- Sotero Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan Francisco and Arturo Pablo, community leaders from Barillas: indicted in February 2015 for a kidnapping allegedly committed during 2012, even after the Public Prosecutor asked that the charges be dropped for lack of proof. Not only were they indicted on charges, but also ordered to a prison in zone 18 of Guatemala City, taking them out of their community. The judge soon after withdrew from the bench, leaving those indicted without a trial judge to oversee their case and as a result, no date to appeal the indictment.
In addition to these cases and many more in which leaders have been criminalized for their roles within the movements for the defense of life and territory, at least two leaders have been murdered. Daniel Pedro Mateo, an active member within the ADH and a prominent defender of the 2007 community consultation in Barillas, was kidnapped and murdered in April, 2013. On March 27, 2015, the body of Pascual Pablo Francisco was found. He had been missing for three days, and was another prominent figure in the defense of life in Barillas.
In contrast to the disproportionate amount of charges laid against community leaders, the majority of cases of murder, assaults or threats against human rights defenders have failed to advance in the court system and remain in impunity.
In the department of Huehuetenango alone, communities are facing the expansion of the “Northern Corridor/Franja Transversal del Norte” (a mega-highway set to cut across the northern part of Guatemala), three hydroeletric dams (Cambalam of Hidro Santa Cruz in Barillas, Hidro San Luis of CM5 in Santa Eulalia and Ixquisis of the PDH, S.A., in San Mateo Ixtatán) and other possible mineral extraction in the area. In Huehuetenango, 28 of the 32 municipalities have held referenda in which communities have soundly rejected the presence of hydroelectric dams. Despite this clear message, the government continues to push these projects forward and to grant new licenses.
Given this reality, the Human Rights Convergence has called on the Guatemalan government and judicial system to respect due process and immediately halt the criminalization of community leaders. In a statement released in March, the Convergence urged the government to stop granting licenses for hydroelectric dams in the regions, and called on the companies who are already operating in the area to listen to and respect the decisions made by impacted communities.
It states, “The government of Otto Pérez Molina is using this violence to protect personal and corporate interests. The censorship and attacks – including assassinations – of journalists and other grassroots media is only one example. Indigenous communities who carry out referenda are met with racism and repression by government authorities and from company employees seeking to expand into their territories.”
To read the full statement made by the Human Rights Convergence in Spanish, click here.