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Criminalization Continues in Huehuetenango

Photo by Comision Inter-Americana 
On Wednesday, October 26th, another human rights defender was arrested in Guatemala. Domingo Francisco Cristobal was captured on his way home from a peaceful demonstration in the city of Huehuetenango by members of the Special Investigative Crime Division of the Guatemalan police. Traditional Indigenous community leaders, as part of the Plurinational Ancestral Government of the Akateko, Chuj, Popti’ and Q’anjobal Maya Nations, denounced the arrest in a press release.

The issuing of arrest warrants and unjust detainment of Indigenous community authorities and environmental and human rights defenders has been an ongoing problem in Guatemala, especially in Indigenous communities in northern Huehuetenango, termed “ungovernable” by Guatemalan state authorities. The region also holds some of the highest levels of extreme poverty in the country, while being rich in mineral and water resources. 

According to statistics from UDEGEGUA, in 2015 there were 493 cases of reported violence against human rights and environmental defenders in Guatemala. Of which, 13 human rights defenders were murdered, 8 attempted murder, 92 cases of torture and 159 cases of criminalization. Indigenous human rights defenders are especially targeted. In 2014 Indigenous human rights and environmental defenders were 8 times more likely to be killed for their work than non-Indigenous defenders, according to data from Global Witness.  

Domingo Franciso Cristobal is a recognized defender of individual and collective human rights.   He is a coordinator of the Payx Yajawil Jolom Knob, an ancestral authority of Santa Eulalia, Guatemala. He is also the president of two community groups, the Consejo Asesor Indigena and the Asociacion Pro-Justicia and according to the Ancestral Government, is involved in many projects for the benefit of the Maya Q’anjobal people and the Maya people in general.

In a press release, the traditional leaders demanded the immediate cancellation of all of the existing arrest warrants against community leaders, and human right defenders, and humanitarian workers.  They also demanded the immediate cancelation of licenses authorized by the government of Guatemala for mega-projects in Q’anjob’al territory, including mining, dams, and specifically the Hidro Santa Cruz dam project, Promoción de Desarrollo Hídrico in San Mateo Ixtatán and Hidroeléctrica San Luís in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. These companies, the authorities explain, “Rather than bring development, have caused conflict and numerous human rights violations in our territory, including the unjust incarceration and numerous arrest warrants.