Defense of Life & Territory2020-02-26T21:37:37+00:00

Defense of Life and Territory

Standing with land defenders protecting their territories, communities, and lives

Our Defense of Life & Territory program works to support communities defending their lands and cultures against imposed natural resource extraction. We provide strategic accompaniment to environmental defenders who have been criminalized, attacked, or defamed for their defense of life and territory.

Background

The signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 facilitated the adoption of national laws and international agreements that recognized the particular rights of Indigenous peoples. However, the post-conflict neoliberal economic model prioritized resource extraction — a practice fundamentally at odds with upholding these rights. Transnational mining and hydroelectric companies were given free rein to begin operations without the consent of impacted communities, and they quickly gained access to huge swaths of land in order to carry out resource exploration and exploitation activities.

Among a variety of organizing tactics, Indigenous communities used their ancestral decision-making practices as a form of resistance. The first community consultations in 2005 strengthened a movement for self-determination and resistance to resource extraction across the country. Over the next ten years, over 80 consultations took place in 11 of the 22 departments of the country.  Many of the consultations are celebrated annually, reaffirming the demands of the communities as they continue to face exclusion from the decision-making processes that affect their territories. Non-Indigenous Guatemalans have also organized community consultations, using municipal and Constitutional legal frameworks to claim their civil rights and determine their own forms of development.

This resistance, however, has been met with targeted violence by state and corporate actors. According to the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), people defending Indigenous rights and the environment face the highest number of attacks in the country. Trends point to higher numbers of threats, assaults, criminalization, and murders of people organizing to protect life. While the signing of the Peace Accords formally ended the 36-year Internal Armed Conflict in the country, an alliance between the corporate sector and military elite has endured, allowing for conflict-era tactics used in the name of counterinsurgency to continue and be further adapted to attack land defenders today.

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