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Guatemala: Wave of Attacks Against Female Activists

The intensity of violence against female activists is on the rise in Guatemala. Lolita Chavez, member of the K’iche’ People’s Council, was attacked by armed men who attempted to lynch her as she was returning home after a peaceful protest against abusive extractive practices and projects affecting the environment. Photojournalist James Rodriguez from Mimundo.org explains:

During the morning of the 4th, roughly 400 residents of Quiché, along with members of the CPK, carried out a peaceful protest denouncing local mayor Estuardo Castro’s continuous arrogance and his lack of respect for the people’s refusal to sell their lands to transnational corporations, as proved during the 2010 community consultation.

As the protesters passed the community of Xetinap Quinto, a group of men armed with machetes, sticks and knives intercepted members of the CPK and proceeded to chase and beat several of them. These armed men were particularly interested in recognized leader Lolita Chávez, as they called out her name, chased her, and did manage to injure her, but not seriously. Lolita received cuts and bruises but managed to escape. Nevertheless, three other women were hospitalized due to injuries.

Lolita Chavez by James Rodriguez from MiMundo.org, used with permission

Two weeks ago, in an area close to Guatemala City, Yolanda Oquelí Veliz, a human rights lawyer and leader of a movement against the expansion of mining activities, was also attacked when returning from a pacific protest. The blog FrontlineDefenders reports:

Yolanda is a woman human rights defender in San Jose de Gulfo who is a community leader resisting the Exmigua mine. From everything we've heard, from all sides, mining of minerals such as gold and silver, sand and alloys is a huge issue in Guatemala. Generally the community affected is not consulted. No objective information or public process of consultation takes place to allay fears about damage to the environment; whether the rivers will be polluted; whether the forests will be felled and thus their water supply compromised; and also, what will happen after the mining licence expires and the environment needs to be repaired and rebuilt.

Yolanda Veliz, by James Rodriguez from MiMundo.org, used with permission.

They add:

Yoly (as she wrote her name) has a history of intimidation because of her work. Her lawyer (pro bono) has lodged roughly 10 complaints through the legal process. She has been tear-gassed; graffiti had been written on her walls and threats against her and her children have been significant. Despite this, the Government to date has been mute.

Different networks issued Urgent Actions but the Government has not responded with the requested protection for the activists. Furthermore, civil society has been extremely quiet about the crimes.

Lolita Chavez, by James Rodriguez from MiMundo.org, used with permission.

The defenselessness of citizens directly affected by transnational energy and extractive companies is more visible than ever. However, the apathy shown by media and educated civil society in Guatemala is a sign of the normalization of violence. Traditional media, which labels most acts of dissent as “terrorism,” has given more coverage to arguments in favor of these foreign investments, ignoring the danger faced by activists and citizens who oppose them.

The growing number of attacked human rights defenders, both in urban and rural areas, has been met with silence, rather than adequate responses, from the authorities.

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