Guatemala: Wave Of Persecution And Assassination Of Social Leaders
In the first three months of 2013, a number of social leaders, defenders of the rights of their communities, have been assassinated or kidnapped, even as a policy of criminalization, defamation and repression has been mounted.
The struggle of men, women, youth and children in defence of individual and collective rights has intensified in Guatemala during recent years; various communities have organized to demand the fulfilment of national and international agreements, respect for mother earth, an end to the looting and contamination on the part of hydroelectric enterprises, mining and cement factories, as well as the struggle to defend the rights of the working classes.
The collective demand and the resistance in defence of life has become evident in a number of areas; community organization is intensified in order to reject once again the works of mining exploration and exploitation in several regions of the country, since these contaminate the environment, destroy mother earth, contaminate and steal water, and deprive communities of their land.
Men and women from various regions of the country demand that the State comply with national and international agreements and that the so-called "fathers of the fatherland" (parliamentarians) legislate in favour of the majority of the population. The people of San José del Golfo, Santa Cruz Barillas, San Juan Sacatepéquez, Santa María Xalapán, amongst others, resist and demonstrate in defence of the very life of their lands, even as they demand the approval of the initiative of Law 4084 for Integral Rural Development.
During the past months, teachers training school students from all over the country have joined the struggle to defend the right to education, following the announcement on the part of the authorities of the Ministry of Education to the effect that the teachers training program will be replaced by a baccalaureate in Sciences and Letters with educational orientation, followed by a technical programme at a higher level.
In different social demonstrations in defence of life, people demand the fulfillment of articles 1 & 2 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, as well as article 3, which literally establishes: “The Right to Life: The State Guarantees and protects human life from the moment of conception, as well as the integrity and security of the person”.
In the first three months of 2013, policies of criminalization and repression of struggles in defence of life have increased; men and women have been persecuted and intimidated by mining companies, hydroelectric companies, including journalists, columnists and workers in firms that are looting territories; there have been policies of defamation and false accusations against social organizations and leaders; campesino leaders, indigenous persons and trade unionists have been persecuted and even assassinated. Let us look at some examples.
Month of January
The leadership of the Committee of Campesino Unity -- CUC (all acronyms are from the Spanish)-- was attacked on January 24 after community leaders from San Antonio de las Trojes requested their presence to mediate in the conflict generated by the building of a mechanical well on the part of the municipality and the company Cementos Progreso in that locality.
When the delegation left the area they were intercepted by a group of persons who are in favour of the Cementos Progreso company, machetes in hand, who threatened the commission of the CUC made up of Daniel Pascual and others. The aggressors have the support of the present Community Development Council -- COCODE -- that the people of the community of San Antonio las Trojes have declared to be illegitimate since it was created by the Cementos Progreso company and a group of their workers during the state of prevention decreed in San Juan Sacatepéquez in 2008.
The people from the twelve communities of San Juan Sacatepéquez have published denunciations against persons who defend the interests of the cement company and who constantly criminalize the struggle of communities who are defending their land. Among those denounced: Mariano Noj and Luis Tepeu, the latter a representative of the association of indigenous businessmen GUATEMAYA, registered in the Business Chamber of Commerce and Services (Cecoms).
On Tuesday February 26, at nine in the evening, Tomás Quej, 34- year-old leader of the Moxanté, Purulha, Baja Verpaz farms, and member of the National Indigenous and Campesina Coordinating Committee --CONIC --, was found dead. His body, with bullet wounds in the chest and head, was found in the community of Chirretzaaj, near Cobán, some 112 kilometres from Moxanté.
On Friday March 8 Carlos Hernández, member of the Campesina Coordination Nuevo Día, of the Coordinator of Popular, Indigenous, Church, Union and Campesina Organizations (COPISCO) and of the executive committee of the National Front of Struggle, was murdered. This assassination took place in Camotán, Chiquimula. Hernández was known as a defender of mother earth and for his constant struggle against the mining companies.
On Monday March 11 Jerónimo Sol Ajcot was assassinated in the village Chacayá, Santiago Atitlán, Sololá. Six men, heavily armed and masked, came onto his path and killed him with firearms, as he left his house to go to work in the Valparaíso farm, in Chicacao, department of Suchitepéquez.
