The following piece, published in the November-December 2013 NewsNotes, was prepared by Eben Levey, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
In late September, less than a month after President Otto Perez Molina visited the town of Barillas in the department of Huehuetenango and announced the formation of a formal space for dialogue between communities, the government, and the hydroelectric companies Ecoener Hidralia Energía/Hidro Santa Cruz S.A., police and military actions markedly increased. Before the announced dialogue could occur, the government approved the hydroelectric projects, sparking peaceful protests by the Q’anjob’al, Akateko, Chuj, and mestizo peoples in San Mateo Ixtatán, Barillas, and other local communities.
See related articles on Guatemala here: Indigenous people's human rights (July-August 2013 NewsNotes); Threats to human rights continue (September-October 2013 NewsNotes)
Rather than engage in the promised dialogue, the Guatemalan government opted to send the military into the area on September 28. The military immediately began to act by detaining community leader Maynor López in Barillas and flying him away by helicopter. Over the following three days, the military continued to run operations of intimidation and terror using low-flying helicopters and roving ground patrols through the region.
In quickly convened meetings, community leaders, the governor of Huehuetenango, and the Guatemalan Interior Minister came to a tentative agreement to immediately reduce the military presence by 50 percent and to initiate the previously announced negotiations on October 8. Although the communities received apologies from the government and the companies, there has been little action to remedy the root cause of the problem: mega-projects that disrupt community and environmental wellbeing. Additionally, the military remains in the area and is an ever-present reminder to the communities of the worst abuses of the Guatemalan civil war that left hundreds of thousands of predominantly indigenous citizens dead at the hands of the armed forces.
The communities of Huehuetenango have released the following statement in light of recent events:
To the National and International Community
WE MANIFEST: To the Assembly of the Peoples of Huehuetenango, ADH, this dialogue is another insult which does not intend to resolve the crisis on behalf of the government, its ministers and the National Dialogue Commission. This situation is one that they themselves have generated, which is deteriorating the social cohesion with the implementation of the state of siege on May 1, 2012 and the counterinsurgent military aggression perpetrated on September 28th, 29th, and 30th of this year.
"The dialogue table" of October 8, 2013 is another tactic to delay and distract by Otto Perez Molina’s administration and the owner of the company, Hidro Santa Cruz. What is it that they want - to gain time? Although the government and the company apologized to the Q’anjoba’l people they did not explain how and when they will return harmony and peace to the territory of Santa Cruz Barillas and to the Peoples of Northern Huehuetenango with humility, prompt solutions and immediate measures to heal the wounds.
The struggle of our peoples is to defend life and the goods of our earth, maintain harmony with Mother Nature and to stand against the historical and recent offenses by the state of Guatemala, successive governments and national and transnational companies that threaten our individual and collective rights.
For us and for the people of Santa Cruz Barillas an immediate solution to the conflict is the withdrawal of the Hydro Santa Cruz and for the mining, hydroelectric, and oil licenses in northern Huehuetenango to be revoked.
Therefore, as an Assembly of the Peoples of Huehuetenango
a) That the state of Guatemala and the government of Otto Perez Molina expel the Spanish Company, Hidro Santa Cruz, from our territory.
b) The Hidro Santa Cruz company pay all damages caused to the people of Santa Cruz Barillas.
c) That the State of Guatemala immediately release the political prisoners and revoke the arrest warrants issued by the courts.
d) Stop the persecution against the leadership of the peoples of Northern Huehuetenango.
e) The installation of a special commission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for a verification mission of the repression by the State and the administration of Otto Perez Molina.
If the above is not met, then we are witnessing another lie, another farce and a deception against the Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Akateko and Mestizo people of Northern Huehuetenango.
In the month of the redefinition and rearticulation of the People of Guatemala
The Assembly of the Peoples of Huehuetenango, member of the Council of Peoples from the
Western Highlands, CPO, Huehuetenango, October 10, 2013