Indigenous land defender Bernardo Caal Xol criminalized for his opposition to hydroelectric dams has a court hearing today
Bernardo Caal Xol has another court appearance today at 9 am CST (11 am EST) following a series of cancelled hearings.
On July 29, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted: “Yesterday we accompanied Bernardo Caal Xol and the Human Rights Law Firm (BDH) to Bernardo’s appeal hearings which were suspended again.”
Kathy Price of Amnesty International Canada further noted: “Yet again ‘justice’ failed #indigenous prisoner of conscience #BernardoCaal. Yesterday magistrates were to hear his appeal but canceled – for the 5th time!”
Caal Xol is a leader of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón, a collective of 38 Maya Q’eqchi communities. The resistance was formed to oppose the construction of the Oxec and Renace hydroelectric dams on the Cahabón River and its tributaries.
In December 2015, Caal Xol as a member of an affected Q’eqchi’ community launched a legal challenge accusing the Guatemalan state of illegally granting licences for the Oxec dam without prior consultation with Indigenous communities.
The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Caal Xol’s legal challenge in January 2017 as did the Constitutional Court in May 2017.
The permits were suspended pending consultation with the indigenous community.
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.”
The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC) highlights: “A few months later [in December 2017], Bernardo was arrested [in] a clear act of retribution for the defense of his community’s water rights.”
By November 2018, Caal Xol was sentenced to seven years and four months by a court in Coban for theft and illegal detention.
The GHRC has explained: “These charges were related to a meeting held on October 15, 2015 when communities impacted by the Oxec hydroelectric dam gathered in an empty lot beside a road. Thousands of Q’eqchi attended the meeting; the crowd spilled across the road. Prosecutors allege that a truck with workers from the cable television company Netzone, which has contracts with the Oxec dam, were unable to pass through the crowd for three hours, and that during this time items in the pick-up’s open bed were stolen. Prosecutors claim that Bernardo Caal spoke at the meeting and that as a leader of the Q’eqchi’ communities, he is responsible for detaining the workers in their car for three hours and for the robbery of items from the truck bed.”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz 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.”
And Amnesty International says: “It’s clear that there’s no evidence of the crimes that he’s accused of” and has expressed its concerns over “the irregularities and negligence” in the proceedings against him.
Significantly, Tauli-Corpuz has also highlighted: “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.