Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Second solidarity festival for political prisoners in Huehuetenango

"This is all of our struggle. Who doesn't breathe this air? Who doesn't drink this water? Who doesn't feel the rays of the shining sun on their face? Standing up for life - this is my husband's crime. How many of our brothers and sisters have given their lives for life? For more than 500 years, people have tried to instill fear into us. We need to join together in this struggle....it's all of our struggle." - Juana Mendez, wife of political prisoner Rigoberto Juarez.

Photo credit: NISGUA
Saturday, people gathered in Huehuetenango for the second Solidarity Festival with political prisoners. Since the first festival last December, six more land defenders from Huehuetenango have been arrested on trumped-up charges, as part of a state and corporate strategy to silence opposition to resource extraction projects in Guatemala. This brings the total to eight.

Those in attendance sign letters of support to those imprisoned.
Photo credit: NISGUA
For more information on community consultations in Guatemala and the pattern of criminalizing leaders, read NISGUA's latest report: Commemorating 10 years of community consultations in defense of life. The report is also available in Spanish.

Musician Tito Medina performed in the square, and then went
to the prison to sing to several of the political prisoners.
Photo credit: NISGUA
The messages of the day were simple: Stop criminalizing legitimate struggles for the defense of land and freedom for political prisoners. Musicians came to show their support and unite struggles, including from La Puya who know first hand what it is like to have their movements criminalized by the heavy hand of an unjust legal system manipulated by corporate power.

Rubén Herrera, who has spent the last several years either in jail or battling arrest warrants was present. "I know what it's like to be in prison," he said. "These courts won't give us justice. These arrests are supported by the companies, but I'm here to tell you what those who are in prison would tell you if they could be here. We won't accept this - not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. The struggle we're in is to change our country. That's why we're here."

Rubén Herrera, together with his partner Cecilia Mérida.
Photo credit: NISGUA
Over the next few months, we invite you to participate in NISGUA's summer of base-building and host a house party. Those gathered will be invited to send a letter of encouragement to the political prisoners and one to the U.S. Embassy, expressing concern for the growing manipulation and corruption of the Guatemalan justice system in order to persecute human rights defenders. Gather together to celebrate, find inspiration, and draw connections from community-based movements for self-determination occurring throughout Guatemala, and strengthen our home network for justice and social change.

House parties are already being organized in San Francisco, Madison, Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, and Toronto, Canada. Don't see your city on the list? Write to megan[at]nisgua.org to host an event or find other ways to get connected. Stay tuned for an online version of our action to support political prisoners in Huehuetenango.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Commemorating 10 years of community consultations in defense of land and life

For generations, indigenous communities in Guatemala have held consultations to make decisions on issues affecting their people and their lands. While the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 facilitated the adoption of national laws and international agreements that recognized the particular rights of indigenous peoples, the post-conflict neoliberal economic model prioritized resource extraction — a practice fundamentally at odds with upholding these rights. Specifically, the 1997 Mining Law weakened oversight and lowered royalty rates for mining companies, and the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement further established foreign direct investment as a pillar of the Guatemalan economy.

Transnational mining and hydroelectric companies were given free rein to begin operations without the consent of impacted communities, and they quickly gained access to huge swaths of land in order to carry out resource exploration and exploitation activities. In a land mass comparable to Tennessee, over 360 mining licenses have been issued and more than 600 are pending.

This month, NISGUA releases a report documenting the referenda movement in Guatemala as a community strategy to defend land against mining and other mega-development projects. We invite you to read the full report, "Commemorating 10 years of community consultations in defense of land and life" in English here. The report is also available in Spanish.

Communities in Santa Cruz del Quiché unanimously vote
against resource extraction. Photo credit: James Rodríguez, mimundo.org
Over the past ten years, more than a million people have voted in community referenda to ban mining activities on their lands. This ancestral decision-making practice is an act of resistance and expression of people power that has been a source of inspiration for movements for self-determination throughout the country and the world. 

But together with the force of the Guatemalan government, resource extractions are fighting back and actively seeking the detention of those who oppose their projects. In the past few years, dozens of people opposed to mining projects have been arrested on trumped-up charges and have spent months - and even years - in prison awaiting a trial. Today, eight community leaders from Huehuetenango who played key roles in the organization of consultations in their territory are in prison. These husbands, fathers, brothers and sons stood up to demand respect for the results of the consultation even as state violence and repression mobilized to impose the projects against communities’ will.

We invite you to read the full version of the report and take action to support the political prisoners from Huehuetenango who continue to stand up for land and life.