“We Are Here by Force”: Maya Ixil Activists Fight for Asylum and Justice

The stories of two Guatemalan asylum seekers highlight the deep roots of forced migration from Central America and the U.S. role in the ongoing displacement.

María Inés Taracena writes in NACLA about colonialism, resistance, violence, displacement, and migration affecting the people of Guatemala through the stories of two Maya Ixil leaders and their journey, north, to the United States.


For Francisco Chávez and Gaspar Cobo, it’s still painful to realize that they’re no longer home in the Cuchumatanes mountains of Quiché, Guatemala. Now they’re in El Paso, Texas, where they await their asylum hearings—a process that’s been marked by the cruel realities of the hostile U.S. immigration system. Even though U.S. intervention in Central America triggered many of the conditions that forced Chávez and Cobo to flee in 2019, there’s no guarantee they’ll be given permanent refuge here. But they’re fighting.

State persecution and violence have been present in the lives of Chávez, 45, and Cobo, 32, since before they were even born. The Maya Ixil leaders are part of a multigenerational resistance against omnipresent colonial and imperialist forces, which for centuries have triggered the displacement of their communities and the destruction and exploitation of sacred land and natural resources.

Cobo is a longtime Indigenous rights advocate and land and water defender who was forced to flee after a man threatened his life in May 2019. His friend Chávez decided to join him. Chávez is a survivor of a 1982 massacre perpetrated in the Ixil region by U.S.-backed Guatemalan military officers, and he was a key witnesses in the 2013 genocide trial against former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt. Chávez had already contemplated trekking north after getting several death threats over his advocacy on behalf of survivors of the Indigenous genocide. He repeatedly filed complaints with the public prosecutor’s office and the police, but nothing was ever done. The pair left Guatemala in June 2019 and arrived in the U.S.-Mexico border two weeks later. The previous year alone, at least 26 human rights advocates and Indigenous leaders were assassinated in Guatemala, including one of Cobo’s friends, a 20-year-old university student.

For much of their lives, Cobo and Chávez, whose Ixil names are Kaxh and La’s, have defended the dignity, safety, and prosperity of their communities—precisely to prevent more people from fleeing.


You can read the full piece, with links and photos, here, “We Are Here by Force”: Maya Ixil Activists Fight for Asylum and Justice.



Categories: Corruption, Criminalisation, Culture, Environment, Evictions, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Migration, Military, Mining, Resource Extraction, Rios Montt, Violence

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