|Rubén Herrera of the ADH Photo: James Rodríguez, mimundo.org|
During the past year, 11 community leaders engaged in peaceful and legitimate resistance to the Cambalam hydroelectric project have been illegally imprisoned on trumped-up charges, while more than 20 individuals continue to have arrest warrants pending against them.
The arrest and imprisonment of Rubén Herrera is the most recent example of the systematic criminalization and persecution of community leaders and human rights defenders working in defense of territory and communities’ right to self-determination. Perhaps most notable are the actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the entity responsible for prosecuting the case. During the arraignment, they argued the case should not continue as there is insufficient evidence linking him to the alleged crimes. Despite the lack of evidence, the judge ordered that the case against Herrera move forward.
Peaceful, legitimate and ongoing community opposition to the Cambalam hydroelectric project is not new. In fact, the 2007 community consultation in the municipality of Santa Cruz de Barillas, Huehuetenango voted overwhelmingly against foreign-owned large-scale development projects, also known as mega-projects, in their territories. Despite this clear message, in 2010 the Guatemalan government granted an operating license to Hidro Santa Cruz, Guatemalan subsidiary of Spanish-owned Hidralia Energía. Ongoing community resistance to the project was met with state repression in May 2012, when martial law was declared in Barillas. Since then, the criminalization of community leaders has intensified, demonstrating a clear strategy on the part of the Guatemalan Government to delegitimize peaceful resistance in order to push through harmful mega-projects.
For more than five years, Rubén and the ADH have been coordinating the efforts of communities, organizations and local authorities to pursue an alternate vision of development for the highland department of Huehuetenango. In addition to helping organize over 25 community consultations in Huehuetenango alone, the ADH together with the Western Peoples’ Council (CPO), presented the groundbreaking legal challenge against the constitutionality of Guatemala’s 1997 Mining Law for lack of prior consultation with indigenous peoples.
The ADH’s work to construct alternatives and promote democratic participation in the key issues Guatemala is facing today is a response to a historic wrong committed against indigenous peoples. The current trial of former Guatemalan leaders for genocide highlights the state’s violation of the basic rights of indigenous and rural people in Guatemala. Unfortunately, today’s repression of peaceful and legitimate social movements in defense of territory and towards self-determination is using distinct, yet disturbingly familiar strategies to criminalize and delegitimize the voice of indigenous peoples.
NISGUA works closely with the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) in their efforts to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA’s 2010 tour.