On December 11, the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala presented its annual award, the Orden Juan José Gerardi, to three community activists: anti-mining activist Yolanda Oquelí; the indigenous mayor of Nebaj, Ana Laynez Herrera; and Rodolfo Cardenal Quezada Toruño (posthumously).
The award is given out each year as part of a commemoration of Human Rights Day. It honors Juan José Gerardi, a Guatemalan Roman Catholic Bishop and human rights defender, and since 2004, has recognized individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions to Guatemalan society through work in human rights, historic memory, or justice.
Yolanda Oquelí Veliz
Yolanda Oquelí Veliz is from the community of San Pedro Ayampuc and is the leader of the Frente Norte del Área Metropolitana (FRENAM), a peaceful movement to defend indigenous land from the expansion of mining activity. As a result of her leadership, Yolanda was a victim of an assassination attempt on June 13, 2012; the gunman was never arrested. After recovering, Yolanda expressed that she is more committed than ever to the movement.
Since March of 2012, the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have maintained a blockade at the entrance to the El Tambor gold mine (commonly referred to as “La Puya”).
“It has been 21 months of resistance,” said Yolanda, “And it is not easy dealing with the repression of the mining companies. But it hurts more when we are repressed by our own government, which responds with illegal evictions and armed forces.”
Yolanda expressed gratitude for the acknowledgement on behalf of all of the women in La Puya, and all those involved in the resistance effort. “We are not against development or progress,” she clarified, “provided it is on equal terms.”
GHRC has worked to support the peaceful resistance at La Puya, and honored the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc as recipients of the first Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award in September of 2012.
Ana Laynez Herrera
Since 2008, Ana Laynez Herrera has been part of the indigenous mayor’s office, made up of 17 men and 3 women, as well as the municipality’s city council. Ana was forced to flee her home in Vitzal, Nebaj in 1980 due to the internal armed conflict, and was not able to return to Nebaj until 1999.
During recent years, Ana has had an important voice in the search for justice for past crimes, especially regarding efforts to enforce the sentence handed down on May 10, 2013 in the case of the Ixil genocide.
“I’m receiving this award on behalf of all of the Ixil women, for all of those who presented their testimonies in court,” Ana said.
Rodolfo Quezada Toruño
Rodolfo Cardenal Quezada Toruño was the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala; in 2003, he was named Cardinal by Pope Juan Pablo II, making him the second Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Guatemalan history.
Rodolfo played a large role in Guatemala’s peace negotiations, serving as President of the National Commission of reconciliation (1987-1993) and Chairman of the Assembly of the Civil society in 1994. In 1990, he was appointed as the official conciliator between the government and the guerrillas of the National Revolutionary Unit.
As Archbishop, Rodolfo also assumed a leadership role in the rejection of open-pit mining in the country, and showed strong support for the investigation of the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.