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Zapatistas inician homenaje al compañero Galeano  

24 de mayo 2014.- Caracol I de La Realidad, Chiapas

por Medios libres, alternativos, autónomos o como se digan

Un cinturón de milicianos insurgentes vestidos de verde, con un paliacate rojo en el cuello y cubiertos con pasamontañas se formaron en línea rodeando a las más de 2.200 bases de apoyo zapatistas (BAZ) que llegaron de los cinco caracoles para rendir homenaje al compañero Galeano brutalmente asesinado el pasado 2 de mayo en este mismo caracol, primera capital del zapatismo civil y pacífico.

Todos, guardando silencio absoluto frente a más de mil personas, adherentes a La Sexta, alumnos de La Escuelita de la Libertad, sociedad civil nacional e internacional y medios libres que llegaron en Caravana procedentes de varias partes del país.

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Desde un templete situado a un lado de la cancha de básquet del caracol se leen las seis pancartas con consignas pidiendo justicia para el compañero asesinado. En una de ellas, un fragmento del Comunicado “El dolor y la rabia” en el que el Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos insiste que son precisamente el dolor y la rabia “los que ahora nos hacen calzarnos de nuevo las botas, ponernos el uniforme, fajarnos la pistola y cubrirnos el rostro”.

Los Insurgentes portan un parche negro en el ojo derecho, un listón rosa del lado del corazón y uno negro, de luto, en el hombro izquierdo. Todos juntos logran formar una valla alrededor de sus bases en forma de protección tal vez  insistiendo en que el Ejército nunca les dejará solos.

Cerca de las 12h al son de la canción La Cigarra – de María Elena Walsh- aparece a caballo el Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos (SCI) también con un parche de pirata en el ojo derecho y fumando su característica pipa para reunirse minutos después con la Comandancia General del EZLN –Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, también a caballo. Coordinan un saludo militar a la sociedad civil y a las BAZ  para después dar la retirada y romper filas. Marcos se despide con un genuino saludo: levantando el dedo medio de la mano izquierda.

Después de la retirada se escucha la voz del SCI Marcos desde las bocinas situadas a lado y lado del templete. Se presenta desde Radio Insurgente y manda un especial saludo a los medios libres “independientes, autónomos o como se diga” a quienes se les avisa que “en un rato tendrán internet y que podrán subir sus materiales”. Luego, se pasa la voz al Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés quien informa sobre el avance de las investigaciones. Menciona a mujeres involucradas en el asesinato del compañero Galeano “la que macheteó y la que arrastró el cuerpo”. Acto seguido se pidió a todos los adherentes a La Sexta presentes que “recordemos que nuestra lucha es civil y pacífica” y que no se provocara ni cayera en provocaciones “a pesar del enojo, el dolor y la rabia”. El SIC Moisés insistió en usar la rabia contra el sistema y no “contra estas gentes malas de la cabeza y que no piensan que sólo quieren cumplir la orden del mal gobierno”. Insistió en que ya hace tiempo que existen provocaciones y amenazas en este caracol “si ellos provocan, pues que lo hagan ellos, nosotros no, nosotros somos luchadores”, añadió.

Finalizó su intervención en Radio Insurgente advirtiendo: “ellos nos están escuchando y nosotros queremos que nos escuchen porque antes nunca quisieron dialogar” y se refirió a los presentes como testigos de estas situaciones de estas provocaciones.

El SCI Marcos retomó el micrófono avisando de que cuando cayera el sol se procedería a la ceremonia de homenaje al compañero Galeano y recordando a los medios independientes que aprovecharan la conexión a Internet para subir sus materiales “y avisar a sus familias de que llegaron bien”.

Estamos todos a la espera del comienzo.

Estamos todos escuchando su silencio.

Estamos todos observando lo que observan.

Estamos todos, todos aquí.

Unidos por la rabia y el dolor,

Unidos por las ganas de justicia, el derecho a la paz.

Estamos todos por Galeano.

Aquí estamos, aquí seguimos, esto somos.

Uno solo.

Una mirada.

