PBI-Guatemala accompanies water protectors, criminalized by sugar mill, to court hearing
On February 9, PBI-Guatemala posted:
“#PBI accompanies the 4 criminalized members of CCR, an organization that takes care of the defense and protection of natural resources on the South Coast of Guatemala, to the hearing of the presentation of evidence in the room of the Court of First Instance Criminal Narco activity and Crimes against the Environment from Retalhuleu.”
PBI-Guatemala has explained: “The Council of Communities of Retalhuleu (CCR) consists of more than 18 communities in the department of Retalhuleu (mainly in the municipality of Champerico). They began to organize in 2015 because of the 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.”
In November 2019, Panorama Noticias reported: “Allegations of violations of the right to water, food and environmental pollution by the communities of the South Coast led to four defenders being criminalized by the mills of El Pilar and Magdalena. The Court of First Instance of Retalhuleu terminated a case in which they were accused, however, the case was appealed by sugar mills and the defenders were linked to the process.”
They are charged with illegal detention, coercion and threats. The accusations come from El Pilar and Magdalena, but Magdalena subsequently withdrew from the case.
Abelino Mejía Cancino, a member of the CCR’s Board of Directors and one of those criminalized, has commented that the purpose of this criminalization is to wear people down physically and psychologically, so that they abandon their demands.
Sugar exports to Canada
As seen in the chart below, Canada is one of the largest importers of sugar grown in Guatemala.
Chart by UN Comtrade Database.
In 2016, Simon Fraser University post-graduate student Reuben Jentink wrote: “The sugar is loaded onto ships at the Expogranel sugar loading terminal, responsible for the reception, storage, and loading of all sugar product exported from Guatemala’s Pacific coast at Puerto Quetzal. The sugar then travels 3662 nautical miles to the Rogers [Lantic] Refinery’s deep-sea wharf located at the Port of Metro Vancouver.”
And in 2019, PortsToronto reported that the MV Cape brought more than 18,920 metric tonnes of sugar from Guatemala to Redpath Sugar in Toronto.
CCR water defender Mejia Cancino has commented: “We need people to realize that when they consume sugar, it has an impact on the life of the communities and on the right to water for all. We call for the consumption of what is healthy and good produced by the campesinos and not products made by the big companies.”
PBI webinar with CCR water defender
On March 13, 2022, Mejia Cancino joined a PBI-Canada organized webinar on Defending the right to water from harm by the sugar industry in Guatemala.
The webinar was hosted by Toronto-based PBI-Canada Board member Marianna Tzabiras and also featured Brussels-based Kerstin Reemtsma from PBI-Guatemala.
You can watch the Facebook video of that webinar by clicking here.
Mejia Cancino spoke about the ways in which accompaniment and solidarity can help in the struggle to uphold the right to water:
– “We ask that the international community watch very closely what happens. You can send diplomatic support for the hearings so that they see we do have support.”
– “There is a year-by-year certification process for the sugar mills. They need to visit not just the sugar mills, but the communities, that they come to see the rivers, they need to see the reality of the poverty the sugar cane industry is leaving here in our country.”
– “An international commission needs to come to verify the damage that has taken place. And to say if you aren’t going to protect the environment, we can’t buy your sugar.”
Reemtsma added: “For people listening today, you can ask Canadian companies or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs how they guarantee in the supply chain respect for human rights because as I understand it this commitment does exist.”
The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala began accompanying the Council of Communities of Retalhuleu (CCR) in April 2020.