Indigenous Q’eqchi people demand justice for imprisoned defender Bernardo Caal and freedom for rivers from hydroelectric dams

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Outside the courthouse where Bernardo’s lawyers keep fighting for his freedom. The sign reads: “Q’eqchi people in resistance for life and dignity demand justice.”

On September 29, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project shared this post by Colectivo MadreSelva that says:

“Women and men of Santa Maria Cahabon, today in front of the Supreme Court of Justice, demanded justice for Bernardo Caal Xol and the rivers of their community, for which they are willing to fight against large extractive companies and corrupt rulers. Cahabon resists for its rivers.”

Colectivo MadreSelva adds that an appeal for cessation was presented to the court.

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.

PBI-Guatemala has accompanied the Resistance since July 2017.

Timeline & background

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.”

The Oxec II dam began operation in September 2018.

By November 2018, Caal Xol was sentenced to seven years and four months by a court on trumped up charges that lack objective evidence.

The Renace IV began operation in January 2019.

In July 2020, Amnesty International recognized Caal Xol as a prisoner of conscience.

You can follow Bernardo Caal Xol on Twitter here.

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