PBI-Guatemala accompanies Human Rights Law Firm at 11th hearing in “Maestro case” for Cahabón River defender Bernardo Caal Xol
On March 20, PBI-Guatemala posted:
“#PBI accompanies to the Human Rights Law Firm at the trial of oral and public debate, in the conclusion phase, of the case of the defender of the Cahabón River Bernardo Caal Xol.
In their conclusions, the Public Ministry MP and the Prosecutor’s Office requested a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison and Q3,000 [about CAD $525] for the defender for an accusation of withholding and improper appropriation of salaries in the MINEDUC [Ministry of Education] that began in 2017.
Hereby, the Teacher case reaches the 11th audience, a process that the defender has expressed has caused him a lot of fatigue and weariness.
The next hearing will take place on March 31 at 8.30 a.m. in Court 2 of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, and replications of the findings presented today will be carried out.”
Prensa Comunitaria has previously explained:
“Caal regained his freedom on March 24 , after spending more than four years in prison, for a sentence of seven years and four months in prison, issued by the Sentencing Court of Cobán for defending the rivers in Santa María Cahabón.
Caal is [now] accused of the crime of improper retention.
The events of which the Mayan Q’eqchi’ professor … is accused, occurred in 2013. In the accusation against him … they point out that between January 2012 and August 2013 he did not show up for work.
Caal served as a teacher and in 2012 was Deputy General Secretary of the Union of Education Workers of Guatemala (STEG). …The law empowers trade union leaders to have eight working days a month to do the work that corresponds to them; in the collective agreement of 2008 this situation was changed and the days were increased.
Caal is surprised by the accusation, because the law says that, if a worker is absent three days in a row, the fourth his salary should be suspended, so when he [first] voluntarily appeared before the judge on June 21, he said that at no time had he defrauded the State.
[Caal says STEG leader] Joviel Acevedo and the former Minister of Education Cynthia del Águila, were the ones who initiated the conditions for his criminalization from his union work that coincided with the defense of the Cahabón River.
[PBI has also noted: “Caal maintains his innocence in the matter. An administrative procedure by the Ministry of Education, in any case, should have preceded any criminal complaint. Caal and his attorneys argue that the charges were lodged against him in reprisal for his work to defend land, territory, and the environment.”]
In this process, until the intermediate stage, MINEDUC and the Attorney General’s Office (PGN) participated as complainants in the case; at the beginning of the trial on September 7 , only the PGN and the MP [Public Ministry] were present. Although [Caal] is clear about what can happen in the trial, he does not lose hope of the resistance and mobilizations at the national level for the defense of natural assets and justice.”
PBI-Guatemala has accompanied Bernardo Caal and the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón since August 2017.