PBI-Guatemala to accompany hearing of 21 Maya Q’eqchi’ defenders arrested at military base that displaced them

Published by Brent Patterson on

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The survivors and relatives of the displaced families continue to ask that their lands be returned to them and that their dispossession by the military comes to an end. PBI-Guatemala accompanied the community at a ceremony on July 28, 2019, at the Creompaz base to commemorate the anniversary of their eviction.

On June 17, PBI-Guatemala posted: “Tomorrow, PBI will accompany the first statement hearing of 21 compañeros from the Chicoyogüito community.”

Telesur has reported:

These are 21 defenders of the indigenous territory captured in Cobán when they demanded the return of their lands.

Guatemalan human rights organizations on Monday [June 14] demanded the immediate release of 21 people from the Chicoyogüito community, captured a week ago, in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, when they began a peaceful demonstration in defense of their territory.

The defenders of the indigenous territory demanded that the Guatemalan State return to them their ancestral lands, which were dispossessed 53 years ago by the national army, when it installed Military Zone 21, where today the so-called Regional Peacekeeping Operations Training Command (Creompaz) is located.

According to the Center for The Legal Action of Human Rights (CALDH), the 21 defenders were arrested for the crime of aggravated usurpation while starting a peaceful demonstration in the Chicoyogüito community, Cobán, in central Guatemala.

According to CALDH, the National Civil Police used excessive force, injuring some of the demonstrators and violating the right to freedom of demonstration.

It indicates that those captured were taken to the Cobán Penal Center without being heard by a competent judge or being treated for their injuries.

Canada at Creompaz

Military Zone 21, now known as Creompaz, was the site of extreme violence against men, women and children in the 1980s. It was there that 84 mass graves containing 565 bodies were found. Hundreds of victims have been identified as Indigenous Maya Poqomchi, Q’eqchi’, Achi, Ixil and K’iche peoples.

The military base is considered the largest clandestine cemetery in Latin America.

In Creompaz: Guatemala’s ‘Little School of the Americas’, Canadian journalist Dawn Paley writes: “Evidence uncovered by forensic anthropologists shows that people disappeared from various regions were later brought to the base at Coban by soldiers for interrogation and torture, followed by extrajudicial execution and secret burial.”

Indigenous people were targeted during the internal armed conflict that began in 1960 and formally ended in 1996.

An estimated 200,000 Guatemalans were killed with 93 per cent of the executions of civilians carried out by government forces. Of the 42,275 individual cases of killing and disappearances documented by the Commission for Historical Clarification, 83 per cent of the victims of the armed conflict were Indigenous Maya.

In November 2012, Paley commented: “Regardless of the mass graves at the base, military and police training continues there, supported by countries like the US and Canada.” The support from Canada has included a CAD$250,000 grant in 2009 and the purchase of specialized equipment in 2014 for a training program at Creompaz.

We have asked Global Affairs Canada for its position on this dispossession and any current support or Canadian military involvement at the Creompaz base.

The arrest of the 21 defenders in Guatemala comes after remains of 215 Indigenous children were recently found in a mass grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School on Secwepmec territory in British Columbia. Between 1867 and 1997, more than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were taken from their parents and sent to at least 139 residential schools as part of a campaign of forced assimilation. Official records say 3,213 children died at these schools, but the actual total may be as many as 12,000 children. 

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