María Choc: life between awaiting trial and a state of siege

Jody García writes in la Cuerda about the situation currently being faced by María Choc, a Maya Q’eqchi’ interpreter, translator, human rights defender, and Indigenous leader.

Errors in translation are mine.

María Choc lives in El Estor, Izabal, a municipality where human rights and natural resource defenders live under siege by a constant conflict with mining and monoculture companies that occupy more and more space in their territory. It is also the area where, on 25 October past, President Alejandro Giammattei decreed a state of siege due to protests by residents opposed to the operations of the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN).

Since 2018, Choc, who is a Q’echi’ interpreter and translator, has been facing criminal proceedings brought against her by the company Lisbal, Sociedad Anónima, which accuses her of illegal detention, threats, and seizure. According to Choc’s defence, the case lacks evidence to link her to these crimes.

The trial against the indigenous leader was scheduled to begin on 8 November, but was postponed until April 2022 because the Public Prosecutor’s Office was not prepared to start the hearing.

With a criminal trial against her that has been delayed for years and in a context of restriction of rights, Choc spoke to la Cuerda to tell us what the defenders in El Estor are going through.

“They want to silence us by keeping us criminalised,” says Choc, who has been waiting for three years for her legal situation to be resolved.

The situation is aggravated by the state of siege, which counteracts community organisation, opposed to megaprojects, by prohibiting public meetings and demonstrations.

“This affects not only human rights defenders because it is oppressive and wears everyone down, the business people, even the children, because here we live in fear. This only favours the interests of the monoculture, mining and hydroelectric companies,” says Choc.

During the days of restriction of rights in this municipality, the translator even had to leave her community and seek refuge elsewhere for fear of being captured.

“My freedom is being threatened because we are defenders of the territory, we raise our voices and we are spokespersons for the people who only speak Q’eqchi’. We are in danger because they accuse us of fomenting disorder, here we no longer live in freedom nor in a healthy way”, she said.

Three years of waiting

Slowness is what characterises the case against Maria Choc. But the delays are no coincidence, she says.

The wait to resolve her legal situation has caused her physical and mental exhaustion and has also had economic consequences.

“Justice in Guatemala is slow and many times those of us who are victims prefer not to go through with the trials, but I am ready to go ahead and put up with whatever they want to do because I believe in my innocence”, she explains.

Choc states that she does not know the witnesses that the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Lisbal company, have to incriminate her in three crimes. However, she accuses the prosecutors, and the court in Puerto Barrios, of not being independent and of accepting unfounded accusations.

Geraldina López, Choc’s lawyer, points out that the case against the defender is similar to that of Abelino Chub, who was accused of seizure and then released for lack of evidence, but spent two years in prison before regaining his freedom.

López expressed concern that the Magistrate’s Court, in El Estor, said they will review the book that Choc signs every month as proof that she is respecting her parole. She fears that during the state of siege, Choc could be harmed because the authorities have captured people who do not have a valid arrest warrant.

“We hope that the state and the judiciary will comply with the established measures,” she said.

You can read the original, in Spanish and with links, here María Choc: la vida entre la espera de un juicio y un estado de Sitio.

Categories: Criminalisation, Environment, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Legal, Mining, Resource Extraction, Violence

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