On June 9, Ana Mirian Romero, a 29-year-old indigenous Lenca woman and mother of five from the department of La Paz, Honduras, was recognized by the European human rights organization Front Line Defenders. Romero was awarded the organization’s annual award for Human Rights Defenders for her work struggling for the recognition of indigenous lands and against the corporate destruction of the environment in Honduras.
The long-running struggle of rural communities in Guatemala against the United States-based mining firm Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates (KCA) continues in Guatemala’s national courts. A recent investigation by the Guatemalan public ministry could come with criminal charges for executives of the controversial gold mine.
Guatemala’s war and counter-insurgency have continued through other means. Today social and indigenous movements face free speech and legal challenges that threaten to tear them apart by dismantling leadership and organizational structures, and sending movement bases into disarray.
“Water is life” is the message that countless organizations across Guatemala have rallied around as thousands march more than 260 miles to demand that the Guatemalan government act, and protect right to water. Tens of thousands of protesters set out on the long, and grueling march to Guatemala City on April 11 to demand that the government protect their right to water, and for an end to the privatization of water resources.
On February 10, 2015, thousands of indigenous campesinos from across Guatemala associated with the Committee for Campesino Development (CODECA) took to the streets of Guatemala City in the first large march of the administration of Jimmy Morales. The campesinos were continuing a decade-long struggle to demand that the Guatemalan government nationalize the electrical system.
In recent years, the popular tourist attraction of Semuc Champey in the Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz has become a point of social conflict for the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities surrounding the site. On February 8, tensions erupted and led to the occupation of the municipality building of Lanquín by over 200 members of the communities near the tourist attraction. Community members demanded the recuperation of the site. Since that day, residents have maintained management of the park. As the indigenous-led recuperation of this park continues, the conflict has shed light on a longstanding dilemma in Guatemala around indigenous communities’ access to sacred sites. […]
Maya Q’eqchi’ women survivors recently entered the Supreme Court in Guatemala as part of the Sepur Zarco case to demand justice for sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery, forced disappearances and murder, crimes committed during the internal armed conflict of 1960-1996.
Family, friends and supporters of Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez, two political prisoners who had been falsely accused of femicide, kidnapping, and murder, received some joyous news on January 14, 2016; after three years in prison, they were released. However, six other prominent activists from northern Huehuetenango still face prosecution for their resistance to hydroelectric projects imposed in their territory by transnational corporations.
The Ixil communities’ victory against the expansion of hydro in their territory comes after a campaign by the communities to protect their rights as indigenous peoples to prior consultation in Guatemala’s courts. Furthermore, this victory, as well as other victories, sets a precedent that companies must consult communities, and receive the community’s consensus prior to any project.
Last month, Rogelio Velásquez and Saúl Méndez, active members and leaders of the defense of territory in northern Huehuetenango, were acquitted of charges of femicide. Their community of Santa Cruz Barillas has been in resistance to the Santa Cruz hydroelectric project under construction by the Spanish firm Ecoener Hydro Energy. They argue that the dam will greatly affect their land and water. The case against Velásquez and Méndez reflect the use of laws, such as Guatemala’s 2008 Law on Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women to criminalize the leaders of the social movements challenging the construction of mega-projects by transnational companies.