PBI-Guatemala accompanies Maya Ch’orti Indigenous Council of Olopa in court as charges against four defenders dropped

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On March 23, PBI-Guatemala posted:

“#PBI accompanies the Maya Ch’orti Indigenous Council of Olopa.

Yesterday we accompanied 4 members of the Council to the hearing of the first statement in Chiquimula. After a two-month probe the Prosecutor’s Office submitted evidence to support its charge of unlawful detentions. However, the judge did not consider the evidence robust enough to proceed with the trial and closed the charge.

So yesterday on #WorldWaterDay, all four water advocates and defenders walked free from the audience.”

Peaceful resistance to Cantera Los Manantiales

China Ch’orti’ has stated:

“Since 2012, the Maya Ch’orti’ communities of Olopa have been besieged, criminalised and politically, socially and judicially persecuted by the company Cantera Los Manantiales, which sought to establish itself in the territory for the extraction of materials such as antimony on communal lands, and which has caused fear, illness and even death. This has provoked fear, illnesses and even the death of the indigenous authority Elizandro Pérez.”

In August 2019, CDHAL reported:

“At a press conference, Mayan authorities Ch’orti’ said communities were the legitimate and historical owners of the land. The municipality of Olopa, in the department of Chiquimula, has been invaded by the company Cantera Los Manantiales, which illegally extracts antimony, contaminating water, destroying forests, causing strange diseases particularly affecting children and suppressing the tranquility, peace and joy of communities. Leaders and authorities have been criminalized, persecuted and disqualified for their opposition to the Cantera Los Manantiales company.”

And Front Line Defenders has also noted:

“Guatemalan human rights organisations have accused the Cantera Los Manantiales mining company, located in Chorti ’de Olopa, Chiquimula of committing serious human rights violations against indigenous peoples. In November 2019, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) suspended the license of the mining company Cantera Los Manantiales and the Court of Amparos granted the Maya Ch’orti Indigenous Council of Olopa a provisional protection against the risks they were exposed to as a result of the mining activities, following the company’s violation of the agreements it had signed with the community.”

Charges now dropped

Prensa Comunitaria further explains:

“The Judge of First Criminal Instance of Chiquimula ordered the dismissal of the case against four community leaders, Juan Carlos Pérez Canán, Leonor Crisóstomo Méndez, Guillermo Ramírez Pérez, Fredy Geovany Ramírez Ramírez, accused of the crime of illegal detention.

According to the accusation of the MP [Public Ministry], the grievances were against Odilio de Jesús Guzmán Salazar and Rony Leonardo Guzmán Guzmán, owners of land where the mining company Cantera Los Manantiales operates.

The prosecutor of the MP requested that it be opened to trial and continue the process, while the defense requested that the case be dismissed, to which the judge decided to attend.

Francisco Vivar Castellanos, who is the defense attorney for one of the defendants and works for the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (Caldh), said that it is a significant ruling for people who maintain the resistance of their territories and resources, in addition to doing so on a date that commemorates Water Day. It has a powerful message to maintain this defense.

Lawyer Casilda Jovita Tzul, also from the defense, explained that the case was closed and they will not continue persecuting them, and they will no longer have house arrest. “We are going to concentrate on comrades who have their case still pending for May, but for the resistance of Olopa the resolution is a success,” he said.

Leonor Crisóstomo Méndez, one of the women who maintained the defense of her territory and who had been criminalized, said she felt grateful because this process against her was over and now she feels free. She urged communities to maintain resistance for their resources and the defense of water.

“We are happy and we hope they can continue with their struggle, we appreciate the accompaniment to their comrades because this is a struggle for everyone,” said lawyer Vivar Castellanos.”

Upcoming case against Indigenous authorities

That article also notes:

“In May, Caldh will accompany the case against indigenous authorities María Méndez, Bernardino Pérez, and Juan Agustín, 82; and human rights defenders, Santos Gerónimo Ramos Méndez and Rosa Margarita Pérez Canán.

In July 2019, a conflict was generated by the peaceful resistance maintained by the inhabitants in the Olopa sector.

“On July 1, 2019, Mr. Odilio Guzmán provocatively broke a chain of passage, destroyed a motorcycle, his security personnel shot at people who were in peaceful resistance against mining, and physically violated Irma Pacay indigenous authority,” was the statement of the Indigenous Council of the place.”

PBI accompaniment

PBI-Guatemala began accompanying the Maya Ch’orti’ Indigenous Council of Olopa in June 2021, following their request, which is based on the serious increase in security incidents, defamation and criminalization processes they are experiencing.

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