Indigenous Q’eqchi Authorities have announced a strike to begin on November 4 and lasting indefinitely, in protest of the state of siege imposed in El Estor. The state of siege was declared in El Estor following the violent eviction on October 23 of an encampment the community had set up in resistance to an illegal nickel mine. The resistance had established the encampment to block the passage of mining materials for the Fenix mine–a joint Swiss-Russian project–which the Constitutional Court in a 2020 ruling confirmed was operating illegally and had been since 2005, given that no free, prior, and informed consultation of the affected indigenous communities had been carried out. (Read more on our blog.)
In a press conference announcing the strike, indigenous authorities highlighted the failure of dialogue in the process so far. “We are not looking to start dialogue in our demands, nor will we accept it. We want the government to repeal its agreement regarding the creation of the state of siege and the suspension of preconsultation.” Indigneous authorities demanded the immediate annulment of the government decree enacting the state of siege, annulment of the pre- consultation process–which, according to Indigenous Authorities is being manipulated by staff of the mining company–and the inclusion of the 94 legitimate delegations of El Estor communities.
On October 31, the Convergence for Human Rights presented its report on the human rights violations that occurred within the first seven days of the state of siege, reporting disproportionate use of force by National Civil police, soldiers, and agents of the Public Ministry against the community and journalists. The report documents use of tear gas against women, children, and the elderly; violation of the freedom of the press, including physical attacks and destruction of equipment; 14 documented raids of the homes of human rights defenders, including Juan Bautista Xol and Carlos Choc; intimidation of indigenous authorities, purposeful targeting of youth during raids, with intimidation, threats, and physical abuse; and the illegal detention of defender Eduardo Bin.
Denouncing the violations as part of a psychological terror strategy, the Convergence condemned the state of siege which is still in place. According to Jorge Santos, Director of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), the violence that has occured in the last week: “Like some kind of spiral or endless loop, the viciousness, violence, pillaging, exploitation of natural resources, death, and terror plagues the population that inhabits El Estor, particularly the Q’eqchi’ people.”
Latin American Coordinating Council for Indigenous Film and Media (CLACPI) denounced the “violent incidents in Guatemala on the part of the Guatemalan state and its police forces, which in the defense of multinational extractive interests have systematically repressed and violated the collective and individual rights of the Q’eqchi people.”
On October 29, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee the work of journalists, in accordance with international human rights standards, noting that “it is the duty of states to provide the press with the highest guarantees to carry out its work freely, safely, and independently, since it is journalists who keep society informed and contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of the rule of law.”