Abelino Chub was found not guilty of all charges on April 26, 2019. The trial which proceeded the verdict lasted for three days. You can read a day by day description of the trial or download a pdf of each day, Day One, Day Two, Day Three.
Earth Day, April 22, 2019
Inside a packed Guatemala City courtroom, the High Risk Tribunal “A” opened the trial against Maya Q’eqchi land defender Abelino Chub Caal. Abelino works with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation where he supports and accompanies 29 Q’eqchi communities in Sierra Santa Cruz, in the department of Izabal in eastern Guatemala to help them obtain legal certainty for their lands while promoting rural development in the area. Abelino was detained on February 4, 2017 and has been in pre-trial detention ever since.
During the first day of the trial, the Public Prosecutor and private companies “Inversiones Cobra” (Cobra Investments) and CXI presented the accusation against Abelino, arguring that he had led a mobilization into the Plan Grande farm (finca), in the municipality of El Estor in the department of Izabal on August 7, 2016. They also accused him of setting fire to palm oil trees in the farm; Abelino is facing aggravated land occupation, arson and criminal conspiracy charges as a result.
Carlos Manuel Ovalle is the lawyer who represents the companies. He indicated that after the arrival of Abelino Chub, “the relations between the company and the community of Plan Grande deteriorated.” It is important to note that the indigenous Maya Q’eqchi community Plan Grande has been recognized as living on the land where the company now works since at least 1834 when it was recognized when the municipality of El Estor was founded. There are number of fincas, or farms, now occupying that land. One of those farms is also called Plan Grande, which is not the same as the community.
Ovalle said that they would prove the presence and responsibility of Abelino in the supposed invasion of the farm and the burning of palm oil trees there. Throughout his arbitrary pre-trial detention, Abelino has maintained that he was at his home on August 7 and not in the Plan Grande indigenous community nor the Plan Grande farm.
Jovita Tzul, the defense lawyer for Abelino, noted, “There is a historic agrarian conflict in Guatemala, and the support that Abelino gives communities to defend their legitimate and historically acquired rights through legal channels is important. He has documented constant human rights violations; he has been a translator for the communities. This is the reason he is being persecuted. This is part of the struggle for land that is the driving force of the life of communities.”
Tzul argued that the thesis that the Public Prosecutor and the companies were putting forward could not be backed up. She noted that Abelino is a Maya Q’eqchi man from a poor family, who obtained an education through a lot of effort. He put his knowledge to the service of indigenous communities because he understood, from his being and life experience, the social injustices, racism, exploitation and land grabbing that Maya Q’eqchi communities continue to live in different parts of the country. “Abelino is being judged for being a human rights defender; they are trying to criminalize the collective, the communities,” she said.
On the first morning of the trial, ten witnesses declared on the stand. The majority were men who worked on the Murcielago farm, in El Estor, Izabal and were proposed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the private accusation. Most of them said they couldn’t be sure of Abelino’s participation in the events he is accused of having taken part of on August 7, 2016.
It’s worth mentioning that several of the testimonies were contradictory and that the administrative employees for the Murcielago Farm could not confirm the participation of Abelino Chub in the events of August 7 because they were not present in the place of the supposed crime; rather, they had been told about it by other employees working on the farm. All of the witnesses confirmed the existence of the Plan Grande Indigenous community, including homes and crops on the lands under dispute.
Several witnesses proposed by the Public Prosecutor and private accusation did not show up to give their testimonies, and the Court was forced to suspend the trial at 1pm. It is set to resume Tuesday, April 23 at 8:30am. Download a PDF of the Day 1 Report here.
On Tuesday, April 22, 2019, the High Risk Court “A” in Guateala City heard the second day of trial against Maya Q’eqchi’ land defender Abelino Chub Caal. Before his arrest and detention on February 4, 2017, Abelino was a community worker and technician with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation accompanying Q’eqchi communities in the municipalities of La Tinta, Panzos and El Estor in the departments of Izabal and Alta Verapaz in northeastern Guatemala. He worked to help build the capacity of the communities that were in the process of recuperating their land through processes with state institutions like the Land Fund, the Presidential Commission for Human Rights (COPREDEH), the National Protected Areas Council (CONAP) and the Secretary for Agrarian Affairs.
Abelino is being prosecuted by the Guatemalan State and banana and palm oil companies Inversiones Cobra (Cobra Investments) y and CXI from El Estor, Izabal, that have accused him of having led a mobilization on August 7, 2016 into the Plan Grande farm, or finca, and setting fire to palm oil trees. As a result, he is being tried for land occupation, arson and criminal conspiracy.