Jerónimo Sol Ajot, 68 years of age, was a member of the coordinating council of the Maya Tzutujil Farmers’ Association of Santiago Atitlán, affiliated to CONIC. Sol Ajcot had been the object of anonymous death threats since last year. The denunciation was presented immediately, but no investigation or clarification of the facts of the case has been undertaken.
On Tuesday March 12, at 11:30 PM, three heavily armed men attempted to enter the home of Rubén Mazariegos Vásquez, General Secretary of the National Public Health Workers’ Union and Vice-president of the Unity of Trade Union and Popular Action UASP, located in Monserrat, zone 4 of Mixco. With the intervention of private security personnel of Rubén Mazariegos, the assassination attempt failed. It is worth noting that UASP has intervened in and repudiated the extractive model, as well as having denounced acts of corruption, basically fiscal evasion on the part of big companies in the country.
On Friday, March 15, at 7:30 AM Rubé Herrera was captured as he left his house. Herrera is well-known as a defender of human rights, a member of the coordinating committee of the Alliance for the Defence of Natural Resources of Huehuetenango -- ADH -- of the Council of Western Peoples -- CPO. Rubén Herrera was detained by an order issued in the lawsuit number 65/2012 of the Court of Santa Eulalia dated April 2012, in which 23 community leaders of Barillas are accused of the supposed burning of a machine, the property of Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of Ecoener-Hidralia Energía, on March 9 of that year.
On Sunday March 17 four community leaders from Santa María Xalapán were kidnapped. Two of them, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López later appeared, beaten and tortured, according to their testimony, while a secretary of the Xinca Parliament, Expectación Marcos, was found dead in a vehicle. The President of the Xinca Parliament and Majordomo of the indigenous community of Sabta María Xalapán, Robertyo González, turned up the next day in the municipality of Chimaltenango, after he was left in a hotel of the municipality.
The four community leaders were returning home after taking part in community consultations in the El Volcancito village, San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa. These campesino leaders were kidnapped by a dozen heavily armed men on the night of Sunday March 17, in the place known as Pino Dulce Mataquescuintla.
Thursday March 21: a communiqué of the Guatemalan Trade Union, Indigenous and Campesino Movement -MSICG- denounced death threats against María Teresa Chiroy Pumay, Secretary of Acts and Agreements of the worker’s union of the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security -- STIGSS --, an organization affiliated to the MSICG. They noted that these threats were received through text messages in which allusions were made to her union activity. These came in the context of gains obtained by various union organizations -- IGSS -- which allowed for the non-enforcement of reforms in Pensions enacted by the present authorities, put a stop to the processes of termination of work contracts against men and women enrolled in the IGSS and made it possible to declare the partial unconstitutionality in the concrete case of the anti-union disciplinary regime of the IGSS.
These attacks are not isolated events. They have all been directed against men and women who struggle to claim individual and collective rights and have constantly denounced the looting of natural goods on the part of transnational corporations, in complicity with the Government which has instituted policies of repression and criminalization of the organized struggle.
The report presented in October of 2012 by the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), a Guatemalan NGO, pointed out that from January to October of 2012 there were 254 attacks carried out against men and women engaged in the defence of human rights.
Among the principal observations and recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, corresponding to the year 2012, are those pointing out aggression that particularly affects work in defence of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights on the part of indigenous peoples, all related to the exploitation of natural resources and these without any consultation or information for the affected communities.
In addition, the report expresses its concern with the possible disproportionate recourse to penal categories such as resistance, terrorism and illicit association, used against protests of indigenous and campesino communities involved in conflicts over land use; at the same time, it highlights the participation of non-state actors in practices that can generate vulnerability or direct attacks against men and women who are defending human rights, as well as violent and racist comment in the media and in social networks, categorizing men and women who are defending human rights as criminal terrorists.
Referring to the exploitation of natural resources on indigenous land, the High Commissioner underlines the fact that it is fundamental to consider these situations beginning with the rights of indigenous peoples, in particular the right of collective property of land, of free, previous and informed consent and of the right to establish their own concept of development, in the framework of free self-determination.
Rocizela Pérez Gómez is a journalist with CLOC/Vía Campesina in Guatemala.