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Guatemala: "Development" And Death - Military State Of Siege In Santa Cruz De Barrillas - 5,000 Villagers Take Control Of Military Base After Hydroelectric Dam Opponent Was Shot Dead

By Annie Bird

Note: CrisisBalochistan is reposting this article because the problems indigenous people face, whether they live in Guatemala or Balochistan, are remarkably similar, especially when it comes to the subject of natural resources and the methods states use to try to gain control of these resources.

On May 1, 2012 three Mayan Canjobal men, who have opposed the construction of hydroelectric dam being developed by the Spanish Corporation Hidralia Energia, were shot, one fatally.

According to reports from the Council of the Peoples of the Western Highlands (Consejo de los Pueblos del Occidente) and the Assembly for the Defense of the Territory of Huehuetenango, the surviving victims explained that they were walking to their home in the village of Poza Verde from the annual town fair when, near the Kambala River, shots were fired from Mazda truck killing Andres Francisco Miguel and gravely wounding Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Bernabe.

Area residents immediately notified the police but claim that the authorities made no effort to find those responsible for the killing. The Public Prosecutors office, responsible for criminal investigations, arrived at the scene at 7pm, over six hours after the murder. No forensic examination of the body was undertaken.


Andres Francisco Miguel was an outspoken opponent of the Canbalam I Hydroelectric dam and had refused to sell his lands. According to Figuero [WHO IS FIGUERO??], Andres Francisco Miguel had been subject to intense pressure from the company, who had lodged a legal complaint against him, though no arrest warrant had been issued.

Hours later a disturbance erupted, which reports describe as beginning in the context of the town fair. Reportedly a crowd estimated to consist of approximately 5,000 people went to the hotel where many of the dam security forces are lodged, but did not find any security officers. The crowd then proceeded to the military base where it was rumored the dam security personnel were located, and took control of the military base.

The military initially reported that six soldiers were missing, along with weapons. Acts of violence reportedly occurred such as the burning of the home of a family that had sold land to the company. No fatalities or injuries are reported to have resulted from the actions of the crowd.


Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina (an alleged "intellectual" author of war crimes, State repression and genocide in the 1980s) the same night declared of a State of Siege, suspending civil rights in the township of Barrilllas, which had not yet been published to law on May 3.

A force of 600 soldiers arrived in Barrillas on May 2 and immediately began arrests. Thus far 11 have been arrested and the President announced that a total of 21 arrest warrants have been issued. Families and neighbors of those detained report that detainees were beaten at the moment of the detention. Detainees were sent immediately to the preventative prison in Guatemala City and human rights organizations have been unable to access them, and there is concern that their condition should be verified.


The Consejo de los Pueblos describes the violence as the result of a series of human rights violations by the government against the population of Barrillas. Tensions had been building for years after a flood of mining, hydroelectric dam and petroleum concessions were granted throughout Guatemala, including Barrillas.

On June 23, 2007 a Municipal Consultation was carried out in Barrillas in which 49,490 people participated, 49,481 of those rejecting hydroelectric, mining and petroleum concessions. Barrillas has a total population of approximately 127,000.

The population of Barrillas is almost entirely Maya Canojbal, and international law requires the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities before megaprojects that affect their territory may be carried out.


However, despite the resounding rejection of hydroelectric projects, a few months after the consultation the Ministry of Energy and Mining granted a concession to a Spanish company, Hidralia Energia, for the construction of the Canbalam I dam on the Kambala River.


Hidralia and its local subsidiary Hydro Santa Cruz, are planning to sell carbon reduction credits and have requested certification from the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


The governments' direct role in human rights violations went beyond ignoring binding international law to militarizing the region with security forces that tolerated and participated in acts of intimidation against the communities. In 2009 the government reactivated a military base that had been closed down after the peace accords, establishing a permanent presence of approximately 60 soldiers. Militarization of the region grew in 2011 when Hidralia Energia established a permanent private security force of approximately 80 guards.

The population opposing the dam has been subject to constant pressure and intimidation. After several weeks of hearing unusual explosions in the company's installations, neighboring community members discovered anti-personnel mines on the perimeter of dam installations after a dog was killed, which was reported to justice system and documented by a judge.

The heavy presence of private security forces has become an overwhelming trend in Guatemala over the past five years. These forces often maintain close relations and receive protection form the local authorities, even as they engage in illegal acts. The Ministry of Governance does not sanction the companies when violence occurs and there have been cases of companies operating without licenses.


