PBI-Guatemala expresses concern for the security situation of Hermelindo, Jesus and Elias Caal

Published by Brent Patterson on

On June 13, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted on its Facebook page: “We sympathize with the Caal family. We express our concern for your security situation. PBI accompanies UVOC.”

The Verapaz Union of Peasant Organisations (UVOC) is an indigenous and peasant organization dedicated to the defence and promotion of access to land for the peasant population in the departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz.

PBI-Guatemala shared the UVOC post that stated: “In the early morning of Thursday 11 to Friday 12 June, Hermelindo Caal Oxóm (UVOC’s collaborator), Elias Caal Oxóm (Community Press correspondent) and the father of both, Jesus Caal, were accused of witchcraft and threatened with death by members of the community in which they reside, Gancho Mahoga II of Cobán municipality (Alta Verapaz).”

This follows the murder of Domingo Choc Che, 55, in Guatemala on June 6. He was an expert on traditional herbal medicine who had worked with researchers from University College London. He was also accused of practicing witchcraft.

The Guardian has reported: “The 1996 peace accords for the first time recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditions and spirituality. But persecution continues against those who practice Maya spiritualism, which is often referred to as ‘witchcraft’ by conservative Christian religious groups.”

Jose Che, the secretary of Guatemala’s Relebaal Saqe association of councils of spiritual guides, says: “There has been discrimination and racism against Maya people for a long time. They do not respect our cosmovision, our spirituality.”

And Claudia Samayoa, one of the founders of the human rights organization UDEFEUGA, says: “Prior to the peace accords there was a clear persecution of Maya spiritual guides and traditional herbalists But Guatemala has not managed to dismantle this vision from colonial times that practicing ‘witchcraft’ deserves death. There are neo-pentecostal churches and some expressions of Catholicism that continue to consider the practice of Maya spirituality as a form of witchcraft.”

PBI-Guatemala, in its post about the murder of Domingo Choc Che, included the hashtag #RacismoMata which translates into Racism Kills.

On May 21, PBI-Guatemala released its new report: We Defend Life! The Social Struggles in Alta Verapaz.

That report sets the context: “The indigenous peoples and campesinos of AV have been subjected to continuous dispossession dating back to the Spanish conquest, when the looting of natural wealth in the region began through the exploitation of raw materials.”

To read the full report, please click here.

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