Un corazón latente de fuerza, amor, dignidad y rabia.

Entran más.

Más.

Cada vez son más.

Cada vez somos más.

Los mismos,

Los nuevos,

Los de antes.

Estamos todos, con ellos, con nosotros.

***

Zapatistas begin Memorial for the Compañero Galeano

 May 24th, Caracol I “La Realidad”, Chiapas.-

 By Free, alternative, autonomous media or however you say it.

A belt of insurgent militias dressed up in Green, with a red bandana around their neck, faces covered with pasamontañas (skimasks ), formed in line, surrounding the more tan 2,200 bases de apoyo zapatistas or BAZ (Zapatista support bases) that arrived from the five caracoles to partake in the memorial for the compañero Galeano, brutally assassinated on May 2nd in the same caracol, the first capital of the civil and pacific Zapatismo.

 

Adherents of the La Sexta (the Sixth Declaration of the Lancondon Jungle), students of the escuelita (The little school), national and international civil society, and independent media, arrived in Caravan from diverse parts of the country. All remained in absolute silence in front of more than a thousand people, waiting for the act to begin.

 

From the stage alongside the caracol´s basketball court, six letters were read with phrases calling for justice for the assassinated compañero. In one of them, a fragment of the communiqué “The Pain and the Rage”, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos insists that it is precisely the pain and the rage “that make us shine our boots, put on our uniform, strap on the pistol and cover our face”.

 

Each Insurgent was dressed with a black eye patch on their right eye, a pink ribbon where the heart rests, and a black ribbon, in mourning, on the left shoulder. All together, they managed to form a fence around the bases as a means of protection, a symbol representing that the Army will always be there to defend them.

 

Around midday, 12pm, to the sound of the song La Cigarra, by María Elena Walsh, Subomandante Insurgente Marcos (SCI) appeared on horseback, with the same eye patch on his right eye, smoking his character-defining pipe. Minutes later, he would be joined by the General Command of the EZLN- Zapatista Army of National Liberation, also on horseback. With a military salute to the civil society and the Zapatista support bases (BAZ), they would then retreat and break file. Marcos said his goodbye with a genuine greeting: raising the middle finger of his left hand.

 

Afterwards, SCI Marcos’ voice could be heard from the stage speakers. Radio Insurgente is introduced and sends a special greeting to the free media “independent, autonomous or whatever you call it”, letting them know that “shortly you all will have Internet and can upload your material”. Then, Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés takes the mic, providing an update on how the investigations are advancing. He mentions women who were involved in the murder of the compañero Galeano, “who chopped his body with a machete and then dragged his body”. In the following act, all the present adherents to la Sexta were asked to “remember that our struggle is civil and pacific” and to not be provoked by nor fall in their provocations “despite the anger, pain and rage”. SIC Moisés insisted in using the rage against the system and not “against these people, warped in the head and who don’t think, who only want to fulfill the bad government’s orders”. He insisted that in this caracaol, the threats and provocations have existed for some time now and added that “if they provoke us, well let them do it, not us, we are in struggle”.

 

Radio Insurgente signed off warning: “they are listening to us, and we want them to listen because they have never wanted to dialogue” and referred to those present as witnesses of these situations, of these provocations.

 

SCI Marcos took the microphone again, advising that when the sun sets, the ceremony for the compañero Galeano would proceed and reminded the independent media to take advantage of the Internet connection to upload and share material “and let your families know you’ve arrived alright”.

 

We are all waiting for it to begin.

We are all listening to the silence.

We are all observing what they observe.

We are all, all here.

United through the pain and rage.

United in the cry for justice, the right to peace.

We are all here for Galeano.

Here we are, and here we will continue, this is what we are.

One, we are only one.

A gaze.

A heart that beats strong, with love, dignity, and rage.

More keep coming.

Each time there are more.

Each time we are more.

The same,

The new,

Those from before.

We are everyone, with them, with us.

