico over two decades ago. Grahame had never seen such rampant poverty, and he couldn’t understand why we in the developed nations had so much, and those in the developing nations had so little.”

After spending a number of years working for CODEHUCA (Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America) in San Jose, Costa Rica Grahame recently moved to Guatemala.  His primary work now involves building monuments to the dead and disappeared of Guatemala’s ugly and merciless civil war. It is a gargantuan task as conservative estimates put the death toll at close to 149,000 people. Until recently in Guatemala as Grahame writes, “it has been a crime to look for the dead and their disappeared” It is very important to the Guatemalan people, that their dead receive a proper burial. Unfortunately, Guatemala holds a very dubious honor as Grahame notes, “It has more disappeared people than any other country in the world, though I haven’t seen this written in the Guinness Book of Records.”

Grahame and his partner Victoria have a beautiful baby daughter named Camila, and this helps divert them from the horrific and gruesome human rights violations they encounter daily.

Victoria, who used to teach at a Quaker school In Monteverde, Costa Rica, is working on a daunting task herself. She is preparing a study of systematic rights abuses by the Guatemalan military against Guatemalan women. The study is funded by a Scandinavian group, and contains all kinds of fun things such as torture, rape, unlawful detention, beatings, intimidation, etc. Such friendly sorts the Guatemalan military.

Grahame was at one time one of Canada’s finest downhill skiers. Today he maintains a strict regimen of running, and keeping in good shape gives him the strength to deal with the enlightened authorities in Central America.

What about the danger? Publicizing human rights violations, and poking your nose where it isn’t wanted, can place on in a precarious position. Westerners have disappeared as well as indigenous people. Grahame, however, doesn’t seem too perturbed as he writes, “On the day I drove through Segundo Montes, in El Salvador, four busloads of Salvadorean law students and professors were detained by soldiers, who shot rounds of machine-gun bullets over their heads. I was able to get past the five roadblocks.  North American immunity from the army we arm, finance and train? White immunity?”

Grahame does have a hard time coming to terms with his work. His conscience is playing havoc with his soul.  He cannot even sit down to have a cup of coffee in a café in North America without thinking about how many people were exploited to enable him to sip his coffee in comfort.

He chose “the road not taken”, and it has made all the difference. We can not all do what Grahame does, but if we were all just a little more like him, the world would be a better place.  Many of us do care about our fellow man, but we don not spend enough time putting that concern in to action, Grahame does. And he does it every waking minute of his day.

In September in 1992, Grahame published a book called The Never Ending. The following are a few excerpts:

The Problem of Wealth

While sipping coffee at conferences, First World experts talk of helping the poor in the Third World. All the experts talk of the Problem of Poverty. Everywhere experts meet in expensive hotels and talk of the Problem of Poverty. There is little talk about the Problem of Wealth.

“If I give food, I am called a saint. When I ask why the hungry have no food, I am called a communist.” (Don Helder Camara, Brazilian Catholic Priest)

News and Human Priorities

Horrendous tidal waves hit Bangladesh. Tens of thousands of humans have lost their lives. I hurry out to get a newspaper. On the front page there is a major article about Ricky Henderson, a professional baseball player in the US who earns millions of dollars per year to play baseball. Henderson told the interviewer that he was “the greatest”. In the bottom corner of the newspaper there was a short article about the disaster in Bangladesh.

The Sword is Mightier than the Pen

“Santos Calixto, a 28-year-old parish health promoter, in Morazan, El Salvador was dragged out of his home, and brutally beaten by soldiers when they discovered he owned a copy of the book Where There is No Doctor. The soldiers said the book, which gives instructions on how to care for children suffering from diarrhea, and how to disinfect cuts and set broken bones, was subversive.” (Salvadorean Newsletter)

A Royal Visit

The newspapers in Toronto prepare us for a royal visit by the Queen of England.  According to Forbes magazine she is the richest woman in the world – a fortune of US$10 billion. The total foreign trade of Nicaragua is about US$300 million. In Toronto, she will inaugurate a project to help the poor, and she will dine with the elite.

There is little news in the papers about the poor in Central America or other developing countries.  There is nothing about the militaries and the police of these “democracies” repressing the protests of the poor and hungry, helping the wealthy landowners to export foods and exotic fruits to the north. When the Queen and the elite dine, no one will wonder where the coffee, sugar, and exotic fruits came from.

Third World Travelers

A conversation overheard on a flight to Guatemala: “I have heard that if you travel by train in Guatemala you should have a cushion because the seats are hard. Yes I have heard that too.”

I have returned to Guatemala to participate in a two day workshop in the “Administration of Justice”. I walk the streets of Guatemala City, I walk around figures huddled on the cement wrapped in old blankets, sinking to sleep on the cement. They could use a couple of cushions.

The Media is the Message

The front-page news, in all the local newspapers, covers the accidental speedboat death of the husband of a Princess in Europe. The newspapers go into great detail about how it occurred and how much the Princess suffered. There is no question she suffered because of this unfortunate accident.

In Central and South America 100,000 people have been disappeared. These are not newsworthy deaths.

Of Kings, Queens and Cholera

La Nacion, a local newspaper, reports that King Juan Carlos of Spain, and his Queen Sofia of Greece, are travelling through Costa Rica. We are told much less about the cholera, which is spreading, from Peru into other South American countries, and up towards Central America. At a black tie reception La Nacion reports that “King Juan Carlos was the only person who combined a tuxedo with a blue shirt.”

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