PBI-Guatemala produces Popular Bulletin in Q’eqchí on the struggle for water justice

Published by Brent Patterson on

“Others, without consulting us before, mining and hydroelectric. They cut down the forests to build their projects and divert the rivers of its natural path.”

Guatemala has a population of 14.9 million people, of which 6.5 million (43.75%) belong to the 22 Mayan peoples, including the Q’eqchí and Ch’ortí.

According to Indigenous peoples’ representatives, the truer proportion of Indigenous people in Guatemala is closer to 60%.

It has also been estimated that the Mayan Q’eqchí peoples are 8.3% of the overall national population. In the late 1980s the number of Q’eqchi’ speakers was estimated at 350,000 people in Guatemala.

This is one of the reasons the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Projects produces Popular Bulletins in the Q’eqchí language.

The latest publication can be read here (it can also be read in Spanish here).

“Water is life: This bulletin deals with the situation of the vital liquid in communities and the collective experiences for its care and defense.”

Water justice for Q’eqchí peoples

Water justice in Guatemala is hindered by pollution from mines, hydroelectric dams, logging, and palm oil and sugar cane plantations.

Mario Minera of the Center for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH) in Guatemala City says: “The whole country has been opened to concessions for mining, sugar cane, palm oil to provide exports. Rivers have been diverted, others are drying up. Access to land and water is denied. The resources are in the hands of a very few people. It is a predatory model of economic development which is penalizing the rural poor and does not benefit communities or the common good.”

PBI-Guatemala accompanies Q’eqchí defender Bernardo Caal Xol (now serving more than 7 years in prison for opposing the construction of hydroelectric dams), the Campesino Committee of the Highlands of the Verapaces (that accompanies 150 Q’eqchi communities fighting against land dispossession), the Chicoyogüito Neighborhood Association of Alta Verapaz (a Q’eqchi’ community displaced from their land for the construction of an army base), and the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (that represents 367 affiliated communities, 98% of which are Q’eqchi’, Poqomchi’ and Achi).

On June 4, 2021, PBI-Guatemala accompanied Maria Caal Xol at a march as she called for her brother Bernardo to be released from prison.

Popular bulletins in Ch’ortí

PBI-Guatemala has also produced these Popular Bulletins in the Ch’ortí language.

PBI-Guatemala accompanies the Maya Ch’orti’ Indigenous Authorities of Olopa and Quezaltepeque (that fight against mining projects on their territory) and the ‘New Day’ Ch’orti’ Campesino Central Coordinator (that represents 43 Ch’orti’ communities).

On January 10, 2022, PBI-Guatemala accompanied Ch’orti ancestral authority Felipe Diaz Ramos at a court hearing. He has been criminalized for his defence of territory against mining.

The situation for Indigenous peoples in Guatemala

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) notes: “Statistics clearly demonstrate persistent racism and discrimination against Indigenous Peoples.”

The IWGIA further explains: “With respect to health, employment, income, housing, and education, there is a great disparity between Indigenous Peoples and the rest of the population. Official data indicates that poverty affects 75% of Indigenous people and 36% of non-indigenous people; chronic malnutrition affects 58% of Indigenous people and 38% of non-indigenous people; and, in terms of political participation, Indigenous individuals represent no more than 15% of parliamentarians and high-ranking public officials.”

(In Canada, 24% of Indigenous people in urban areas live in poverty, 41% of Indigenous women aged 18 and older living in a food insecure household, 3.3% of Members of Parliament are Indigenous, infant mortality rates for Indigenous babies are two to three times higher, and life expectancy for Indigenous people is 15 years shorter than other Canadians.)

The armed conflict

The armed conflict in Guatemala was fought from 1960 to 1996 between the government and various leftist groups, which were supported by Mayan peoples. During this time, approximately 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. Over 90% of this violence was perpetrated by the state and over 80% of the victims were Mayan.

PBI-Guatemala

PBI first operated a project in Guatemala from 1983-1999, which closed following the Peace Accords. Unfortunately, the human rights situation soon began again to deteriorate, and local organizations asked PBI to return.

The current project opened in 2003.

PBI-Guatemala accompanies Q’eqchi’ defender Lesbia Artola (in blue) and the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA).

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