***

Inizia l’omaggio degli zapatisti a Galeano

24 maggio 2014, Caracol I de La Realidad, Chiapas.

de Media liberi, alternativi, autonomi o come si dice

Un cordone di miliziani vestiti di verde, coperti da passamontagna e con un paliacate rosso al collo, si è raccolto attorno alle circa 2mila 200 basi d’appoggio zapatiste accorse dai 5 Caracoles, sedi del governo autonomo, per rendere omaggio al compañero Galeano, assassinato il 2 maggio scorso nel Caracol de La Realidad. Hanno mantenuto un perfetto silenzio di fronte alle persone – circa mille fra aderenti alla Sexta, alunni della Escuelita Zapatista e media indipendenti – arrivate in carovana da varie parti del Messico.

L’evento si è svolto nel campo di basket del Caracol e nel palco alle sue spalle si leggevano striscioni che chiedevano giustizia per lo zapatista ucciso. In uno di loro, un frammento del comunicato del subcomandante Marcos “Il dolore e la rabbia”, in cui insiste sul fatto che sono proprio il dolore e la rabbia “a farci calzare nuovamente gli stivali, metterci l’uniforme, foderare la pistola e coprirci il volto”.

I miliziani portavano una benda da pirata all’occhio destro, un nastro rosa sul cuore e uno nero, a lutto, sul braccio sinistro. Crearono una barriera attorno alle basi d’appoggio, come a ribadire il loro impegno a proteggerle.

Verso mezzogiorno, con la colonna sonora di La Cigarra di María Elena Walsh, è apparso il subcomandante Marcos a cavallo, con l’occhio destro bendato come un pirata, fumando la sua caratteristica pipa. È stato raggiunto dalla Comandancia dell’Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), anch’essa a cavallo. Hanno fatto un saluto militare e si sono poi ritirati, Marcos alzando il dito medio della mano destra.

Le casse del palco hanno poi emesso la voce di Marcos, che si è presentato come se stesse trasmettendo da Radio Insurgente e inviando un saluto speciale ai media liberi, “autonomi, indipendenti, o come si dice”. Ha poi passato il microfono al subcomandante Moisés che ha raccontato i risultati dell’inchiesta sulla morte di Galeano, affermando l’esistenza di responsabilità da parte di alcune donne nell’omicidio del base d’appoggio, “una che gli ha dato un colpo di machete e una che ha trascinato il suo corpo”.

Moisés ha ricordato agli aderenti alla Sexta che “la loro lotta è civile e pacifica”, e che non bisogna provocare né cadere in provocazioni malgrado “l’ira, il dolore e la rabbia”. Ha insistito sul fatto che da tempo il Caracol de La Realidad riceve minacce, “se loro provocano, che lo facciano, noi no, noi siamo lottatori”. Ha concluso il suo intervento avvertendo: “loro ci stanno ascoltando e vogliamo che ci ascoltino, perché non hanno mai voluto dialogare con noi”.

Il subcomandante Marcos ha ripreso poi il microfono avvisando che al tramonto sarebbe proseguito l’omaggio al maestro Galeano.

 

 

 

 

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In Mexico, a victory for indigenous liberation

Marta Molina for WNV
patish_libre_marta_molinaAfter 13 years of unjust imprisonment, Mexican political prisoner Alberto Patishtan Gomez walked free on October 31.Over the course of his incarceration, the 42-year-old indigenous Tzotzil professor became one of Mexico’s leading voices protesting the unjust imprisonment of indigenous peoples, a widespread problem in a country where racism and violence against the indigenous communities is still rampant. From behind bars, he organized for the liberation of many of his indigenous companions. His final victory is his own freedom — although he often said that he has always felt free, even when imprisoned, because he knew he was innocent.

His first public appearance after gaining his freedom was not in his home state of Chiapas nor at the entrance of Prison Number Five in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, where he had been held. Instead, he was in Mexico City with his son Héctor, his daughter Gaby and his niece Génesis. While still imprisoned, he had been transferred to Mexico City to receive treatment for the brain tumor that has been causing him to lose his vision.

“Who is Patishtan?” he asked in front of dozens of cameras angling for the best photo. “I am Patishtan,” he said, “a person who not only hears, but listens. Patishtan is someone who is losing his vision because of his sickness, which doesn’t let him see very well with his eyes, but I can see much more clearly in my heart.”

No one pardoned Patishtan 

Supporters from across Mexico and from around the world have been organizing for Patishtan’s freedom ever since he was arrested and convicted of murdering Mexican police officers in a trial that was filled with flaws and corruption. Earlier this year, a Chiapas court denied his appeal, a significant setback in the case. His supporters then began to explore other possibilities, including a push for amnesty or for release on humanitarian grounds due to his illness. But neither of those two possibilities moved forward.

Finally, the path to his freedom came not through the judicial system but through the legislative branch. On October 23, the Mexican senate modified the pardon rules in the federal penal code. It became known as the “Patishtan Law,” and President Enrique Peña Nieto used it to grant him a “special pardon” — distinct from the standard “presidential pardon,” which would have left Patishtan free, but still guilty in the eyes of the law.

“No one pardoned Patishtan. The organized people achieved his freedom,” shouted activists upon seeing Patishtan finally free after 13 years of struggle.

In addition to achieving Patishtan’s freedom, the campaign represents a victory against the Mexican judicial system, which is now forced to admit its error. “What is now being recognized is that Patishtan suffered grave human rights violations, violations of due process, and that his innocence was not presumed,” said Sandino Rivero, Patishtan’s lawyer.

To many who have been working for Patishtan’s freedom, the passage of this law is evidence of the widespread injustices in the Mexican legal system.

“This is a victory that resulted from the sad failure of Mexican justice,” said Patishtan’s 17-year-old son, Hector, who has become a human rights activist during his father’s incarceration and has vowed to continue fighting for the freedom of other political prisoners still behind bars.

Victories from behind bars

Early in his incarceration, Patishtan saw many indigenous prisoners who did not know how to defend themselves, didn’t have money for lawyers, didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t have access to interpreters. He began organizing prisoners to fight for their basic rights and to prove their innocence.

At the first prison where he was held, everyone he organized with was freed, expect for himself. Later, when he was transferred to another prison, he organized an action to burn the prisoners’ uniforms, since the imposition of this clothing meant the further loss of one’s individuality and personality. He also proposed camping in the prison’s patio, and over the years many prisoners stopped sleeping in their cells and organized a permanent occupation of the patio. These acts of resistance made them feel more free.

In 2006, when the Zapatistas launched the Other Campaign to unite with resistance movements across Mexico and in other regions, Patishtan and other prisoners decided to join the campaign. Through this broader network, the group was able to increase the visibility of the injustices faced by indigenous political prisoners in Chiapas. Over the years Patishtan also organized a series of hunger strikes, which, despite his current illness, strengthened him physically and mentally. These strikes won freedom for many of his fellow prisoners, but it only brought him increased punishment. He was sent to a maximum security prison in the state of Sinaloa, thousands of miles away from his home state of Chiapas. There, for the first time, they cut his hair, which represented a loss of his indigenous identity. One’s hair acts as protection when working in the milpa, the cornfield. Around that point, Patishtan also began to write letters to himself.

With the support of the People’s Movement in El Bosque for Patishtan’s Freedom and a number of human rights organizations, Patishtan was relocated to a prison in Chiapas after 10 months. There, after years of organizing, hunger strikes and outside campaigns, eight more of his companions were released. Once more, all of Patishtan’s companions were freed, except for himself and Alejandro Díaz Santís, who remains incarcerated.

Organizing for many

Patishtan’s release is heralded as a victory for the millions of indigenous people in Mexico, who continue to face discrimination in the media and the judicial system. It is also an example of how to use one person’s struggle to organize for many, such as Patishtan’s companions Pedro López and Juan Collazo who were freed earlier this summer.

Upon hearing about Patishtan’s release, they said that he taught them how to read, write, speak Spanish — and, most importantly, how to organize. “For me, it opened a door to living when I met Alberto,” said Collazo. “I learned to defend my rights and teach others to do the same.”

Despite the freedom of their teacher, the two intend to continue organizing.

