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Guatemala: indigenous leaders arrested

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Rigoberto Juárez. Photo: Nelton RiveraOn 24 March Rigoberto Juárez was arrested in Guatemala City. Juárez, a Q’anjob’al leader, has been accused of criminal activity because of his leadership of indigenous communities in Huehuetenango in their protests against international companies whose mines and hydroelectric plants are depriving the local population of their land and their water.

The National Civil Police (PNC) who arrested Juárez, together with Domingo Baltazar, another representative of the community of Santa Eulalia in Huehuetenango, had no order from a judge as required by law. The detention was carried out with violence and when a lawyer, Ricardo Cajas, asked the police to produce identification and an arrest order, they attacked him physically as well.

At the time of writing they are still in detention. Please sign the petition here to demand their release.

Santa Eulalia. Photo: Kelly KnappJuárez represents the ‘Plurinational Government of the Nation of the Mayan linguistic groups of the Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Akateka, Popti and the Mestizo population’ of the 16 municipalities of the department of Huehuetenango in the mountainous north west of Guatemala.

Juárez and Baltazar had travelled with a delegation to Guatemala City to denounce the abuses that the traditional Mayan leaders of the area and also various journalists had suffered on 19 March at the hands of the mayor, Diego Marcos Pedro, members of the municipal corporation and other people close to the authorities.

On that occasion the Q’anjob’al leaders, of which Juárez is one, were opening a community radio station. For four hours they were subjected to verbal abuse and threats. In Guatemala City the delegation intended to present a denunciation to the human rights authorities of the government and the UN.

History of disputes with hydro companies

Since 2011 there have been various other occasions on which representatives of the Plurinational Government in Huehuetenango have travelled to the capital to denounce abuses committed by the hydroelectric and mining companies and in particular the Hidro San Luis Company, which, according to the leaders, is violating the rights of the communities which are opposed to its hydroelectric project.

This latest arrest is just one of a long list of arbitrary detentions which have been on the increase since 2012 as part of the strategy of the Government and the companies to undermine the peaceful opposition of the peoples to this model of destructive ‘development’.

Daniel Pedro Mateo with his wifeIn April 2013, for instance, Qanjob’al community activist Daniel Pedro Mateo was found murdered in Santa Eulalia. Daniel was a painter, teacher, founder of Radio Snuq Jolom Konob, and a leader in the community resistance to mining and hydroelectric activities in Huehuetenango, especially the Hidro Santa Cruz dam in Santa Cruz Barillas.

In August 2013 there was a further confrontation near Santa Eulalia between local villagers and armed guards connected with the hydro-electric project, who opened fire on unarmed civilians. (Read more –in Spanish; also here)

The day after the arrest of Juárez and Baltazar, they were brought before a court. The state requested preventive detention for the two men in a prison but the judge ruled that they could go back to Santa Eulalia as long as they signed on every 15 days with the police there and did not leave the town.

However, as they were about to leave the court building, agents of the criminal police (DEIC) arrived and said they had a detention order for them issued by another judge. When their lawyers tried to find the judge who had presided over the court session, he had already left and the two men were once more imprisoned.