Update: November 25th, 2019
Bernardo Caal, a Q’eqchi’ indigenous leader, was jailed in Cobán, Guatemala, because he denounced illegalities in the granting of the environmental licenses and the concessions for the construction of hydroelectric megaprojects such as OXEC and RENACE, Florentino Pérez’s Cobra group having participated in the construction of the latter. This project has blocked about 30 kilometers of the course of the Cahabón River, affecting 29,000 indigenous
For the indigenous population, rivers are sacred and their community life revolves around them. Bernardo repeatedly denounced the lack of prior consultation with the population as well as the environmental impact on the Cahabón River
“If the hydroelectric plant had been built to give power to the Guatemalans, if we paid a token fee, if we had first been consulted, maybe it could be acceptable. But take the example of Chixoy”, he says, referring to the largest plant ever built in Guatemala. It was erected in 1982 but the five thousand inhabitants of the area of influence did not receive power before 2014.
And for claiming that right, Bernardo Caal was arrested (he was accused of aggravated robbery and illegal retention) and imprisoned under inhumane conditions in the Cobán Alta Verapaz men’s detention center, one of the most dangerous in the country
The school teacher who fought the OXEC and RENACE hydroelectric plants.
Caal Xol is a 46-year-ols Maya Q’eqchi community leader. He was born in 1972 in Sepos Semococh, a small village from the municipality of Santa María Cahabón, in conditions of extreme poverty. But thanks to the great tenacity that is characteristic of him, he studied educational practice and became a teacher in his own village.
For him, fighting for human rights and the environment is a way of life; he does not try to attract any kind of attention.
Defending human rights is not a crime and that is why the Public Ministry has come through with an accusation for aggravated robbery and illegal retention, in order to keep him in jail. Last year, he was sentenced to more than 7 years in prison for these crimes, which he did not commit.
The whole process was full of inconsistencies. The permanent magistrates who never attended the hearing appointments started to name substitutes, who declined the offer in order not to know the case.
It is a complex legal arrangement which puts Caal in a situation of obvious legal defenselessness, which no one is interested in reverting.
For Caal Xol, it is quite clear: “I am a political prisoner, and I am in this situation because I denounced the seizure of the rivers, because I declared that they were being killed, because I made public the sacking of the Q’eqchi’ people’s territory”.
The Guatemalan judicial system made very clear what the consequences are for those who dare to defend human rights against political and economic interests.
In Alianza por la Solidaridad, together with Greenpeace España and Land Rights Now we believe that defending people’s rights and natural assets is not a crime, and that Bernardo Caal should not be paying with years of his life and his physical integrity (he is imprisoned in of the most dangerous jails in Guatemala) because he denounced these actions.
Help us protect the brave men and women of the world who take great risks to defend our rights.
We want the Embassy of Guatemala in Spain to demand freedom to its state for the indigenous leader and that it take urgent measures to protect human rights defenders against aggressions and the threats they receive for defending the land, the water and the environment.
Help us protect the braves!
#FreeBernardo #standwithdefenders #EstoyConQuienesDefienden
*Bernardo Caal’s case is not an exception in the Central American country. The Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) recorded 328 aggressions and crimes against activists in favor of human rights between January and October 2017. The total includes 52 assassinations (45 of the victims were women), 72 aggressions against activists defending indigenous populations and their territory, 131 aggressions against women, and 30 against journalists. Additionally, in March 2017, popular and human rights protection organizations presented a report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about the repression against communities that reject big hydroelectric plants in Guatemala. The document reported 103 arrest warrants, 56 wounded, 36 imprisonment, 25 arrests, 16 processes of criminalization, 15 threats, and 11 assassinations.
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