PBI-Guatemala provides update on Maya Q’eqchi’ defender Bernardo Caal Xol’s court hearing

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On May 11, PBI-Guatemala posted: “PBI accompanies a hearing in the judicial process against the criminalized defender Bernardo Caal Xol.”

Update on legal proceedings

PBI-Guatemala notes: “The hearing dealt with the challenge of four judges of the Criminal Chamber raised by the company Netzone, S.A., a contractor of the hydroelectric company OXEC S.A. The challenge was identified as a strategy to delay the process.”

“Therefore, the process continues in its course towards a cassation [annulment] hearing before the CSJ [Supreme Court of Justice]. The lawyers will argue the reasons for a review of the entire process carried out.”

Amnistía Internacional Américas also explains: “The Supreme Court did not admit the challenge of the magistrates filed by the company. The resource to review the conviction of Bernardo Caal Xol it must advance as soon as possible. He has spent already more than 3 years in prison for defending rights in Guatemala.”

And Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, comments: “The way is opened for justice for Bernardo Caal, prisoner of conscience for defending human rights and rivers. The appeal to reverse the unjust conviction continues. We will continue to demand immediate and unconditional freedom for Bernardo Caal.”

Also, Factor 4 reports: “After a ruling from the Criminal Chamber, defense attorneys of Bernardo Caal hope that the cassation [annulment] hearing will be rescheduled as soon as possible. ‘Request the criminal chamber to make a comprehensive review of the entire process’ and thus prove the innocence of Bernardo Caal.”

Prensa Comunitaria adds: “With the CSJ’s resolution, Caal’s defense expects the hearing to be rescheduled as soon as possible.”


Caal Xol is a leader of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón, a collective of 38 Maya Q’eqchi communities, that was formed to oppose the construction of the Oxec and Renace dams on the Cahabón River and its tributaries.

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.”

In November 2018, Bernardo was sentenced to seven years and four months in jail.

The two most recently completed dams on Cahabón River are Oxec II which began operation in September 2018 and Renace IV which became operational in January 2019. These dams were built without free, prior and informed consent. Communities are now mobilizing to stop the construction of yet another dam, Oxec III.

Isabel Matzir

Isabel Matzir, Bernardo’s wife, recently commented: “We opposed – the hydroelectric plant – because the company entered with deception. The company never, never reported, in the first place, that they were hydroelectric, nor did it report that they were going to divert the river or that they were going to channel the river.”

She adds: “So, they tricked their way in and the people, the communities of the town of Cahabón, had to investigate what was happening. And when they found out that it was a hydroelectric plant, then the repression by the hydroelectric plant began.”

For Isabel and their two daughters to visit Bernardo in jail, they must travel about eight to nine hours to get to the detention centre.

Isabel says: “This has affected us terribly in all areas: social, economic, health, the situation that all personal projects, all family projects, studies, everything is paralyzed. Everything is practically suspended.”

The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project has accompanied Bernardo and the Peaceful Resistance Cahabón since August 2017.

Photo by @HRDPGuatemala.

The jail where Bernardo is being held.

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