Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj contributes to a report on criminalization in Guatemala

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Consejo del Pueblo Maya (CPO), a council to which the Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj belongs, has released a report on the criminalization of Mayan communities that are exercising the right to defend their land in the departments of Huehuetenango and San Marcos. The report, entitled “CRIMINALIZACIÓN: la respuesta del Estado de Guatemala a las acciones de los pueblos en defensa de su territorio”, outlines the role of CPO in coordinating strategic litigation cases and offers retrospective analysis on the criminalization of community leaders who are confronting mining and hydroelectric projects to protect the territories and ways of life of Mayan people.

The report puts forth a systemic and strategic critique, grounded in a detailed description of the problems that arise as a result of partnerships between large corporations and states designed to facilitate the economic exploitation of ancestral territories. To shed light on these processes, the authors identify key actors, their vested interests and associated actions, and their propensity to resort to the criminalization of community leaders and inhabitants.

As illustrated by CPO, the underlying state of community-government-company relationships is one of perpetual conflict, defined by the confluence of diverse factors in the international and national realms. By means of example, the transnationalization of certain industries and the neoliberal paradigm are key variables on an international level, while the weakness of institutional frameworks, judiciaries that guarantee impunity, and political shifts towards authoritarianism are significant forces on the national stage. Companies that wish to do business in Guatemala make deals with the government promising economic benefits, while the resistance of indigenous peoples is met with persecution via legal systems, illegal reprisals, the negation of indigenous peoples' histories, and the delegitimization of their struggles.

The report concludes with analysis on the individual and collective impacts of criminalization, an emphasis on lessons learned in relation to the conflict described, and a proposal comprising a series of actions that could contribute to improvements. 

This is not the first time that the Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj has denounced the criminalization of people in the communities where it works. In contrast, the Consejo has actively engaged in several cases that have involved the imprisonment of community members for political motives, and has a long history of advocating for the rights of indigenous communities. 

In March 2015, ESCR-Net sent a letter to the former president, Otto Pérez Molina, to communicate serious concern regarding both the criminalization of community leaders and physical aggression against several indigenous leaders in Guatemala. The Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj played a key role at the time, confirming the repression experienced by human rights defenders in Huehuetenango. 

Access the report, in Spanish, here.