By Captain Rey GARCIA-SALAS.- The vibrant city of Toronto witnessed a historic moment on December 1, 2023, as the Guatemalan Consulate officially opened its doors, signifying more than just a diplomatic milestone. The inauguration transcended boundaries, weaving together a celebration of cultural diversity, fostering friendships, and unexpectedly paying homage to the heroic contributions of Guatemalan soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces during both World Wars.
The ceremony unfolded with a warm welcome from the master of ceremonies, setting the stage for an enchanting evening filled with musical melodies with marimba and thought-provoking speeches. The resonating notes of the Guatemalan and Canadian national anthems, expertly performed by the marimba group “Almayas de Oro” from London, Ontario, and the talented Guatemalan-Canadian artist Ana Moreno, created an atmosphere of unity and camaraderie.
Distinguished guests, including Hon. Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic in Canada, Mr. Luis Briceño, President of the Hispanic Toronto Business Chamber, and community leaders, including those supporting organizations for temporary agricultural workers like Mr. Martin Varela, graced the event with their presence.
Councillor Lily Cheng extended greetings from Mayor Olivia Chou, emphasizing the positive impact of international relationships. Consul General Marta Janeth Mancilla Recinos then outlined the consulate’s mission, which extends beyond Toronto to strengthen ties, facilitate trade, and serve the Guatemalan community in the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and the Territory of Nunavut.
Canada and Guatemala share a bilateral relationship that has thrived for more than 60 years. The positive collaboration between the two nations was exemplified by the thousands of Guatemalans on temporary visas who travel to Canada to work in various sectors, contributing significantly to the Canadian economy and their own communities.
Guatemala holds a crucial position as Canada’s most important bilateral trading partner in the region, with exchanges ranging from cereals, paper, and cardboard to fruits, coffee, and vegetables. The Consulate General’s establishment in Toronto, strategically chosen due to the surge in temporary agricultural workers in the province, underlines the growing importance of consular management in the region.
The Consulate General aims to expand its services, providing documentation, assistance, care, and consular protection to Guatemalans, ensuring the respect of their rights and the enjoyment of their freedoms. This expansion includes proactive involvement in collaborative projects and programs with Canada, such as the temporary worker program, cultural and academic exchanges, and the promotion of tourism.
Excellency Giovani René Castillo Polanco, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Guatemala, provided insightful perspectives on the enduring bilateral relationship between Canada and Guatemala. He emphasized positive collaborations and acknowledged the significant role of Guatemalan workers on temporary visas in contributing to the Canadian economy.
A moment of reflection followed, led by Mr. David Mansilla, expressing gratitude with a solemn prayer for the consulate’s inauguration and the collaborative opportunities it would bring. The symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony that followed marked the official opening of the consulate, with Consul General Marta Janeth Mancilla Recinos, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Giovani René Castillo Polanco, and Mrs. Kara Rowson, Chief of Protocol and Director, International Relations, participating in the momentous act.
Surprisingly, the conclusion of the event took an emotional turn as Captain Rey Garcia-Salas, representing the Latin American Soldiers Committee and the Canadian Armed Forces, and Carlos Alegria, President of Guatemaltecos En Ontario, stepped forward. They presented the names of Guatemalan volunteers in the Canadian Armed Forces who participated in the First and Second World Wars, along with the Latin American Soldiers in Canada Remembrance Book Vol I.
The Remembrance Book brought to light the incredible contributions of Guatemalan soldiers like Fireman Arnulfo Delcompare, born in Guatemala, who volunteered during the First World War. Tragically, he lost his life at the age of 19 when the SS Armonia, the Canadian Transport steamship he served on, fell victim to a German submarine.
The presentation extended beyond the First World War to honor Guatemalan volunteers in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, individuals like Pilot Officer Robert Theodore Hempstead, Flying Officer Denis S. Koester, Flight Lieutenant John Gordon Smith, and Pilot Officer Mario Alfred Fernandez de Leon. Each of these individuals, born in Guatemala or with ties to the country, demonstrated exceptional dedication and bravery in the Royal Canadian Air Force, leaving lasting imprints on Canada’s military history.
In a heartfelt moment, the Hon Consul Marta Janeth Mancilla Recinos presented a plaque to Almayas de Oro for their dedication to Guatemalan music through “Marimba”.
As the Guatemalan Consulate in Toronto officially opened its doors, the ceremony became more than a diplomatic event. It transformed into a touching tribute to unsung heroes whose sacrifices contributed to the freedom and values upheld by both Guatemala and Canada.
In conclusion, the inauguration of the Guatemalan Consulate in Toronto will forever be remembered not only for fostering diplomatic ties but for unveiling the hidden histories of heroism that bind the Latin American community with Canada, transcending borders and generations.