In the morning of Friday September 27, government agents abducted community leader Maynor Lopez in his home town, the municipality of Santa Cruz Barillas, department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Mr Lopez is a well-known activist and leader of local resistance to the hydroelectric project Santa Cruz, managed by the Spanish company Hidralia SA through its subsidiary Hidro Santa Cruz.
Held at gun point, Maynor was taken into a van, which villagers say they recognized as one of the hydro company vehicles, and subsequently transferred into a helicopter that took him to Guatemala City. There he was reportedly arrested and detained by the national police.
Commenting on the abduction, Basilio Tzoy, Advocacy Coordinator with Friends of the Earth Guatemala (Asociación CEIBA) calls it an ‘act of aggression’ that is part of an ongoing campaign of harassment of communities as they resist megaprojects that are forced upon them by transnational companies and the government. The situation ‘revives the memories of internal armed conflict in Guatemala during the 36 years of civil war’ Mr Tzoy adds in an interview with Real World Radio.
Years of repression
Resistance to the hydroelectric project in Santa Cruz Barillas started in 2007, when, in a round of popular consultations, communities overwhelmingly rejected the development of megaprojects on their territories. The conflict was further aggravated when, on May 1, 2012, gunmen ambushed and killed community leader Andres Francisco Miguel and severely injured his neighbors Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Barnabas.
On the same day, the government of Otto Perez Molina declared a state of siege in the community of Santa Cruz Barillas, resulting in numerous arbitrary arrests of villagers and human rights violations. Eight human rights defenders were imprisoned for more than eight months before being released earlier this year.
This is the second time that Maynor Lopez has been abducted. In May this year, he was captured and tortured under circumstances that are very similar to these. This time, he is reportedly charged with “escape, aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault with specific intent to incite crime” according to local and national newspapers.
However, behind these formal accusations looms the fact that Maynor is one of the most prominent opponents of community negotiations with the hydro company on the basis of ‘restricted participation’ as proposed by President Otto Peréz Molina on September 3. In addition to Maynor’s sequestration, Basilio Tzoy estimates that there are about 22 arrest warrants against community advocates from Santa Cruz Barillas, and 700 police officers have been sent to the municipality to carry these out.
“Santa Cruz Barillas has been in a near permanent state of assembly, with about 5000-8000 people participating in the meetings,” says Basilio in reference to the scope of the resistance to the hydro project.
He also adds that eight other municipalities in the department of Huehuetenango have joined the resistance, along with communities in the department of Quiché that are fighting against other hydroelectric projects.
Finally, Basilio points out that, although the company Hidro Santa Cruz has suspended work in the region, “they have infiltrators in the communities who are organizing meetings, paying off leaders, and even threatening their own personnel.”