PBI-Guatemala accompanied Indigenous defenders on the need for mutual aid and the defence of territory against extractivism

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Lesbia Artola, María Josefina Caal Xol, Sandra Calel.

On December 23, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted this article that highlights the need for mutual aid and the importance of defending territory against extractivism given the consequences of Hurricane Eta and Tropical Storm Iota on Indigenous communities in Guatemala.

Dispossession, extractivism and climate change

PBI-Guatemala notes: “Guatemala is located on an isthmus, this and its topography, making it highly vulnerable to both an excess and lack of precipitation, a risk which will only increase with human activity-induced global warming.”

Their article adds: “Guatemala’s main defense against natural disasters is to maintain its ecosystems in a good condition [however] the country is undergoing a process of destruction of nature, rooted in the implementation of an economic policy based on extractive activities and industries which involve major changes in land use and loss of forest cover.”

Q’eqchi leader Lesbia Artola, coordinator of the Community Council of the Highlands (CCDA) – Las Verapaces, comments on the impacts of the storms.

She says: “We cannot fight against nature. These are the consequences of the dispossession of land that our peoples have suffered, due to the expansion of monocultures, the diversion of rivers by hydroelectric companies and the destruction of all our natural resources.”

Q’eqchi leader María Josefina Caal Xol has further noted the hydroelectric dams built on the Oxec and Cahabón rivers released water during the storms, further impacting the communities in the municipality of Santa María Cahabón.

These dams are opposed by the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and its leader (and Maria’s brother) Bernardo Caal Xol, who is now unjustly in prison.

And part of the land secured by the Poqomchí families of the La Primavera community with the support of the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (UVOC) is now buried under a landslide that came with the storms.

PBI-Guatemala notes: “For years the families of La Primavera have been denouncing illegal logging in the area. Because of these reports, community leader Justino Ilom has been suffering a process of criminalization and judicialization since 2018, which has continued in the court of Cobán.”

The article adds: “These are two examples of communities affected by the impacts of the recent tropical storms, demonstrating how by defending their territory and protesting against the economic model that is at the root of these so-called natural disasters in Guatemala, they become victims of attacks and persecutions.”

“It is because of these attacks that Peace Brigades International have provided accompaniment to these communities for years.”

Mutual aid mobilized for communities in need

PBI-Guatemala adds: “The CCDA-Las Verapaces and the UVOC have reported that the government has not provided quick responses to communities who are at risk and without food. Rather, solidarity has been shown from families who have not been affected by the tropical phenomena, and the communities from other departments across the country.”

“Furthermore, it is the campesino and indigenous organizations who have mobilized to support the people affected.”

Lesbia Artola of CCDA-Las Verapaces says: “In Guatemala only the people save the people… it is not by chance that the government does not reach the communities, it is a way of punishing us for our struggle in defense of the land and natural resources.”

She adds: “The government only reaches the communities to repress and criminalize.”

And Poqomchí leader Sandra Calel of UVOC says: “We are making plans to support communities in recovering food production through the implementation of family gardens that use organic fertilizers and native seeds, as well as mixing and crop diversification to strengthen food sovereignty.”

The PBI-Guatemala article concludes: “The indigenous peoples’ struggles in defense of the territory and natural resources is the same struggle to prevent the tropical phenomena, such as Eta and Iota, from becoming disastrous. It is the struggle to counteract the effects of the climate crisis; in short, it is the struggle for life.”

To read the full article, please see Tropical Storms in Guatemala: “Only the people can save the people.” It can also be read in Spanish at: Tormentas tropicales en Guatemala: “solo el pueblo salva al pueblo”

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