Man, 72, Shot while Protesting Hydroelectric Project
Sebastian Alonso Juan, a member of the Guatemalan community of Yulchen, Huehuetenango, was shot to death on January 17, apparently by state security forces and paramilitaries, as he demonstrated peacefully in the area of Ixquisis, in San Mateo Ixtatatan. He was 72 years old.
He was participating in a march to protest the Pojom hydroelectric project and to demand the departure of the company constructing it, the Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos SA (PDH SA). At approximately 2:00 PM, armed men began shooting into the crowd of demonstrators, wounding indigenous and land rights defender Sebastian Alonso Juan. He died as a result of his injuries.
Early that morning, residents of various Chuj and Q’anjob’al communities had undertaken a peaceful march in the Ixquisis area to denounce the rerouting of the rivers and the imposition of the Pojom I and II project without their consent, which is required by Convention 169 of International Labor Organization and by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Residents have expressed their concern and disagreement to various state bodies for the last five years, with no response.
The Council of the Wuxhtaj Peoples has called on government authorities to end the repression against the communities and is urging the justice system to investigate Sebastian Alonso’s murder and hold the material and intellectual authors accountable. The Council asked the Ministry of Energy and Mines to cancel permits for hydroelectric project Pojom I and Pojom II because they are being implemented arbitrarily, without consultation or participation of the people.
Leader of Opposition to El Escobal Mine Assassinated
Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda was assassinated on the night of January 16 by men who broke into her house and shot her in the head. An activist passively resisting a gold and silver mine in Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Vásquez Pineda had been one of the leaders of the Defense of Life Committees in San Rafael since 2014.
According to the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative, the murder took place after she had been through a process of criminalization, stigmatization, and defamation. She had served seven months in jail on charges that later were dropped for lack of evidence.
Her assassination is the latest in a series of attacks against human rights defenders who have denounced the negative effects of the mine. These attacks include the assassination of Xinca indigenous leader Exaltación Marcos Ucelo in 2013, the murder of Telésforo Odilio Pivaral González in 2015, various attacks on the lives of other defenders, the illegal arrest and detention of protesters, and at least fourteen cases of improper use of criminal law against human rights defenders.
Vásquez Pineda’s murder occurs in the context of an alarming intensification of the violence against human rights defenders, which last year included at least fourteen assassinations (and perhaps as many as seventeen—verification is still pending) and seven attempted assassinations of defenders.
The mine, known as El Escobal, is owned by the San Rafael Mining Company, which is owned by the Canadian company Tahoe Resources. The mining concession was granted illegally, without previous consultation and without free and informed consent.