A Call for Justice in Guatemala
“Thank you for coming to visit us. We are not here because we are criminals, or because we did something illegal, we are here because we are struggling for justice. I have been tortured two times… I have been in prison for five months and my father died from the sadness and pain of everything that is happening to me. I’ve been told that if I get out of prison and return to my home I will be killed. What is happening today makes us remember the armed conflict, and we don’t want this anymore in Guatemala. I fear for my life. They have said they are going to kill me if I return home. They said they are going to kill my daughter, who is 2 and a half years old, and my wife.”
These are the words Mynor Lopez spoke to our SOAW delegation to Guatemala as we stood in the Huehuetenango prison where Mynor is jailed for standing up for his community’s rights — along with thousands of others in his home of Santa Cruz Barillas — to defend the land and water they have depended upon for generations. A multi-national corporation, Hidralia, seeks to privatize and profit from the natural resources in Santa Cruz Barillas despite never having consulting the communities who live there. Mynor, along with two other imprisoned leaders with whom we met, Saul Mendez and Rogelio Velasquez, see no end in sight for their imprisonment.
Across Guatemala, community and human rights leaders are facing criminalization and repression aimed at silencing them in order to enable multi-national corporations — particularly mining corporations, which frequently use cyanide, mercury, and other poisonous chemicals — to pillage the land without opposition. Repression against those defending their lands includes states of siege — in which the military takes control, curfews, as well as the suspension of meetings and constitutional rights. The current government of SOA graduate Otto Perez Molina has declared states of siege in municipalities where the population is organized to resist megaprojects, including in Mynor’s community of Barillas. Similarly, the repression and criminalization of social protest and resistance by police and military forces can be seen in the neighboring state of Totonicapán. On October 4, 2012, a military unit opened fire on a crowd of thousands peaceful protesters that were calling for an end to outrageously high electricity rates, massacring six people and injuring many more.
In the January 2014 Appropriations Bill, Congress restricted military aid to Guatemala until the State Department can certify that several human rights standards are met, including reparations for the victims of the Chixoy dam massacre. It is important that the State Department be honest in its assessment of the human rights situation in Guatemala to ensure that military aid does not flow. Send an e-mail to Congress and the State Department here.
The SOA WATCH delegation of 26 activists also visited with the Indigenous community of Cocop in the Ixil region of Guatemala, one of the areas most ravaged by Guatemala’s genocide in which villages were burned and massacres committed as part of the scorched earth campaign led by SOA graduates. The 58 victims massacred in the tiny village of Cocop in 1981 were among over 200,000 victims across the country, the overwhelming majority by US trained and funded military governments with many military officials on the CIA payroll. Thanks to years of courageous struggle by survivors in the Ixil region, SOA graduate and former President Rios Montt was convicted of genocide last year in a precedent-setting case, only to have the verdict overturned just a week later by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. Now, the Constitutional Court has ruled to end early the term of the Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, who courageously enabled the Rios Montt case and other cases to move forward. Her work has led to increased prosecutions, reducing Guatemala’s sky high impunity by approximately 30%. She is now slated to be removed from office in May instead of being able to serve out her 4-year Constitutionally mandated term.
On the last day of our delegation, we gathered with social movements and activists to ask them how we could be in solidarity when we returned home. The first Guatemalan activist to address us was Danilo who had traveled many miles from his home of San Rafael las Flores. He shared how his 19-year old friend had been disfigured for life due to bullets shot at his face when defending his community lands against the Escobar silver mine, owned by US-Canadian corporation Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp. Sometimes it seems 500 years pass with little change. It was the greed for gold and silver that massively murdered and displaced the Indigenous population of Guatemala in the first conquista. Check your retirement portfolio to make sure that you are not inadvertently aiding and abetting this new conquista.
As we traveled in Guatemala, the delegation heard again and again about militarization and military intelligence strategies being used against social movements defending their land from multi-national corporations and human rights organizations speaking out for justice. As one activist told us, “The current government is a military regime and treats us like internal enemies.” We all left redoubled in our conviction to stand in solidarity with the people of Guatemala in their struggles for justice and self-determination and we hope you will join us. Take action here.
Also, please stay tuned for urgent updates and actions regarding the elections in El Salvador and possible US sanctions against Venezuela.
SOA Watch delegation with Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz