Double Dose of Destruction
With media in the United States focused on the struggle to contain a surge of Coronavirus cases and navigate the complicated transition between presidential administrations, shocking news from Central America scarcely got its due: Guatemala and neighboring countries were devastated by back-to-back hurricanes. Hurricanes Eta and Iota struck the isthmus within days of each other, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction: floods, landslides, loss of crops, homes and lives. In Guatemala alone, over 150 people are either missing or dead. Even those who sought safety in overcrowded temporary shelters are now at greater risk for falling ill to COVID-19.
GHRC’s office director in Guatemala, Isabel Solis, mobilized immediately to connect affected communities with the individuals and organizations providing life-saving aid.
The Polochic region of Guatemala, where GHRC has worked with communities defending the environment from illegal extractive industries, was hard hit. Families in El Estor, Izabal, lost their entire harvest. In the Verapaces, homes were destroyed by flooding, and a landslide caused by the rains buried half of the residents of the village of Queja, a Poqomchi’ community near Coban.
A Community in Resistance, a Community in Need
One of the communities that reached out to GHRC for help is Chicoyoguito. Three decades ago, these Mayan q’eqchi families were forced from their lands by the army. Their homes and fields were razed to build the Zone 21 Military Base, a notorious facility where men, women and children were disappeared, tortured, and buried in mass graves during the armed conflict.
Last January some 50 families returned to reclaim their lands. They resettled in an area that had been a garbage dump, cleaning the area up and making it habitable. Nevertheless, they once again faced eviction, this time in order to accommodate the operations of a munitions factory.
GHRC has been accompanying the community in their struggle to recover and return to their rightful lands. Many of the Chicoyoguito families were left homeless by the hurricanes and were in dire need of food. GHRC helped spread the word about the community’s dire situation and—working with the human rights organization Just Associates and others—provided much-needed corn to the community.
A Political Prisoner Speaks Out
Bernardo Caal, a political prisoner GHRC has been accompanying, affirms that the catastrophic flooding caused by the storms has been exacerbated by the damming of rivers for massive hydroelectric projects. Bernardo, a father, teacher, and community organizer, is serving a seven-year prison sentence based on false charges as a result of his opposition to such projects on the Cahabon River.
Caal writes, “In the granting of 50-year concessions to hydroelectric and mining companies, which kidnap our rivers and destroy the environment, there the government is present, signing the license. But when nature reacts to these harms caused, the government and its officials are largely absent.”
Whether they are seeking to address historic wrongs, defend the environment, or simply survive natural disasters, human rights defenders need our support, and GHRC is steadfast in offering it. Thank you for standing with us!