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On May 2, 2012, 10 political prisoners of Barillas were separately arrested by private persons in the municipality without receiving any explanation or without charges, in a flagrant violation to civil and political rights.
The events began on May 1 when during the festivities of the municipality a person was murdered by the security guards of a company and a group of demonstrators gathered to demand justice.
The following day several of them were arrested.
As Real World Radio reported a few months ago, in Santa Cruz Barillas – Huehuetenango department, Guatemala- there is a strong resistance to the building of Santa Cruz hydroelectric dam, owned by Spanish company Hidralia SA. The project was opposed by the community, in their use of their right to carry out popular consultations. In all the consultations carried out since 2007 over 90% of the people voted against the implementation of hydroelectric and mining projects in the region.
Over seven months after the arrests, nine people remain in prison, as the International Solidarity Mission was able to verify by talking with the communities that oppose mining and hydroelectric projects in Guatemala and El Salvador. The mission was organized by Friends of the Earth International.
On November 15 the international delegation met with the political prisoners at the Zone 18 Preemptive Detention Center in Guatemala City. The detainees explained how they were arrested, beaten and later taken to Huehutenango by private persons.
Real World Radio covered the dialogue between the international delegation and the prisoners, who said their arrest and accusation of serious crimes of terrorism is illegal, and has no legal ground.
“We are asking for justice, because they are not giving us a fair trial, we are innocent, we are peasants who barely make ends meet, we have been detained here for almost seven months and our problem is still unresolved. We are demanding our freedom”, said Saúl Amelio Méndez during a meeting with the International.
The concern of the detainees of Barillas, besides their unfair deprivation of liberty, is the situation of their wives and kids who have no economic means to survive or to visit them in jail. Their food, education and life are under threat.
Meanwhile, Esteban Bernabe Gaspar, teacher of a rural school, said “while the Constitution says there is participation and freedom, where is the freedom? We want to know where is the safety when I was arrested and was told I am a guerrilla fighter. I would like to know what is that supposed to mean. What happened to the peace agreements we signed? Are they going to release us or are they going to kill us?”
The company visited the jail to request the prisoners to reach a settlement to lift the accusations and allow them to return to their community.
However, despite their situation they do not want to negotiate with the corporation because it is un unfair detention. So accepting the pressure and strategies of the corporation would set the wrong precedent.
Juan said “we want the company to leave because as long as they stay here there will be more deaths, more arrest warrants and more innocent people will be brought to jail. We might be released but then they will create another problem and other people will be imprisoned, the same thing will happen to them. What we want is for the company to leave”.
After the visit to jail, Esteban Bernanbe and Pascual de Pascual Pedro were released, as announced in a hearing the previous day and they participated in the press conference of the International Mission.
The others are waiting for a hearing on November 26 so that they can also be released. The chair of Friends of the Earth International, Jagoda Munic, said the federation and its Executive Committee and member groups will be alert to what will happen at the hearing.
“The resisting communities have been accused of terrorism and we have verified that, far from it, they are defending their territories and their livelihood”, said the environmental activist.
Photo: Víctor Barro (FoE Spain)
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