GHRC Supports Defenders Facing New Wave of Criminalization in El Estor

Authorities in El Estor have mounted a case against 12 people who were present at an anti-mining protest in October 2021. Community members became aware of the case against them when the son of one of the defenders active in the anti-mining resistance was arrested on March 22. Authorities mentioned a list of pending arrest warrants against defenders and local journalists, including Carlos Choc of Prensa Comunitaria. The warrants, dated January 14, are reported to have been ordered by Judge Arteaga López for the alleged charge of “incitement to commit a crime.” While video evidence reveals the excessive use of force against the protesters by police during the demonstration, no investigations of police actions are underway.

The Committee to Protect Journalists lent their support to Choc, demanding that the charges be dropped immediately. According to Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program Coordinator, “Guatemalan authorities must immediately drop the absurd charges against Choc, stop treating community journalists like criminals for doing their job, and put an end to their campaign to intimidate and threaten the press.” The Association of Guatemala Journalists denounced the criminalization in a statement, explaining, “The spurious prosecution of this journalist corresponds directly to his work of visibilizing the problems generated by the Guatemalan Nickel Company and the resistance by population in that area.” Choc has previously faced criminal charges and persecution by local authorities and dam personnel, including in 2017 after documenting the death of a protester at the hands of police. 

This newest wave of criminalization comes on the heels of a massive data leak which revealed the mining company Solway and its local subsidiaries manipulated the consultation process on the Fénix Project that began in October 2021. Not only did company employees hand pick which communities would be allowed to participate in the consultation; company records show payments were made to local police and judges, and defenders and  journalists were closely surveilled. “Knowing that I am being photographed is very worrying,” Choc explained. “[The] mining company controls not only the population of El Estor with its actions, but also the lives of the defenders and especially mine as a journalist.” Only one person has been arrested so far, however, defenders reported to GHRC during their visit in January following and harassing them about the forthcoming warrants. The situation for these defenders will likely get even worse in the coming weeks.   

GHRC’s Commitment to the Defenders in El Estor

GHRC Advocacy Director Awards the El Estor Resistance the Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award, January 2022

In the ongoing peaceful struggle in El Estor, GHRC–along with other organizations working in the region–has played an important role. GHRC, along with the Amaq’ Institute, requested and was granted a hearing before the Inter-American Commission to talk about the effects of specific, damaging effects of the Fenix mine on women human rights defenders in El Estor. In November, GHRC helped two families at risk of persecution and violence because of their leadership in El Estor’s peaceful resistance to the mine. During the November state of siege, when thousands of police and military flooded the community and resistance members faced serious attacks and repression by security forces, GHRC not only worked to document and denounce the violence, traveling to El Estor and taking testimonies, but ensured the safety of these families.   

One family took refuge in the mountains, fleeing without clothes, shoes, or the medicine they needed. When the family tried to return to their home, they found the police had their house surrounded. GHRC worked with contacts in the region and in Guatemala City to find them shelter, renting houses for them to stay in until the state of siege was over and returning home was safe. We helped out with food for the families and ensured they got needed medical check-ups, medicine, and other essentials. 

A young man who was in poor health from inhaling tear gas that state security forces fired at the peaceful resistance in El Estor needed urgent medical attention. GHRC managed to arrange care for him. 

We’re now working to support the defenders in El Estor as they face potential arrest and spurious prosecution. We will continue to support their right to defend their resources and their land, both threatened by the illegal mine. Your contributions allow us to provide critical support to defenders at risk and advocate for human rights justice, both in Washington, DC, and in Guatemala. Will you join us? Please donate today. 

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