The Consejo and the Asamblea have expressed concern that while the crowd engaged in violent acts that the Consejo and Asamblea do not condone, there is still not clarity exactly how the events transpired, and the Ministry of Governance has focused entirely on identifying those involved in occupying the military base and not in identifying the people who murdered Andres Francisco Miguel.

All of those arrested are from the communities of San Carlos las Brisas, Santa Rosa and Poza Verde, the communities where many have refused to sell lands to Hidralia. Families of some of those detained report they were not in the crowd, and there are rumors in the area that the criteria used to identify people to be arrested is not their participation in the acts but rather the persons history of opposition to the dam. At least one of those arrested, Saul Mendez, had previously denounced threats against him from Hidralia to the human right procurators office.


Human rights advocates describe the manner in which the arrests are being carried out as like the time of the "violence" when civilian Military Commissioners gave lists of "subversives" to the military.

Between 1981 and 1983 the population of Barrillas was victim to a massive campaign of massacres and other acts of violence that the United Nations sponsored Truth Commission found constituted a genocide of the Canjobal Maya people of Barrillas; one of several Mayan populations victim to genocide at the hands of the military.

The current President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, is accused of direct participation in the genocide of the Ixil Maya, and denies that genocide occurred in Guatemala during the internal armed conflict that the Truth Commission estimates cost 250,000 lives, 93% at the hands of the military and paramilitaries and 3% by revolutionary forces.


Statements by the President and top security officials related to this case have been extremely alarming. All of the top security and military positions in the Perez Molina administration are occupied by former military who participated - as "intellectual" and "material" authors - in the years of State repression and genocide against the Guatemalan population, such as Minister of Governance Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, who is quoted in national press as stating "This place has always been conflictive," bringing to mind the identification of the population of Barrillas as "subversive" during the years of State repression, culminating in genocide.

President Perez Molina has made a series of statements suggesting that organized crime and drug trafficking networks were behind the disturbance, the latest in a series of similar accusations focused against communities in conflict with corporate interests.

On February 14 a force of 600 soldiers was dispatched to Sasiguan, Cunen, Quiche, a community resisting the construction of another hydroelectric dam, after community members met police leaving an area where approximately 50 acres of the community's crops had just been destroyed; the community members captured the police and took them to the local indigenous authorities. The Vice Minister of Governance claimed drug trafficking networks were behind the capture of the police.

Those arrested in Barrillas are being charged with aggravated robbery, aggression against authority and illicit association. The charge of illicit association is generally applied to organized crime cases. Human rights organizations are concerned to receive clarification of the charges.

Later the President made statements on national television that the rioters received financial support from foreigners, apparently an attack against human rights organizations which have been assisting the communities in opposition to the dam to denounce violations, some of whom receive international assistance.

In the case of Sasiguan, Cunen, high ranking officials made public statements claiming the community was led by a terrorist and narco linked Spanish commander, apparently referring to a Spanish journalist who had been in the area documenting abuses against the community at the time the crops were destroyed.


Today, hundreds of hydroelectric dam concessions and other "clean" development initiatives are being promoted across Central America and Guatemala by foreign investors, in addition to petroleum and mineral extraction concessions, while the Perez Molina administration attempts to criminalize human rights defender and international journalists.

As this occurs, the Perez Molina administration is a partner in the Central American Regional Security Strategy, spearheaded by the Inter American Development Bank and the U.S. State Department, which will invest a projected one billion dollars per year in 'security' activities in Central America, and receive training and support from the United States and Colombia. The United States has committed to $300 million in financing to the Strategy through the Central America Regional Security Initiative, CARSI.


Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor:

Shioban Shiels, Guatemala Desk Officer at the U.S. State Department:

Canadian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas) - Peter Kent:

Canadian NDP Foreign Affairs Critic - Paul Dewar:

Express your concern for the human rights of indigenous rights activists in the municipality of Barrillas in Huehuetenango during the State of Siege, and for the proper investigation of the murder of Andres Francisco Miguel.

Express concern that U.S. and Canadian 'security' assistance to Guatemala could contribute to repression of indigenous communities under the guise of fighting organized crime, whether that assistance is bilateral or through the Central America Regional Security Strategy which both Canada and the United States back through their participation in the "Group of Friends".