On April 16, 2013, the body of Qanjob’al community activist Daniel Pedro Mateo was found murdered in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. He had been kidnapped for 12 days and his body showed signs of torture.
Daniel, a founder of the community radio station Snuq Jolom Konob, disappeared on Sunday, April 7th in the village of El Quetzal, Huehuetenango on his way to host a workshop on Indigenous rights in the community of Santa Cruz Barillas. His family was contacted by kidnappers and demanded a ransom of Q150,000 in return for his safety. Despite the efforts of his family and community to gather money to pay the ransom, Daniel’s body was found last night in his village of Santa Eulalia.
Daniel Pedro Mateo was a painter, teacher, a founder of Radio Snuq Jolom Konob, and a leader in the community resistance to mining and hydroelectric activities in Huehuetenango. Childhood experiences that exposed him to the grave inequalities and injustices confronting poor and indigenous communities in Guatemala motivated his lifelong commitment to work for a more just and humane society. After the armed conflict ended, he joined with other Qanjob’al Maya leaders in Santa Eulalia to start a radio station that would give voice to their community that formed the majority of the local population, but were nonetheless marginalized and silenced. Daniel was no longer involved in the day-to-day work of the station, but maintained close ties with many of the current volunteer staff and leadership.
Many in the community believe this violent act to be a repercussion of Daniel’s environmental activism. Lorenzo Fransisco Mateo, Daniel’s cousin and fellow member of Radio Snuq Jolom Konob stated, “The only crime he was ever guilty of was fighting in defense of the environment”. Daniel was an outspoken organizer against the Hydro Santa Cruz dam in Santa Cruz Barillas, a dam in his town of Santa Eulalia, and a logging company Maderas San Luis that had forced evictions of local Indigenous peoples. He was a member Cultural Survival’s partner organization Asemblea de Pueblos de Huehuetenango, and a member of the political party WINAQ, founded by Nobel prize winner Rigoberta Menchu.
Daniel’s death comes in a series of recent murders in Guatemala of Indigenous activists. Just last year, anti-dam activist and community leader, Andres Fransisco Miguel, was shot and killed by security guards of Hydro Santa Cruz in Barillas, where Daniel was headed to host a workshop. In March, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, an Indigenous Xinca leader active against Canadian Tahoe Resources' silver mine in Jalapa was found beaten to death, after being abducted alongside three other Xinca leaders. Six months ago, seven Indigenous protestors were shot and killed by Guatemalan military in Totonicapan.These events reflect the dangerous state that Indigenous leaders and environmental activists find themselves in Guatemala.
Cultural Survival deplores these acts of violence, which are targeted specifically at Indigenous activists defending their rights and their lands. We extend our deepest condolences to the Mateo family and the people of Santa Eulalia. We call on the immediate investigation of this crime and an end to the persecution of Indigenous leaders.
Community organizations in Santa Eulalia are calling for contributions to cover funeral expenses and to support Daniel’s family in this difficult time. He leaves behind an ailing wife and eight children.
To give a gift to the Mateo family, please make a donation online here and write “Daniel Pedro Mateo” in the comments section. Cultural Survival will deliver 100% of donations to the family.