Human Rights violations in Ixquisis end in the murder of Sebastian Alonso Juan

Región de Ixquisis – Foto ACOGUATE

This article was published on the website of ACOGUATE in February 2017 and was translated by Lazara Morgan.

The murder of Sebastian Alonso Juan took place during a peaceful demonstration on the 17th January 2017. He was 72 years old and came from the community of Yulchen Frontera. It was practically a death foretold in spite of previous complaints. This sad event was added to the human rights’ violations that the population of the Ixquisis micro-region had already suffered.

The communities affected by the hydroelectric project of Promoción y Desarollos Hidricos SA (PDSA), have been fighting for seven years for their consulta to be recognised. This took place in 2009 when 25,646 people came out against the licencing of the open-cast mine and the exploitation of the natural resources in their territory.

With the same determination with which they started this path to struggle, they tried to now create a permanent encampment that confirmed their intention stand firm as a reflection of the people and their will. Planned for the 17th January, when more than 2,000 people met to peacefully protest against the damage caused by PDSA, and to push along with their demands: to cease diverting their rivers, to cease their works, as well as to leave their territory.

Chronicle of a murder

The demonstration began at 9am as the people gathered in the Ixquisis football field. At midday, the people from various villages as well as from San Mateo Ixtatán spread out from several points. They decided to cross the perimeter of the facility of the installations which they normally don’t have access to because they are protected by private security guards of the company.

According to some, a group of men infiltrated the group but they were unidentified, as they were wearing balaclavas. Some people crossed the wire and entered the facility. I t was then, at about 2pm, that the machines were set on fire. Upon seeing the smoke, people started to run away and, in that moment, like rain, shots were fired against them.

Several witnesses report that the company’s private security guards were ambushed behind where the first shots were fired. People fled in the direction of the old highway. It was when they reached the Río Negro that “the PNC (national police) joined with the security guards. Both groups were armed. They were shooting from 100 metres”. The guards and police, “with big guns”, chased the people, shooting at them. One of the residents there said, “they weren’t shooting in the air, they were shooting to kill”.

Sebastian Alonso Juan was left behind. Because of his age, he was walking slower than the rest. A bullet hit him in the right side of his stomach and he lay at the edge of the highway. After seeing him fall, his relatives, and the rest of the community from Yulchen Frontera, thought he was dead and ran for cover in the football field, while the shots were still being fired.

Minutes later, the private security guards came back to look at the injured man. “They saw him lying there and slashed him in the mouth, and the side of the face and neck with a machete” – an act of torture against a man battling between life and death. There was no help, not even from the PNC, who were safely sheltered inside their offices after the incident, as was confirmed a few days later, during a questioning in Congress.

Sebastian’s family were able to get back to safety and an hour and a half later came back to see his body. They found him still alive, though in deep agony. The fire brigade was not answering, so the family had to find a car to take him to the health centre. His son-in-law drove him towards Barillas, but unfortunately Sebastian died at about 6.10pm. The family returned to Ixquisis with his body where they had a small community ceremony. In the end, they decided to move the body to INACIF in Huehuetenango, since nobody wanted to deal with them by going to Ixquisis to carry out a proper investigation.

These sad events expose the hostile situation in one of the forgotten corners of Guatemala. In the absence of the State, and the impacts caused by the attempt to install the PDSA hydroelectric plants (exacerbated by the power vacuum), social conflict continues to grow and resulted in the murder of this defender of land.

This context also impeded the arrival of a caravan of solidarity and human rights observation, which tried to investigate the recent incidents of violence in the region in which ACOGUATE was present. The caravan, which left Huehuetenango on Saturday the 21st January was made up of local, national and international organisations. They faced intimidation and threats from Nentón to Yalanwitz forcing them to retreat before arriving at the affected communities, limiting their right to investigate the serious human rights violations that transpired in Ixquisis, as well as the right to free association and free movement.

Meanwhile the communities’ voices are still silenced and their territory is akin to a battlefield with the omnipresence of the military. Ever since the military detachment settled, in 2014, in the same land as the company (without the consent of the local population), the villages have been controlled by armed groups. Nowadays, the map of Ixquisis micro-region is totally modified and disfigured because of the construction and installation of the Pojom II and San Andrés hydroelectric plants. These forms of commercialisation of the natural resource do not correspond with the nature-society bond that the indigenous communities hold to, nor does it align with their world view (cosmovisión). The residents of the micro-region of Ixquisis consider that the free, prior and informed consulta was already carried out eight years ago, in San Mateo Ixtatán. They demand that the result be respected.

Human Rights violations

Murder, isolation and stigmatisation are not the only methods used to silence those who raise their voices. Many community members, and their families, continue facing reoccurring intimidations and threats daily. They also face physical attacks, as well as damage to their property and natural assets. Even their smallest rights are constantly violated and this is manifest, for example, in the denial of their ancestral and cultural practices regarding understanding and caring for their environment, their participation and self-determination as an indigenous community, as well as their rights to the land.

ACOGUATE expresses concern about the human rights violations suffered by the Ixquisis micro-region communities. By being a signatory to the ILO Convention 169, the State of Guatemala is responsible for ensuring a free, prior and informed consulta is carried out. On behalf of their citizens, they must guarantee and ensure their human rights are protected and see to it that a proper investigation is carried out to clear up these acts of criminal violence, so that the activists receive justice.

You can read the original article here.

This article first appeared on the website of ACOGUATE in August 2015 and has been translated by Lazara Morgan, to whom we are very grateful.

GSN is the UK committee of ACOGUATE, the International Accompaniment Project in Guatemala, which is formed of autonomous committees in Europe and North America.

ACOGUATE is dedicated to offering accompaniment to provide protection and support to human rights defenders, whether individuals or organisations.

Formed in 2000, its mandate is to offer international accompaniment to Guatemalan individuals and social movement and human rights organisations that find themselves (or fear) under threat through the work they do to construct a democratic, multi-ethnic, pluricultural society, based on socio-economic justice, the respect for human rights and the fight against impunity. This accompaniment cannot be linked to illegal activities of any kind, nor includes violence. It is non-partisan and non-interventionist.

Categories: Accompaniment, Culture, Environment, Guatemala, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Legal, Mining, Resource Extraction, Solidarity in Action, Solidarity in Action/Guatemala, Violence

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