“For Alejandro Díaz Santís, Miguel Demeza Jimenez, Antonio Estrada Estrada, and for all of the political prisoners in this country, we will continue fighting,” said Pedro Lopez.

This weekend, after finishing his medical treatment, Patishtan turned to his hometown, El Bosque, where he plans to continue organizing for the rights of poor and indigenous communities. In his eyes, the reverberation of his campaign is the most inspiring part of his own freedom.

“They wanted to stop my struggle, but what happened is it multiplied. They wanted to hide it, but they made it glow.”

Organizing on both sides of the border

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A cargo train (“The Beast”) heads north toward the United States, with an estimated 1,500 Central American migrants traveling atop. The next stop is Ixtepec, Oaxaca. (WNV/Moysés Zúñiga Santiago)

Marta Molina for WNV – México City |May |22| 2013

[en castellano para Otramérica]

For the past three weeks, a group of Mexicans has been traveling across the United States to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis occurring along Central American migration routes. According to the caravan organizing alliance Acción Migrante, tens of thousands of Central American and Mexican migrants have been kidnapped or have disappeared over the last seven years while attempting to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, making these migration routes among the most dangerous in the world.

On Thursday, family members of those who have disappeared will speak at Federal Hall in New York City about the crisis before the group returns to Mexico. But once they arrive, the work will only continue.

Coalitions of Mexican organizations have spent the past winter and spring building power in efforts to influence the impending U.S. immigration overhaul from the other side of the border. One of the most recent actions occurred during the first week of May, when President Barack Obama visited Mexico. His objective: To meet with the man who occupies Mexico’s presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto, to discuss trade relations, national security and immigration policy. This trip was Obama’s fourth visit since he began his first term in January 2009, and it served as a striking indication of how Mexican public opinion had shifted its stance towards the Obama administration.

During his first trip in April 2009, he was received in Mexico with joy and optimism by a society that had been given hope by his message of “Yes We Can.” Many saw his election in the United States as a positive sign of change for Mexicans living on both sides of the border. In contrast, this May, during Obama’s first official visit since being re-elected, his reception was one of indignation as Mexicans reacted to the degrading treatment they had been endured as a result of Washington’s immigration — and particularly, deportation — policies.

Obama arrived in a heavily armored Cadillac known as “The Beast.” But in Mexico, this title refers to a different, and far less secure, form of transport: the north-south traveling cargo trains onto which Mexican and Central American migrants scramble in pursuit of a better life in the north.

To express this disappointment and outrage, a coalition of organizations and collectives that work for migrant rights organized a “Day of Migrant Action” on May 3 to coincide with Obama’s visit. Deported migrants, migrants in transit, family members and organizations met in front of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City dressed in orange shirts, with black lettering that read “for an inclusive and just immigration reform in the United States,” and “stop attacks on migrants and migrant rights’ defenders in Mexico.” Seventy-two of the protesters numbered themselves one to 72 and drew their silhouettes with chalk on the ground to remember the 72 migrants that were assassinated during August 2010 in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, a city only 85 miles away from the Mexican-American border. That attack was the first of a number of unsolved massacres that have been carried out against migrants in the region, including one in April 2011 where at least 193 people were murdered and later found in clandestine graves.

The action was part of a larger campaign to give visibility and a human face to the “Declaration for Migrant Rights,” a document that enshrines human rights to migrants. More than 50 organizations signed the document on December 18, International Migrants Day, and began organizing a campaign to draw attention to these rights.

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People demonstrating outside the U.S. embassy in Mexico during President Obama’s visit. (WNV/Encarni Pindado)

From the U.S. embassy, the group walked towards the downtown monument known as the Pillar of Light carrying posters created by the artist and migrant rights’ defender Cristian Pineda. Many consider the expensive monument, called la Estela de Luz in Spanish, a testament to the corruption of Mexican politics, and the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity — a Mexican group dedicated to stopping the international drug war — has been calling for the pillar to be converted into a memorial for the country’s victims of violence. Once they reached the pillar, the group unveiled a plaque that read: “Memory and justice for the migrants assassinated, killed, disappeared and exploited in Central America, Mexico, Canada, and the United States.”

