Guatemala: Freedom for Bernardo Caal and for all water defenders

FROM THE EDITORS: Bernardo Caal Xol has become a symbol of resistance in Guatemala, as well as of the criminalization of people defending Mother Earth. Caal is Maya Q’eqchi and together with his community organized a campaign against Oxec S.A., a transnational in charge of the construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Cahabón River, violating the peoples’ right to prior and informed consultation. Having managed to stop the construction of the dam for a few months and due to his peaceful resistance, Caal was unjustly sentenced to 7 years in prison for his activism in November 2018. He is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. This past June 4, hundreds of peasants and indigenous people convened in the Parque Central of Cobán to demand the freedom of Bernardo Caal Xol and declare once again their rights to defend rivers, water, and life itself. We reproduce below their collective Manifest.

For freedom for our rivers, freedom for Bernardo Caal
and other political prisoners

Today lajeb’Kej, June 4, 2021, with the respect and permission of Oxlaju Tzuul Taq’a energy, the daughters and sons of the Earth –Aj Ralch’och– originating from four corners, we have decided to join our paths, feelings, and thoughts. We organize ourselves to march against and reject violence, historical racism, and political persecution of our leaders and human rights defenders by the economic elites, hydroelectric companies, oil palm companies, the military, operators of the co-opted judicial system and the pact of corruption.

Despite different attempts to exterminate our people, since the Spanish invasion, we continue to raise our voice, we continue to walk to defend water, which is the defense of life itself.

We reject the continuous and multiple violations of our individual and collective rights, the stigmatization and criminalization against community authorities, for exercising our practices, ancestral knowledge and safeguard our systems of traditional organizations and institutions for the defense of our Mother Earth.

The increase of high socio-environmental and agrarian conflicts in the territories are derived from the technical and institutional incapacity of the State, but mainly a lack of political will. The closure of public agrarian institutions such as the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs, the Presidential Commission for Human Rights, means a setback and an attack against the Peace Accords.

The criminalization and prosecution of human rights defenders is a strategy used by political and business interests, perversely condemning leaders, such as defender Bernardo Caal, who has been unjustly in prison for more than three years for denouncing OXEC’s hydroelectric megaprojects, built by the Spanish conglomerate Grupo Cobra – ACS, which is killing the Cahabón River, a sacred river for the Maya Q’eqchi’ people. That is, warrants for the arrest of more than 962 people and the 35-year sentence for the leaders of the Peasant Committee of the Altiplano Marcelino Coc and Jorge Xol. The disappearance of the leader Carlos Coy of the Unión Verapacense Organizaciones Campesinas. Additionally, we must add to these systematic attacks the states of exception imposed by the central government.

Finally, we reaffirm our struggles for the defense of our rights of historical possession over our ancestral territories, rivers, and Mother Earth.

Faced with the attacks by criminal structures and the pact of corruption, we express our solidarity and support for the work carried out by the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Special Prosecutor for Impunity – FECI-.


Movimiento de Comunidades en Defensa del Agua, Qana’Cho’och’
Movimiento Social Intercultural del Pueblo Ixcán, MSIPI
Comité Campesino del Altinplano, CCDA
Comité de Unidad Campesina, CUC
Unión Verapacense de Organizaciones Campesinas, UVOC
Consejo de Pueblos Tezulutlan, CPT
Comunidades en resistencia de Cahabón
Comunidades en Resistencia de San Pedro Carcha
Autoridades indígenas y ancestrales
Asociación Coordinaodra Comunitaria de Servicos para la Salud, ACCSS
Asociación de Comunidades para el Desarrollo, Defensa de la Tierra y los Recursos Naturales, ACODET
Red Nacional por la Defensa de la Soberaniá Alimentaria en Guatemala, REDSAG
Red Agua
Instancia del Pueblo Maya Q’eqchi’ y Poqomchi’
Servicio Jurídicos y Sociales, SERJUS
Asociación de Servicios Comunitarios de Salud, ASECSA
Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas, CONGCOOP
Asociación de jóvenes para el desarrollo y rescate social, AJODER
Madre Selva
Maíz de Vida

SOURCE: Originally published by Comité de Unidad Campesina.

The Cahabón River is considered a sacred river by the Maya Q’eqchi’ people.


FUENTE: Testimonio de Bernardo Caal después de su sentencia, gracias a Entre Pueblos