Freedom for Q'eqchi' Human Rights and Water Defender Bernardo Caal Xol
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We the undersigned call for the immediate release from prison of human rights defender Bernardo Caal Xol. He is in prison for being an indigenous Q’eqchi’ leader who has spoken out against the illegal construction of massive hydroelectric dams in indigenous territory, especially the Oxec and Oxec II hydroelectric dams which were built without consulting the indigenous population as required by law and have resulted in the destruction of local ecosystems, clear cutting of old growth forests and decimation of mountain ridges sacred to the Q’eqchi’ people. We call for the immediate end of judicial repression against indigenous community leaders in Guatemala and respect for the legal right of indigenous people to decide on "development" projects in indigenous territory.
Bernardo was arrested on January 30, 2018, by agents of the Special Criminal Investigation Directorate (DEIC) who were not wearing uniforms and put them on only after detaining him. He was charged with aggravated robbery, aggravated illegal detention and instigating a crime. These specific fraudulent charges were clearly invented because they do not allow Bernardo to leave prison on bail. Bernardo has courageously supported nonviolent organizing in defense of the Oxec river. This river had supported thousands of indigenous peoples as well as an incredible natural biodiversity. The Oxec river is also sacred among Mayan people and is referred to in the Popul Vuh, a creation and cosmology narrative written before the Spanish conquest, as an important river in the creation of living beings. On August 27, 2017, q'eqchi' communities in the municipality of Santa María Cahabón, where the dams are located, organized a referendum as is their legal right under national and international law, in which over 26,000 people voted against the dams and only 12 people voted in favor. The turnout for the vote was greater than the turnout in the same area for any of the previous three Presidential elections, despite the fact that voters faced threats of repression from the government and large businesses. The government chose to ignore the referendum and prosecute q'eqchi' leaders like Bernardo Caal Xol.
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