Guatemalan Mayan Community Seeks International Help for Protection

The Maya Q’eqchi Agua Caliente community of Guatemala, some of whose members have been killed, threatened and tortured while trying to defend their territory from a mining company, sent a delegation to Washington D.C. in early March looking for allies and further protections in their ongoing struggle.

From March 11 through 15th, the Maya Q’eqchi leaders were accompanied by staff from the Washington D.C. based Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC), which is the international legal representative of the community and that works with Defensoría Q’eqchi’, an indigenous human rights organization based in El Estor, Guatemala.

According to the ILRC, “The mining company, Compania Guatelmateca de Niquel, a subsidiary of the Solway Investment Group, is using threats and violence against Agua Caliente and surrounding communities. Guatemala granted permission for the mine without consulting with the communities most affected. The ILRC, after exhausting domestic remedies, has filed a petition with the IAHCR concerning the violation of the community’s rights to property, self-government, due process of law, and judicial protection by the government of Guatemala.”

The Mayan delegation and their ILRC counsels met with representatives of the U.S. State Department, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) of the U.S. Congress, as well as officials from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the World Bank.

Lorena Vaca, spokesperson for the ILRC, stated that members of the TLHRC were going to alert fellow members of Congress to the threats facing the Maya Q’eqchi community.

During their meeting with the IACHR the delegation requested expanding protective measures for the entire community and for Rodrigo Tot, president of the Mayan community, whose son was murdered in October 2012 and it is believed by the community that the murder was in retribution for the work done by Tot against the mine, as well as Attorney Carlos Pop whose life has been threatened.

“The murder and the repeated threats against community representatives led the IAHCR, in late October 2012, to grant the Center’s request for precautionary measures protecting Agua Caliente’s leaders,” stated the ILRC press release.

“The ILRC believes the Agua Caliente case can set a legal precedent and help both Guatemala’s indigenous majority and Indigenous Peoples in other countries secure legal recognition and title to their lands and protect their environment.”

Community President Tot explained how further protections from the IAHCR could help him and his community.

“A positive ruling from the Commission would mean that my people no longer have to live in fear of being evicted from our lands,” Tot asserted in an interview. “We can feel secure. My community, my family myself, we trust that the Commission will understand our situation.” During the interview, both Tot and Manuel Xo Cu, coordinator of the Defensoria’s Legal Department, issued invitations to indigenous people of North America to come visit their community.

“I extend an invitation to indigenous organizations to visit my community, the Q’eqchi’ people, the people of Izabal,” Tot stated “…Those organizations that support indigenous rights we are waiting for you.”

“I take this opportunity to address indigenous nations in the U.S., great leaders that have worked hard for indigenous rights, to academics, to universities; we invite you to learn about the situation facing the Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala,” said Xo Cu. “The Agua Caliente community is ready to welcome you, your Q’eqchi’ family will receive you with open arms.”