During the April 23 hearing, seven people gave their declarations, including Abelino. Three criminal investigators who work at the Morales, Izabal Public Prosecutor’s Office presenting their reports regarding pictures they took that were used to identify the area that the company claims was invaded. The pictures were taken October 12, 2016 and April 1, 2017. The investigators confirmed that they traveled to the site in a small plane together with the manager and legal representative of the company, who pointed out to them the area they said had been invaded.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office and private prosecution renounced 13 proposed witnesses, reporting that had not been able to locate them at the addresses on file and because many had changed their place of work. An employee of the Guillermo Toriello Foundation testified about Abelino’s work at the organization. She noted that he had participated in “Dialogue Roundtables” with state authorities about the land conflict in the Polochic. Abelino accompanied communities who were doing the paperwork to obtain title to the land to these meetings. Oscar Caal, a teacher and Abelino’s work colleague, testified that he was with Abelino for a four-day Trociare workshop until Friday, August 5, 2016 in Panajachel and that following the workshop, he saw Abelino take a bus home. Abelino lives hours away from where the alleged crime on August 7 took place.
Abelino Chub voluntarily gave his testimony to the court. He explained that employees for the banana and palm oil companies approached him and asked him to negotiate with the Plan Grande Q’eqchi community on their behalf. Abelino attested that the company Community Relations Manager, Manuel Garcia, tried to bribe him in exchange of doing paperwork with the community. “They offered me money, a vacation, a bank loan, but I refused,” he said. He noted that even if he took the bribe, he wouldn’t be able to convince the community to abandon their territory.
Abelino’s powerful testimony shed light on the situation he has faced for the past 26 months while being arbitrarily detained instead of let out on bail to await his trial. “I told my parents, I don’t regret going to jail for helping communities. I’m innocent. I haven’t done anything illegal. I want the truth to prevail and I demand my immediate freedom. Give me back my freedom,” he said.
“They are criminalizing me for denouncing the State’s violent treatment of helpless, oppressed and marginalized communities in Q’eqchi’ territory,” he said. He went on to add, “I love life, humanity, the earth. I am not some kind of criminal. I confront corruption in rural communities and they criminalize me for not cheating poor families to favor companies.”
Abelino Chub finished by stressing that his work is supporting communities that have been historically settled in the Sierra de las Minas biosphere and that he hasn’t organized people to illegally occupy lands. April 24, beginning at 8:30am, four expert witnesses are expected to provide their reports, which will be followed by the conclusions. Download a PDF of the day 2 report here.
Wednesday, April 23, was the third day of the trial of Maya Q’eqchi land defender Abelino Chub in the High-Risk Court “A” in Guatemala City. He has been criminalized by banana and palm oil companies Inversiones Cobra and CXI that operate in El Estor, Izabal and the Guatemalan State. Abelino is accused of leading a mobilization on August 7, 2016, into the Plan Grande Farm (finca) where the group supposedly set fire to palm trees. He is accused of arson, aggravated land occupation and criminal conspiracy.
On the third day of the trial, four expert witnesses proposed by the defense, lawyers Jovita Tzul and Juan Castro from the Indigenous Peoples’ Law Firm, gave the findings of their reports. The historical-anthropological expert, Jorge Diego Vasquez Monterroso, presented, “History and Cultural of the Q’eqchi’ people in the Murcielago farm, El Estor, Izabal.” Ramon Cadena, legal expert and Regional Direction of the International Commission of Jurists presented his report on criminalization of human rights defenders.
The expert report entitled, “Ancestral Rights, Territorial Dynamics, Dispossession and Defense of the Maya Q’eqchi People in the community of Plan Grande, El Estor, Izabal,” was presented by geographer, Dr. Jennifer Casolo. A political-historic expert testimony was offered by Dr. Harald Waxenecker entitled, “Social power relationship and appropriation of natural resources and the land in El Estor, Izbal.”
Each expert was important to prove to the Court the historic settlement and resettlement of the Q’eqchi People in the lowlands of Izabal in the last century and all of the 19th century before large industrial size farms started to be created in the region. In addition, they showed the historic and geographic actions of the Q’eqchi People in the territory, determining the cultivation, dispossession and defense processes of the lands reclaimed by the Plan Grande Community from the time of colonization until the present. They were able to show the unequal and disproportionate power relations that have had an influence on the allocation and sale of the property and the irregular actions of the Guatemalan state, as well as how privileges and these irregularities led to the appropriation of the lands. They also showed Abelino Chub’s leadership role and the important service he has given to the community where he has worked as a social promoter and mediator of conflict in defense of territory. They showed the way that criminalization processes worked against human rights defenders and the role of legal institutions work to allow these processes to happen. Abelino Chub’s brother-in-law testified about him being at his home in San Pedro Carcha, Alta Verapaz on Sunday, August 7, 2016, the day he was accused of leading the occupation of the Plan Grande Farm in El Estor, Izabal.
During their conclusions, public prosecutor Judith Villagran asked for the arson and criminal conspiracy charged to be dropped due to lack of evidence and for Abelino to be convicted and sentence to three years in jail for aggravated land occupation. Carlos Manuel Ovalle, the private prosecutor for CXI and Cobra Investments asked for the arson charges to be dropped and for Abelino to be convicted of land occupation and conspiracy. The trial will continue on Friday, April 26 at 8:30am with the conclusions of Abelino Chub’s defense. The High-Risk Court “A” will give its verdict.