PBI-Guatemala accompanies four human rights defenders criminalized for opposing the diversion of rivers by sugar mills

Published by Brent Patterson on

Abelino Salvador Mejía

On February 6, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted this 1-minute video on its Facebook page with the comment: “PBI accompanies four human rights defenders criminalized for defending water.”

Prensa Comunitaria reports that these criminalized defenders now face “a hearing scheduled for March this year.”

The four defenders – members of the Retalhuleu Community Council (CCR) – are Anabella España Reyes, Abelino Salvador Mejía, Flabio Vicente and Virgilio García Carrillo.

They have stated: “We organize ourselves in a peaceful way to publicize the consequences of sugar cane, the diversion of rivers that the mills have.”

Abelino has also highlighted: “We created this group to defend the water [because] three sugar mills did whatever they wanted to divert the rivers.”

PBI-Guatemala has previously explained: “The CCR consists of more than 18 communities in the department of Retalhuleu (mainly the municipality of Champerico), belonging to the Mam, K’iche’ and Ixil peoples. Its main objective is the defence of life, territory and human rights, in particular the right of access to water and agriculture on a small scale.”

“They began to organize in 2015 as a result of adverse effects caused by the expansion of the monoculture of sugar and the use of large-scale agrochemicals and pesticides used by the mills in the region.”

That article adds: “In recent years there has been drought and pollution of wells, rivers and lagoons, as well as the destruction of livelihoods, causing lack of access to water and health problems such as malnutrition and respiratory and renal ailments.”

Panorama Noticias has also reported: “Allegations of violations of the right to water, food and environmental pollution by the communities of the South Coast led to four defenders of Champerico and Retalhuleu being criminalized by the mills of El Pilar and Magdalena.”

The Prensa Comunitaria article further notes that this persecution began when a dialogue table was formed in 2016 to discuss community concerns and then intensified after a protest against the sugar mills in 2018.

PBI-Guatemala has been accompanying the four defenders since April 2020.

PBI-Guatemala has also now posted this 7-minute video.

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