Restrictions put in place to contain COVID-19 over the past several months, including contraints to free movement and assembly, did nothing to stop attacks on human rights defenders. In fact, such attacks increased as government and private actors appear to have taken advantage of the relative isolation of defenders and their restricted access to human rights monitoring bodies and the courts.
At least eight land and territory defenders were killed between June and August. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in September issued a statement of concern about the escalation in killings, urging the Guatemalan government to protect defenders and investigate these murders thoroughly, considering as the motive the victims’ work in the defense of land and territory.
On June 6, indigenous Q’eqchi leader and Mayan traditional medicine specialist Domingo Choc Che was burned alive in San Luis, Petén, after being accused of witchcraft. Two days later, Alberto Cucul Cho, an environmental defender in Alta Verapaz, was murdered as he traveled to the Laguna Lachuá National Park where he worked as a park ranger. On June 15, Medardo Alonzo Lucero, a defender of indigenous rights and territory and a member of the Ch’orti’ community La Cumbre, in Olopa, Chiquimula, was murdered. On June 23, Fidel López, a member of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA), was killed in Morales, Izabal.
On July 20 Abel Raymundo, a land and territory defender in Lelá Chancó de Jocotán, Chiquimula, was murdered. On August 10, French citizen Benoît Maria, who had dedicated many years to the defense of Guatemala’s indigenous peoples, was murdered. On August 11, Misael López Catalán, a community leader and CODECA member in Jalapa, was murdered, making him the eighteenth CODECA member killed in the last two years. Five days later, Maya Q’eqchi indigenous leader Carlos Mucú Pop was assassinated in the community of Santa Rosa, Sayaxché, Petén. In addition, community leader and pastor Carlos Enrique Coy has been missing since August 3rd. To date this year, fourteen human rights defenders have been murdered, at least one woman defender among them.
Violence against women defenders of land and territory is a constant, as GHRC’s Guatemala City office director Isabel Solis points out in a recent radio interview. Find it in Spanish here: https://rb.gy/sphms0
Extractive industries affect indigenous women especially. Violence in the area of large-scale development projects increases, including sexual violence. Poverty often increases as well. For example, in the area surrounding the Guatemalan Nickel Company’s Fenix mine–one of the largest in Central America–which is illegally operating in Izabal, poverty has risen, not diminished. “People who work for these companies believe the tale of development,” Isabel points out the interview. “It doesn’t exist. It’s just a form of entering to rob.”
“We have to rise up and defend ourselves and denounce any group, including banks, that finance these corrupt groups. We have asked the World Bank not to continue financing extractive industries. They are killing indigenous peoples. A way to recover our power as peoples,” as Isabel explains, “is to defend what we have and recover what has been taken.”