The following is a press release published by the Departmental Assembly of the People of Huehuetenango (ADH) in response to the events surrounding the recent Caravan for Dignity, Community Resistance and the Freedom of Political Prisoners from Huehuetenango. The Caravan was organized by an alliance of Guatemalan organizations in solidarity with the political prisoners of northern Huehuetenango that include grassroots indigenous and campesino organizations, independent media, and national and international organizations for the protection of defenders of human rights and the environment. NISGUA, as well as other international accompaniment organizations participated in this caravan as international observers to hear testimonies and to verify reports of human rights violations. Translation of the press release done by the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network and NISGUA. 

From April 6 to 9, 2016, human rights and land defenders from the community, municipal, departmental, national and international levels joined the Departmental Assembly of the People of Huehuetenango (ADH) and traveled to northern Huehuetenango to express solidarity and demand the freedom of Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar. Both men are land and water defenders who have been held as political prisoners of the Guatemalan State since March 24, 2015.

The caravan also joined in celebrating the third anniversary of the peaceful resistance in Barillas, organized in response to the violence carried out by the company Hidro Santa Cruz. One of the most serious consequences of this resistance has been the incarceration of their leaders Adalberto Villatoro, Arturo Pablo, Francisco Juan, Ermitanio López and Mynor López, all of whom are land defenders.

The caravan traveled to the communities of Pojom and Ixquisis, in the municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán, to break the silence imposed by the company Proyecto de Desarrollo Hidrico, PDH, S.A., as they build a hydroelectric project in these communities without consultation. This project forms part of a larger historic continuum of land grabs and the resulting powerlessness faced by Guatemalans daily throughout the country.

Those of us who took on the commitment and responsibility of this caravan faced slander, intimidation, and were labelled criminals who are attempting to threaten private interests and cause more conflict in the region.

The results of the caravan show that neither we, nor those who received us, are criminals. On the contrary, what we witnessed during the caravan were communities longing for peace and justice, but who instead, have been abandoned and left in extreme poverty. We did not meet criminals at any moment, nor conflictive or violent people, despite the claims made by certain people and companies. We heard testimonies from men and women who are scared and who are tired of not being heard, while seeing how a company threatens their natural resources –  particularly their water sources and rivers.

Every day, the people of the Ixquisis region see how heavy machinery destroys and alters everything they hold historic rights to. Now, they are being erased from the land and community culture. Local governments, governors and the current national government have turned a blind eye to the communities’ call. Instead, they promote exclusion, discrimination, exploitation and racism, and respond by bringing in the national army, the national civil police and the company’s own private security, who only serve to protect this plundering of land and instill fear in an attempt to erase community opposition to these types of projects in the region.

The dark forces that have trapped the communities of Pojom and Ixquisis did not want us to arrive to see and hear what is happening, but today, we are happy to have been able to be present and feel the warmth they offered us. Today, we can give our own testimony to the abandonment and exclusion that communities still face in the 21st century in Huehuetenango. We denounce the irresponsible attitude of the Human Rights Ombudsman and his office in Huehuetenango, who did not provide accompaniment to the caravan despite requests.

After seeing and listening to such pain, we have once more arrived at the conclusion that we should no longer withstand the outrageous way in which we are treated by the Guatemalan State. What is happening in Ixquisis and Pojom is an affront against all Guatemalans, and as such, we denounce what is happening and echo the calls made by the communities affected by the Proyecto de Desarrollo Hidrico in saying: “We need justice, not megaprojects.”

Water for life, not megaprojects

Departmental Assembly of the People of Huehuetenango (ADH)
Huehuetenango, April 10, 2016