Earlier that day, 10-year-old Angélica Torres wrote a letter President Barack Obama, which her mother, Margarita, read in front of the pillar.

“My name is Angélica Torres Bárcenas, and I am 10 years old,” Margarita began. “I was born in the United States. I want to tell you something. I was separated from my family, and I came here with my mom, who is named Margarita.”

Torres has lived in Mexico with Margarita since her mother was deported from the United States. Margarita worked for two decades picking apples, cherries, grapes and asparagus in the fields in Washington state, but when Immigration and Customs Enforcement told her to leave voluntarily, she obeyed the orders and left the country with her daughter. Now, since Margarita has been unable to secure a travel visa, it has been two years and seven months since either has seen the other members of their family.

“They separated us from my brothers and my dad and my nephews,” Torres continued.  “When my sister talks to me on the phone, she tells me that my nephew says he doesn’t want to grow up, so that I can play with him. Because of that, I ask you from the bottom of my heart that you unify me with my family so I can hug my dad and brothers and my nephew that I haven’t met yet.”

Tens of thousands of families have been separated as a result of the United States’ immigration policies. To illuminate this reality, the organization Mesoamerican Migrants Movement organized a letter-writing action called “Don’t Deport my Mama” on May 2, recognized as International Children’s Day, in which children whose parents were deported wrote letters to the U.S. Embassy.

Parents like Margarita often migrate north in search of employment and an escape from poverty — but with few rights for migrant workers, this labor rarely translates into liberties.

Verónica Solís had worked in the United States without authorization for 10 years because, she said, of “the lack of opportunities that our Mexican government offers us, which forces us from our homeland.” She explained that during her decade in the United States she paid her taxes and contributed to her community, just like any other citizen. But assuming these responsibilities didn’t grant her any of the rights associated with citizenship.

To her, Obama’s administration is characterized by its attempt to surpass the deportation records of its predecessors.

“Both governments are guilty of the situation that migrants face in the North, in the United States and Canada,” she said. “Our countrymen are living in a way that we here can’t even imagine. That’s why we can’t be silent in the face of Obama’s policies. After all the support he received from the Latino community, now he doesn’t listen to us, and neither does the Mexican government.”

According to Marco Castillo, an organizer for Acción Migrante, accounts like Solís’ and Torres’ are common.

“Mexico and the United States become more like family every day, and less like neighboring countries,” he said. Many families that migrate begin new lives in the United States, often marrying and having children who become U.S. citizens.

The problem, Castillo explains, is that these blood ties aren’t reflected in the domestic and international laws. Take the Torres family, for example: Some members have legal residency to be in the United States; some, like her mother, do not have legal U.S. residency status; and others, like Angélica, are American citizens. In a situation like this, the United States’ current deportation laws affect the whole family — especially the children.

In her letter to Obama, Angélica symbolized this reality by drawing a U.S. flag and a Mexican flag separated by a wall. On one side was an image of herself with her mother; on the other side stood her father, her brothers and nephews.

“Obama and Peña Nieto, rather than focus on human beings, they focus on so-called ‘national security’ — prioritizing their political interests, their power, over life itself,” Castillo said.

Both politicians, he said, have refused to accept that mass human migration is a process that Mexico — and much of the rest of the world — is experiencing. As a result, he worries that Obama’s idea of immigration reform will look more like an international security accord.

Acción Migrante is demanding an end to the humanitarian crisis that has put the lives of more than 30 million Mexicans on either side of the border at risk, as well as the more than 400,000 migrants who make the journey north across Mexico every year.

“Mobility is a right, and it shouldn’t be criminalized,” said Castillo. “Dignity does not have a nationality. This campaign will not stop in its march until it finds the way to justice and peace for all migrants, their families and communities.”

