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18 January 2013 | Interviews | International Tour in Solidarity with communities affected by mining megaprojects in Central America | Resisting neoliberalism | Human rights | Gender | Extractive industries | Social activists at risk
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This Thursday, the peasants of the Guatemalan municipality of Santa Cruz Barillas, in Huehuetenango department, released on January 10 after more than eight months of being arbitrarily imprisoned, will tour through the capital of the country to denounce the abuses suffered and demand Hidro Santa Cruz company, in charge of the Santa Cruz hydroelectric project, to leave their territories.
The peasants released stated that their resistance against the company will continue and that they have the support of Santa Cruz Barillas communities, said Natalia Atz, regional coordinator at CEIBA – Friends of the Earth Guatemala to Real World Radio. The Santa Cruz project has been repudiated by the local communities since 2007.
On May 1st, 2012, at noon, a group of armed men ambushed and killed Andres Francisco Miguel and his friends and neighbors Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Bernabe were seriously injured. The witnesses of Andres Francisco Miguel’s death said that the attackers were driving vehicles similar to those of Hidro Santa Cruz. That’s why the population assumes the attack was promoted by people linked to the company.
Also on May 1st, Otto Perez Molina’s administration declared a state of emergency in Santa Cruz Barillas. There was a large demonstration in the area to demand justice and on May 2nd, several peasants were arbitrarily arrested during a violent repression. With the state of emergency, all kinds of atrocities and human rights violations fell on the population: raids, arbitrary arrests, violent interrogations, abuses against children and women, forced disappearances, to name a few. -
“We as CEIBA are quite happy, satisfied, with the release of our friends of Santa Cruz Barillas. It is a strong struggle. CEIBA took charge of the legal battle, step by step we were present in all hearings (...)", said Atz. “CEIBA is satisfied, since we followed the process very closely, but the day of the release was a celebration for the entire social movement”, she added.
After the release, several meetings with human rights institutions to denounce the violation of their rights in prison were held.
The release was a very touching moment for the organizations that followed the case. Atz highlighted: “the injustices of the Guatemalan justice system”, and made reference to the wives of the former prisoners, because they resisted and didn’t sell themselves to the company. According to CEIBA’s coordinator, Hidro Santa Cruz offered the women to sign a pact considered dishonest by the women, in exchange of the release of their husbands, due to the influences the company has on the right-wing national administration.
Atz also said that after the release of the peasants, the organizations and communities welcomed them with celebrations, people gathered around the roads to greet them, and they even held demonstrations from Huehuetenango to Barillas.
There was a large demonstration where people expressed once again their rejection to hydroelectric dams and said that their resistance will continue, according to Atz.
The corporate communication media didn’t cover the release of the peasants, an issue that indeed was in the agenda of independent media, according to CEIBA”s coordinator, who added that Hidro Santa Cruz “is exerting pressure, trying to confuse the population” these days. This is why local communities will draft a strategy to continue resisting the company.
Atz concluded that it wasn’t easy to reach last week’s victory. “They were eight months constantly denouncing the violations against the arrested people, their individual rights”, she said. “(…) We are glad they were released, but it is not easy for the social movement”, she said, before highlighting the legal work of the team of lawyers, and the political work of social organizations.
“But this doesn’t mean that the legal system is in our favor nowadays in Guatemala. There is a lot of criminalization and the problems brought by megaprojects that cause deaths”, said Atz. Since the beginning of this year there have been already many conflicts in different mines, with problems even among workers of the transnational companies of the sector, and several of them have ended up dead", added Natalia.
Nevertheless, “we are also going to follow another case still ongoing, the murder of Andres Francisco Miguel, where there are two people who were paid by the company who are imprisoned and I hope they pay for what they’ve done”. “The struggle continues in Barillas, not only at community level, but also at legal level, the social movement is also present joining these community struggles”, concluded the activist.
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