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The criminalization of social movements in Guatemala is more and more evident. In the last 18 months there have been slander campaigns in the media, threats against leaders and increasing militarization.
Crédito Fotografía: Daniel Pascual. Fotografía de Lina Larsson.
Daniel Pascual, leader of the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC), is one of the victims of psychological and physical violence from his rivals. “The threats come from different places”, says Pascual. “Firstly, there are nearly eleven journalists that accuse us of being terrorists. They talk everyday about social movements and the CUC, in particular. There is widespread criminalization of social movements and a campaign aimed against the CUC and myself. Then there are “anti-terrorist” groups, movements that believe and claim that we are criminals and communists. The international organizations are also being attacked by them”, he says.
Campaign against Bill 4084
One of the most recent campaigns against social movements in Guatemala is led by the group called ‘Chapines unidos por Guate’ (which means Guatemalans united for the country). In a leaflet of several pages published on their website, the group explains the reasons for opposing the Integral Rural Development Act, also known as bill 4048. The law has been discussed in the Guatemalan Congress for ten years. According to peasant and indigenous movements it promotes access to land, food sovereignty and reducing inequality and poverty. The group claims the law is unconstitutional and believe that indigenous and peasant movements are behind this proposal, they even mention the CUC as an aggressive actor that uses protests and blockades as a form of attack.
The leaflet also mentions other organizations such as the National Peasant and Indigenous Coordinator (CONIC), which is accused of using threatening texts addressed at the people who vote for the law. It also identifies international and financial organizations that support CUC and CONIC, such as ActionAid, Oxfam and the Swedish Cooperative Centre.
Criminalization to undermine credibility
In late January of 2013, Daniel Pascual was threatened with a machete by unknown men while he was in San Juan Sacatepequez to express his solidarity with the people resisting Cementos Progreso cement company. Oscar Fernando Bracamonte, the mayor of the municipality, then accused the CUC and Daniel Pascual of promoting violence and causing divide among the people of San Juan: “I’d like to denounce Daniel Pascual and the CUC leaders of causing panic, divide, violence and confrontation in the communities of my village”, he said in statements published by Prensa Libre. As Daniel Pascual claims “they want to turn our social struggle and our human rights demands into terrorism”.
Last year there were strong protests against the hydroelectric project of Santa Cruz Barillas. As a result, the president and former military Otto Perez Molina declared a state of emergency. There were violent clashes between the demonstrators and the military forces that led to the death of a community leader. BBC World reported that Perez claimed after the incidents that the demonstrators belonged to drug cartels. Criminalization is a strategy involving several opponents because it undermines the credibility of social movements. Perez also installed military brigades, something criticized by several social movements in Guatemala, especially after the incidents of October 4, 2012 in Totonicapan, when eight peasants died after having participated in a demonstration that ended with strong clashes with the military forces.
Threats against leaders
Daniel Pascual is not the only one who has suffered threats for fighting for the right to land. In June of last year, Yolanda Veliz Oqueli, a leader and opponent to mining, received several death threats over the phone and was later shot by unknown men. Fortunately she survived. Domingo Hernández Ixcoy, a Waqib Kej leader, also received threats in 2012. Gerónimo Sol Ajcot, member of the board of the Maya Tzutujil Farmers Association of Santiago Atitlán, a member of CONIC, was shot dead by unknown men on March 11, 2013. Unfortunately, there are many similar cases, and what all the leaders who have received threats or have been killed have in common is that they have openly criticized the government, the mining corporations and other big investors.
Photo: Daniel Pascual. Photo by Lina Larsson.
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