Pick-ups: Truthout

In Guatemala, state violence is on trial but repression continues

 for WNVApril 3, 2013
A stone cross commemorates the death of Andrés Francisco Miguel, who many believe was a victim of political repression. (WNV/Marta Molina)

A stone cross commemorates the death of Andrés Francisco Miguel, who many believe was a victim of political repression. (WNV/Marta Molina)

In Guatemala, the trial against former General Efraín Ríos Montt, who terrorized the country during his brief dictatorship in the early 1980s, continues. The general has been accused of killing hundreds of indigenous Guatemalans, and he is being tried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Yet, even as the country seeks justice for some of those murdered during Guatemala’s decades-long genocide against the indigenous Mayans, repression and violence continues — particularly against indigenous communities that are trying to stop resource extraction and environmental degradation.

For years, the Q’anjob’al community has been organizing in Santa Cruz Barillas, a region in western Guatemala, to defend its territory against a hydroelectric dam project. In spite of repression, harassment, detentions and a 17-day stretch of martial law imposed on the neighborhood, the community continues fighting to stop a Spanish transnational company from profiting off the region’s river.

In recent months, the organizers have made significant gains, particularly in the campaign against political repression. On January 9, organizers who had been imprisoned for almost a year were released. Meanwhile, the community is building ties with Guatemala’s other anti-extractive movements, and under the slogan “We Are All Barillas,” the struggle has gained international attention.

Strategies of organizing

“Water is life! And this project only brings us death and violence,” says Micaela, a resident of Barilla’s neighborhood Cantón Recreo B. Michaela, who didn’t want to share her last name. She has been organizing since 2007 to stop the Spanish transnational company Ecoener Hidralia Energía from building a dam on the river that runs within feet of her home.

The community’s main strategies to oppose the project have been organizing peaceful mobilizations and raising awareness through open dialogues. Through gatherings called consultations — community councils where every participant gets one vote — the widespread opposition to the dam has become obvious. At a public forum in Guatemala’s Congress at the end of February, the community demanded that Ecoener Hidralia Energía halt existing construction in the territory and that the government refuse to approve the construction of two additional dams, which are opposed by the surrounding communities.

“Our demands are not only evident in the results of the community assemblies, which since 2007 have been asking that the hydroelectric company leave, but also in the streets, in all of the communities,” says Hermelinda Simón who participated in a peaceful protest on February 15 aimed at evicting the company from her land.

Simón is aware that both the Guatemalan government and the Spanish corporation are attempting to divide the community on the issue of dam installation. As a result, she focuses on uniting people through informational sessions and leadership training.These workshops began in 2006, when organizers realized they needed to raise awareness about the impacts of megaprojects in the territory. The educational initiative soon spread, and organizers began going door to door in less informed neighborhoods. In response, the company started its own advertising campaign, claiming that the electrical output would benefit the communities.

“[The company said] that it was going to plant trees, create jobs and generate income for the women who could wash the clothes of the men who worked,” said Simón.

The company advertised most heavily in remote communities, placing ads on local radio and cable channels and even paying people to walk through the neighborhoods and spread misinformation. The communities still rejected the project.

Criminalization of protest

As the organizing in communities grew, the state began to persecute local leaders, imprisoning people on accusations of drug trafficking and terrorism.

“In 2011, a string of legal persecutions took place against the leaders who had opposed the project,” explained Carlos Manuel Bezares, the lawyer representing the Barillas case. 

Last May, Simón was accused of drug trafficking, public disorder, coercion and terrorism. She isn’t the only indigenous community leader accused of these charges. According to Bezares, the government uses the specter of terrorism and drug trafficking to criminalize communities in resistance. By categorizing occupation of roads and mass mobilizations as “acts of terrorism,” the state is able to justify repression to the broader public.

As during the era of Guatemala’s civil war, this repression is often violent. On October 4, 2012, the military killed eight people from the K’iche indigenous community during a peaceful protest against dams and mining exploitation in Totonicapan. Other people have been imprisoned, such as Guatemalan human rights activist Rubén Herrera who was arrested on March 15, 2012, and has been held on terrorism charges despite a growing international campaign for his freedom.

