Indigenous Activist attacked in El Quiché, Guatemala


On July 4, Lolita Chavez, indigenous activist and human rights defender, narrowly escaped being lynched as four others were beaten by a violent group of people allied with Estuardo Castro, the mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiché and member of the ruling Patriot Party.

Although she avoided harm this time, GHRC is gravely concerned for Lolita’s ongoing safety and well-being. Likewise we are distressed by the harassment and attacks against other members of the K’iche’ People’s Council.

Background
Lolita Chavez is a indigenous woman known for her warm smile, energetic personality, and her selfless commitment to the rural communities of Guatemala’s Quiché department. As a leader within the K’iche’ People’s Council (Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’s – CPK) Lolita has accompanied 87 communities in their struggles for self-determination and resistance to harmful development projects which could threaten the health of families and cause irreversible damage to the environment.Indigenous Activist attacked in El Quiché, Guatemala

This opposition to “development at any cost” has placed these communities, and in particular the members of the CPK, at great risk. Powerful local, departmental, and national political figures — closely aligned with transnational corporations — have made it perfectly clear that they are not interested in consulting with indigenous communities or entering into real dialogue with local organization and leaders. Guatemalan authorities have instead responded with threats, defamation, intimidation, and violence.

On June 12th of this year José Tavico Tzunun, a member of the CPK who hosted meetings at his home, was assassinated by armed gunmen who broke into his house after midnight. A few days previous to the attack he had received a phone message that threatened: “If you continue to bring people together for meetings, you will pay the consequences…”

On June 26th Lolita, in representation of the CPK, presented a formal accusation against the mayor of Quiché, Estuardo Castro, for “abuse of power, racial discrimination, arrogance and authoritarianism, exclusion and marginalization” in his dealings with the indigenous communities. She also denounced a death threat against another community leader, Gaspar Tipaz Gómez, for his participation in the protests. Lolita added: “We hold the mayor and the municipal government responsible for anything that happens to us or our families.”

The Attack against Lolita

Around 4:15pm on July, 4, Lolita and other women were returning home from a peaceful gathering in Santa Cruz del Quiché to protest Mayor Castro’s blatant disregard for the opinions and proposals of the indigenous communities. When they arrived at the community of Xatinap Quinto La Laguna their bus was intercepted by eight people armed with knives, rocks, machetes, and other sharp objects. The assailants shouted “Mayor Castro is in charge here and we’re here to do the mayor’s justice.” They demanded that Lolita be handed over to them. When the community members refused, the mob threw rocks at the bus and forced three women and a child off the bus.

One woman, age 20, had her arms held behind her back while being beaten with a piece of wood. She also received a knife cut to her right wrist. Another woman, age 40, had her left eye scratched and her blouse torn. The third woman, 52, had her lip split open and her front teeth shattered when struck in the face by a rock. The 11 year-old girl had her left ankle fractured by another thrown rock.

Lolita avoided falling into the hands of the attackers because the bus driver decided to make a break for it and escape. Lolita immediately contacted the police, who took nearly half an hour to arrive on the scene. Once there, the officers instantly sided with the attackers saying that Lolita and the other members of the K’iche’ People’s Council were “delinquents and agitators” and that the authorities were “tired of having to listen to all of their demands.”

The tense situation was only diffused by the arrival of ambulances to attend to the injured women. None of the assailants was detained or arrested. In fact, in a perverse distortion of justice, the attackers claim that they were the victims and have filed charges against Lolita and the others. While absurd, these bogus charges could likely result in arrest warrants for Lolita and others.

Also troubling are reports from El Quiché that Lolita’s name is being disparaged during “official” news broadcasts on the local radio station accusing her of provoking disturbances in the area, an obvious attempt to criminalize her activism.

GHRC’s Concerns

GHRC laments that this incident is just the latest in a series of violent attacks against human rights defenders, particularly those defending the collective rights of indigenous communities to self-determination and the protection of their natural resources and the environment.

GHRC calls on the Guatemalan government to fully guarantee the safety and security of Lolita Chavez and the other members of the Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’.

GHRC calls on the Public Ministry to transfer the case of the murder of José Tavico Tzunun to the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor, to guarantee that the investigation take into account the relevant human rights elements surrounding his assassination.

GHRC calls on the Interior Ministry to investigate the conduct of the police officers in the aftermath of the attack, in particular their refusal to arrest those responsible for this crime.

GHRC calls on the Mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiché and his municipal government to engage in honest dialogue with the participation of independent observers, to attend to the just demands of the communities and to immediately cease any and all actions designed to provoke division, discord and violence amongst the communities.

GHRC fully supports the rights of the indigenous communities of El Quiché to determine the type of development that best respects their rights and embodies their beliefs and world view. We reject the imposition of any external model that is based on exclusion and exploitation.

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