PBI-Guatemala accompanies march calling for Mayan Q’eqchi’ defender Bernardo Caal Xol to be released from prison

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Maria Caal at the march calling for the release of her brother Bernardo.

On June 4, PBI-Guatemala posted: “Today PBI accompanied the March for the Freedom of Bernardo Caal Xol, Jorge Coc and Marcelino Xol Cucul.”

The Spanish news agency EFE reports: “Hundreds of indigenous people of Guatemala marched on Friday to demand the release of Mayan activist Q’eqchi’ Bernardo Caal Xol, a recognized defender of communities affected by the construction of hydroelectric plants on the Oxec and Cahabón rivers, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz.”

“The protesters gathered in the center of the city of Cobán, about 160 kilometers north of Guatemala City, after walking on four slopes [prongs] from the towns of Chisec, San Pedro Carchá, San Juan Chamelco, and Santa Cruz.”

(PBI-Guatemala accompanied the march from San Pedro Carchá to Cobán, which is about a 10-kilometre walk.)

The article adds: “Among the protesters was Bernardo Caal’s sister, Maria Caal, who traveled from Cahabón, her homeland, to demand her brother’s release. María Caal has become a visible face after the capture and conviction of Bernardo, in defense of nature.”

Bernardo Caal Xol

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.

Jorge Coc and Marcelino Xol Cucul

OMCT has explained: “Both men arrested at the beginning of 2018 on charges of ‘homicide’ and ‘attempted homicide’. Despite serious inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses and the acquittal of two other people arrested under the same charges, they were sentenced in October 2019 to 35 years in prison, without parole.”

“Far from being a simple judicial error, their story is emblematic of the battle for land, water and other natural resources playing out in Guatemala.”

That article adds: “Jorge and Marcelino are Q’eqchi Mayan indigenous leaders and members of an organisation based in the Verapaces region, called the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). For over ten years, their community of Choctun Basilá, near the regional capital Cobán, has been in a land dispute with the company Cooperativa Chilté, which has exacted a heavy toll: a campaign of criminalisation and attacks against the CCDA that culminated in the killing of six of its members and the arbitrary detention of Jorge and Marcelino.”

PBI-Guatemala has been accompanying the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and Bernardo Caal Xol since August 2017 and the CCDA since July 2018.

“The Q’eqchi’ and Poqomchi’ peoples in defense of water, territory and justice demonstrate against the monopolizing and oppressive system of the people.”

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