Even simply refusing the company’s demands can be deadly. According to Simón, the company hired other people to buy up land without identifying the purchases as being linked to the dam construction. Pablo Antonio Pablo, 59, was one of the community members who received an offer for his land when the company first arrived in the late 2000s. He refused the offer, and on May 1, 2012, he and his friend were shot. Pablo survived, but his friend, Andrés Francisco Miguel, died. Many believe that the target of the assassination attempt was not Miguel, but Pablo, sparked by his refusal to sell his land, which lay close to the river and the dam construction site.

Nearly a year later, Pablo walked along the path where he was shot until he reached a stone cross placed in Miguel’s honor. There he explained the importance of continuing to organize despite intimidation. At a nearby community, neighbors echoed his words.

“They already forced our grandparents and ancestors from their houses during the war. And now? Where do they want to send us?” said one indignant woman. She explained that the company’s security forces have been photographing everyone who passes company buildings in order to intimidate the neighborhood.

Pablo Antonio Pablo showing his wound (right) and her daughter (left)

Other regions in Guatemala that are organizing against resource extraction face similar threats of violence and repression. On March 17, one community organizer was murdered and three more were tortured in the indigenous Xinka community in Jalapa, a region in southeast Guatemala. The leaders were on the way back from a meeting where they were discussing organizing a community consultation to challenge mining in the nearby municipal of Mataquescuintla.

“When those small communities organize, we suffer repression, even though we are peaceful,” said Pablo.

A legacy of violence

“They want to make us afraid, just like those who are being judged today used to try to do,” said Rocael, a resident of Barillas. Rocael, who did not want to give his last name, was referring to the former general José Efraín Ríos Montt, who is currently on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Rocael’s story shows how violent repression is not only a part of Guatemala’s history; it is also a current reality. In May of 2012, when martial law was declared in Barillas following Miguel’s murder, Rocael fled to the mountains with his pregnant mother because they feared being detained by military forces. Other leaders fled with their families to the Mexico border. Rocael explains that for the first time in his life he understood the fear that his grandparents felt during Guatemala’s decades-long civil war, which raged from 1960 to 1996.

During this period, the government carried out a genocide against the indigenous communities of Guatemala. There were 669 massacres, with more than 200,000 people killed and more than 45,000 disappeared, according to data from a report titled “Guatemala: Memory of Silence,” issued by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission. According to the United Nations, 6,000 murders took place each year, 98 percent of which remain unpunished.

Today, indigenous communities like the Q’anjob’al in Santa Cruz Barillas are facing a resurgence of civil war-era repression and violence as a result of organizing to defend territory.

“Ever since the company arrived, we have had violence,” said Micaela.

The martial law ended last May, but Barillas is still heavily militarized and covered with police barracks. According to Bezares, other regions where extractive industry projects are being pushed have been militarized as well.

“Mining or hydroelectric dams, the model is the same,” he said.

This militarization also comes at a unique time for the Guatemalan armed forces, which is experiencing an influx of retired military professionals who claimed to be experts in intelligence and counter-insurgency. These men were also key actors in the civil war and genocide.

The civil war map repeated

Rocael is only 21 years old, yet talks as if he were an old man. He doesn’t speak Spanish, but he explained in Q’anjob’al that the regions where the violent conflict occurred decades ago are the same areas where new extractive projects are now being imposed.

Before they were forgotten places; now, they are considered profitable opportunities.

“Neoliberalism needed the conflict zones to be pacified in order to gain access to the zones’ natural resources,” explained Bezares. “That’s why they were so interested in resolving the internal conflict. When the Spanish came they took away the arable land and sent everyone else into the uninhabitable mountain zones. Now they’ve come to find that there’s gold, Mercury and rivers that can produce energy … So, are they going to kick us out of there, too?”

In Barillas, terror and fear are still palpable with the continued military and police presence. It revives the community’s memories of persecution, assassinations and deaths that took place during the 36-year conflict. But just as intense community organizing finally succeeded in bringing at least one genocidal leader to trial, indigenous peoples are now organizing against displacement and death caused by extractive industries. The question is whether they will win victory today, or retributive justice decades from now.