On July 22, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted: “From PBI we deeply regret the passing of Rubén Herrera, a great person and human rights defender. We send our deepest condolences to all your loved ones, family and friends. His passing is a great loss to people and collectives who fight peacefully for a fairer world.”
Bernardo Caal Xol, an imprisoned defender of the Cahabón River who PBI-Guatemala accompanies, has also posted: “Friend Rubén Herrera your fight will forever remain in our hearts and in our actions. We regret your physical departure. Our solidarity with her life partner Alba Cecilia Merida and other family.”
Several years ago, Sandra Cuffe wrote: “Originally from another part of the department of Huehuetenango, Rubén Herrera arrived in Santa Cruz Barillas with a wave of returning refugees and people who had been internally displaced during Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict, which ended in 1996.”
“He worked on youth empowerment, leadership training, and other initiatives for 17 years and has been active in local, regional, and national movements to protect lands from mining, hydroelectric dams, and other natural resource projects.”
Cuffe adds that Herrera was the sub-coordinator of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango in Defence of Territory (ADH), a coalition of indigenous and grassroots community groups.
A key struggle Herrera was involved in was stopping a dam that was to be built on the Canbalam River in Santa Cruz Barillas in the department of Huehuetenango by Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Hidralia Energía.
That struggle took its toll on Herrera and his family. El Diario has reported: “In 2011, with two arrest warrants on him, Rubén Herrera had to leave the municipality. ‘I gave up everything, my job, my house… until I was arrested.’”
On May 13, 2013, NISGUA posted: “Yesterday, Rubén Herrera, unjustly imprisoned since March 15 for his resistance to the Cambalam hydro-electric project, was released from custody and cleared of all charges in one of two legal processes against him.”
“Throughout the duration of his imprisonment, Herrera, [his life partner Cecilia] Mérida and the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) have continued their struggle in defense of territory in the face of rising repression and criminalization.”
“Rubén declared soon after his release: ‘In prison I learned that it doesn’t matter where you are, you can continue to fight.’”
In December 2019, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported: “The IFC [International Finance Corporation] noted that construction of the Santa Cruz dam was ultimately abandoned following community protests, and said it had strengthened its oversight of its projects’ impact on local communities.”
That article added: “Cecilia Mérida, whose common-law husband Rubén Herrera was among those imprisoned [for opposing the hydroelectric project], said years of repression against community members has taken a serious economic and personal toll that persists long after the project was abandoned in 2016.”
PBI-USA expresses its condolences to Cecilia, to all those who knew Rubén Herrera, and to all those who carry on his struggle.