Social movements in Guatemala are being increasingly criminalized, repressed, intimidated and subjected to human rights abuses
Guatemala has increasingly opened its doors to foreign and European investors exploiting the country’s hydrological and mineral resources, and sugar and palm oil plantations, which has resulted in mounting pressure on local communities and the environment, and has led to land grabs and human rights violations.
These violations often take place in collaboration with the government, according to the representatives of social movements.
“The current government has introduced a policy of repression – pursuing and illegally incarcerating people from social movements resisting so called “development” projects,“ warned Víctor Barro, chair of Friends of the Earth Spain.
Barro took part in a November 2012 international mission organized by Friends of the Earth International that verified systematic human rights violations and criminalization of environmental activists and communities resisting mining and hydroelectric projects in Guatemala and El Salvador.
According to Natalia Atz Sunuc, Friends of the Earth Guatemala general coordinator : “Campesinos and indigenous people are labeled as ‘terrorists’ for defending their basic human rights in a peaceful way”.
According to Paula del Cid, representative of the Feminist Association “La Cuerda” of Guatemala : “in a context of mandatory evictions, the role of the army is increasing, and sexual abuse is being used as a tool to intimidate women who are defending their land.”
In June 2011, forty European parliamentarians denounced the situation in Guatemala, but the European Union still refuses to take an effective stance in its trade and investment policies.
Civil society organisations based in Brussels – Friends of the Earth Europe, Aprodev, CIFCA and Grupo Sur – have called on the European Union to ensure policies include mechanisms to monitor and enforce the defence of human rights.
The Spanish company Hidralia Energía, developing dams for hydroelectric power in Santa Cruz de Barillas, Guatemala, began development with neither permission nor consent from indigenous and local communities.
This is just one blatant example of how a company supported by the government grab land to exploit Guatemala’s natural resources while criminalising peasants and indigenous people.
“The Guatemalan and Spanish governments must take responsibility and do everything in their power to protect human rights in Guatemala,” said Víctor Barro, Chair of Friends of the Earth Spain.
A recent example of unjust detention is the case of Ruben Herrera who has been detained since March 2013 in Guatemala. He has participated in the resistance to projects such as Hidro Santa Cruz (originally Hidralia SA) and a member of the Peoples’ Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH).
An international petition to free Herrera has been launched. The petition states that over 20 community leaders, including Ruben, are being unjustly persecuted or are unjustly put on trial.