Caal Xol says Oxec hydroelectric company violates the rights of Mayan people during the COVID-19 pandemic
On July 1, Bernardo Caal Xol posted on Facebook: “The irresponsibility of the hydroelectric company OXEC S.A. in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis once again violates the rights of the Mayan people Q’eqchi’ of Chi K’ajb’om.”
Caal adds: “It has been proven through the company’s negligence and non-compliance with provisions for the prevention of infections that they do not care about the lives of people, now that several of their collaborators and members of communities are infected and quarantined within the hydroelectricity facilities.”
On May 22, Caal had also tweeted: “Thousands of Mayan Q’eqchis settlers at this time of COVID-19 do not have water since the Renace has captured the Cahabón river for 30 kilometers.”
The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project has previously explained: “On the Cahabón River and its tributaries Oxec, Canlich and Chiacté, seven hydroelectric plants currently operate: Renace I, II, III, IV, Oxec, Oxec II, and Chichaic.”
The two most recently completed dams are Oxec II which began operation in September 2018 and Renace IV which became operational in January 2019.
PBI-United Kingdom has noted: “In August 2017, PBI provided security support to the good-faith consultation in which the 195 communities of the Cahabón River overwhelmingly rejected the Oxec hydroelectric projects.”
Numerous concerns have been raised about these dams, including their impacts on the river, tributaries and ecosystems. Indigenous peoples have stated that the dams are illegal because they were not properly consulted or informed about them as required under the ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Caal is a leader of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón, a collective of 38 Maya Q’eqchi communities. The resistance was formed in 2015 to oppose these dams.
On November 9, 2018, Caal was criminalized for his opposition to the dams and sentenced to seven years and four months in prison for aggravated detention and theft.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz visited Caal in prison in May 2018.
She has stated: “The conviction of the Q’eqchí’ leader is an apparent attempt to silence and discredit the legitimate exercise of the rights of the indigenous community.”
Tauli-Corpuz adds: “This is not an isolated case; there are numerous indigenous community members who are being criminalised in Guatemala for defending their traditional lands and resources against large-scale development projects which cause environmental damage.”
PBI-Guatemala has accompanied the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón since July 2017.