Manuel Pérez Hernández was shot dead on evening of the 6th November, in San Pedro Pinula, Jalapa. He left six children, the youngest of two months, who he was looking after when he was murdered.
He was a member of CODECA (Comité de Desarrollo Campesino), which has seen many assassinations over the recent years. CODECA is a human rights organisation based in Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez, Guatemala and, since 1992, has been working on improving the situation of the rural poor in Guatemala, focusing on issues such as the wage conditions for farmers, land reform and nationalisation of electric energy in the country. It is because of their work that they have suffered threats, harassment, persecution, kidnappings, and murders.
A recent piece by Sandra Cuffe, in Al Jazeera, highlighted the challenges faced by CODECA and other land, and environmental, rights defenders in Guatemala. The article, referencing a new report from Global Witness, states that ‘Guatemala is now among the most dangerous countries in the world for land and environmental activists’, and that ‘the country experienced a fivefold increase in the number of murders of land defenders between 2017 and last year, with 16 deaths, making it one of the bloodiest countries per capita’. A key point is that ‘most of the Guatemalan land and environmental activists killed were indigenous. Many were community leaders affiliated with CODECA and CCDA (Comité Campesino del Altiplano).
Simon Granovsky-Larsen wrote in NACLA Report, last year, about ‘Terror in Guatemala’, where he asked, ‘In the course of less than a month, seven campesino-Indigenous activists were murdered. What explains the onslaught?’ He notes that while one rights defender has been killed in Guatemala every month or two all the way back to 2000, the campesino murders of 2018 ‘obliterate any predictability with shocking violence’.
The article talks of several commonalities with regard to this spike in campesino murders. First, it seems likely that they were carried out by sicarios, or professional killers, and that there is sufficient connection between state agents and sicario groups.
The 2018 murders of the campesino-Indigenous activists, were carried out in relative proximity to each other, both in time and space – three in Alta Verapaz, three in Jalapa, two in neighboring Jutiapa. All were members of two of the most radical campesino-Indigenous organizations in Guatemala – CCDA and CODECA.
In looking to answer the question, ‘Why these two organizations, and why are the murders happening now?’, the article seeks explanations in the steady drift towards the use of repressive violence to enforce extractive projects.
According to Front Line Defenders, days after a public rally in May 2018, where Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales referred to CODECA as a criminal organisation, human rights defenders from the organisation began being targeted and killed. Former Guatemalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, has repeatedly referred to CODECA as a social cancer. In 2012, he created a special department in the Prosecutor’s Office, which went on to systematically criminalise CODECA members.