February 15, 2018

Human rights organizations in Guatemala are expressing concern that gains made against corruption in 2015 are now being reversed. The stand-off between President Jimmy Morales and CICIG head Ivan Velasquez continues; President Morales recently consolidated control of Congress; and the election of a new Attorney General in coming months could well end up favoring those who wish to remain exempt from prosecution, be it for corruption or for crimes during the armed conflict. Against this backdrop, repression continues and could be expected to increase. Criminalization of indigenous leaders and human rights defenders also continues, and the first targeted killing of the year left a prominent indigenous leader dead.

Indigenous Leaders Killed, Arrested

On January 9 in Taxisco, Santa Rosa, Guatemalan human rights defender Ronal David Barillas Diaz was shot by men who got out of a vehicle, approached the food stand where he worked, and fired at close range. He was a member of the Xinka indigenous group and a member of the Coordinating Committee of Those Affected by the Sugar Industry. He was also a member of the Defense of Nature Committee which opposes El Escobal mining project (San Rafael mine) and had denounced the lack of prior consultation in relation to the mine.

Another activist, Maria Cuc Choc (pictured with her siblings in the title image above), was arrested on January 17 in the municipality of Puerto Barrios. She is a leader of the Maya Q'eqchi' people and is the sister of Angelica Choc, a rights defender seeking for justice for her husband Adolfo Ich, murdered in 2009 by the private security of Canadian-owned Hudbay Minerals (CGN). Maria’s brother, Ramiro, also spent over five years in prison on fraudulent charges. Reportedly, there was no warrant for her arrest.

Maria Cuc Choc is known as an advocate for indigenous peoples and has denounced damages and violations by mining companies, African palm companies, and large landowners. The day after her arrest, she was released on bail, with a trial date set for August 2018. Until her trial, she has to appear every month at the courthouse and cannot leave the department of Izabal. Guatemala Solidarity Project has issued a call to action in defense of Maria.

Bernardo Caal Xol, a human rights defender and teacher in the community of Cahabón, Alta Verapaz, was also arrested, on January 30. Bernardo is part of a group that fights against the expansion of hydroelectricmega projects in the Cahabón River, which they argue have been illegally granted environmental licenses. Caal Xol has been previously charged with the crime of “fraud against the state” for failing to attend classes in 2012. He says of his arrest, "I am a political prisoner who is in this situation to denounce the kidnapping of the rivers, to declare that they are killing them, to make known what the looting of the territory of the Q'eqchi people."