Monday, November 29, 2010

Local Voices Unite in Music, Justice, Equality and Peace

Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network launches holiday "Singing Solidarity" CD fundraiser

HALIFAX, NOVEMBER 2010 - Maritime artists are notorious for their generosity to their communities. "Singing Solidarity," a CD in support of the work of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS), highlights Maritime artists' generosity to the global community, and to the people who are working locally to build a network of support and strength between Atlantic Canadians and Latin Americans.

"This CD not only supports the work of a local organization, but is also a beautiful collection of songs to have around for the holidays," says Kathryn Anderson of BTS. BTS is launching the CD in time for the holidays, in hopes that Maritimers will take the opportunity to support good work while shopping for friends and family this time of year.

"Singing Solidarity" features the voices of Lennie Gallant, Tara MacLean, Scott Parsons and Nancy White from Prince Edward Island; Coco Love Alcorn, Wilf Bean, Four the Moment, Cheryl Gaudet, Shauntay Grant, and Old Man Leudecke from Nova Scotia; Border Crossing, Cesar Morales and RA Lautenschlager from New Brunswick; and Carolyn McDade whose sings with performers from all over Canada and the US.

The CD is a compilation of songs and spoken word pieces from these artists, all of whom have donated a recording to the project. The voices speak of the love of a land and its rivers, and the rending and violence of a people separated from their land and water. They speak of individual and collective resistance, solidarity, dignity, hope and affirmation, and they evoke a commitment to justice, equality and peace.

“Contributing to this CD is an important way for me to say we are all connected as citizens in the world," says Wilf Bean. "In many ways, Guatemala is not very far away. We all need to be aware of how our actions affect those less powerful. It is also a way of celebrating while we work in solidarity for a more just, caring and sustainable world!”

All proceeds from sales of this CD will contribute to BTS's solidarity work. The CD is available a the Tatamagouche Centre gift shop (902-657-2231) and can be ordered by contacting Corrie Melanson in Halifax (, Margie Loo in PEI ( and Tracy Glynn in Fredericton ( The BTS network encourages those who want to buy the CD to get their orders in early to avoid holiday mail.

Stay tuned for "Singing Solidarity" launches in your community!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Urgent Action: Trade Unionist Mateo López Shot

A Guatemalan trade unionist, Mateo López, was shot on 28 October in Catarina, San Marcos province, north-western Guatemala. He has now left the hospital, but remains at risk of further attacks. It is believed that he was targeted due to his trade union activities.

Mateo López is Secretary General of the local branch of the Health Trade Union (Sindicato de Salud) and a member of the coalition, National Front for the Struggle (Frente Nacional de Lucha - FNL). Since January 2010, he has been very active in denouncing corruption in the health service.

On 28 October, at 2am, Mateo López left his house to take a bus to Guatemala City, the capital of the country, in order to attend a general assembly of the Health Trade Union. In the agenda of the meeting, there was a talk on a corruption case which he campaigned against.

While walking towards a bus stop, a red motorbike with two men on it approached him. The man riding passenger shot him five times. Mateo López received a shot in the stomach, two shots grazed him over the right shoulder, and the final two shots grazed him in the knees. Mateo López fell to the ground. The men were about to shoot him once more, but people in neighbouring houses started to turn on their lights and make noise. The attackers escaped.

The Health Trade Union campaigns for access to public health services, while the FNL campaigns on broader themes like access to better standards of public services at affordable costs. The FNL has promoted campaigns against the high costs of electricity. In the last year, eight trade unionists belonging to the FNL have been killed. Those killings have not yet resulted in any convictions.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in Spanish or your own language.
* Call for an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the incident against Mateo López, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice.
* Urge that the authorities take immediate steps to provide appropriate protection to Mateo López and his family, in accordance with their wishes.


Acting Attorney General:

Licda. Maria Encarnación Mejía García de Contreras
Fiscal General de la República Interina
15ª Avenida 15-16, Zona 1, Barrio Gerona
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: 011 502 2411 9124
Salutation: Dear Attorney General / Estimada Sra. Fiscal General

Ministry of Interior:

Lic. Carlos Menocal
Ministro de Gobernación
6ª Avenida 13-71, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: 011 502 2413 8658
Salutation: Dear Minister / Estimado Sr. Ministro


His Excellency Georges De La Roche Plihal
Ambassador for the Republic of Guatemala
130 Albert Street, Suite 1010
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4
Fax: (613) 233-0135
Email :

Unidad de protección a defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, the Unit that protects human rights defenders:

1 Calle 7-45 zona 1, Oficina 2-b
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala

Saturday, November 13, 2010


October 26, 2010, by Kate Doyle

Edgar Fernando García was 26 years old, an engineering student, labor activist and member of the clandestine Guatemalan Workers' Party (PGT) when he was seized by police agents off a street in Guatemala City and taken away forever. His disappearance left his young wife, Nineth Montenegro de García, and an 18-month-old daughter behind. It was February 18, 1984.

On October 18, 2010, the trial of two policemen accused of participating in Fernando García's abduction began inside a crowded courtroom on the 14th floor of the "Tribunals Tower" in downtown Guatemala City.

By 9:00 a.m., when the proceedings got underway, people had filled the fifty seats available in the spectators' gallery, with those unlucky enough to have arrived late lining the walls and crowding each other in the room's single doorway.

Behind a wooden barrier separating the audience from the court, three judges sat at a table on a raised dais overlooking the scene. To their right sat the defendants and their attorneys. To their left sat the prosecution, including the García family's choice for "querellante adhesivo," or "private prosecutor": attorney Alejandra García, Fernando's daughter.

The trial is extraordinary in several ways.

First, the indictments against Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos and Abraham Lancerio Gómez - as well as two other former policemen, Alfonso Guillermo de León and Hugo Rolando Gómez Osorio, both fugitives - were the first to be based on evidence found by investigators among records inside the Historical Archive of the National Police.

Second, if the court rules against the defendants and it is upheld by the Constitutional Court, it will be the third conviction in Guatemala for forced disappearance - after the landmark Aug. 31, 2009 Choatalum decision and the El Jute ruling on Dec. 3, 2009 - and thus would establish a lasting precedent for future cases.

That means that appeals would no longer be able to be made on the grounds that "forced disappearance" is not a valid or legitimate grounds for criminal charges.


But the most interesting and groundbreaking aspect of the trial only became evident as the proceedings unfolded. Witnesses who had been called to testify about their relationship with Fernando García and events surrounding his disappearance spoke openly about his - and their own - militancy in the Guatemalan insurgent movement.

It was the first time that people willingly exposed their links to the political opposition that was the target for state repression during the country's 36-year internal armed conflict.

I joined four other expert witnesses on behalf of the prosecution. Over two days (Oct. 18-19), the experts and six witnesses presented testimony and answered questions posed by government lawyers and attorneys for the defense.

Although the men currently on trial are the agents who carried out the initial capture of Fernando García, the experts coincided strongly in their conclusions about the National Police's centralized chain of command at the time of his disappearance, as well as the key role played by the Army high command in launching the operation and coordinating their forces with the police.


My own testimony was based on U.S. declassified records produced at the time of García's disappearance by the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Guatemala (some of them have been posted on the National Security Archive's Web site).

They describe a planned campaign on the part of the Guatemalan government to kidnap and kill trade union activists and student leaders linked to the opposition. In a secret analysis written on February 23, 1984, for example, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported a "new wave of violence" launched by military and police under head of state General Oscar Mejía Víctores, targeting a broad swath of Guatemala's legal and clandestine opposition.

"Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation," wrote U.S. officials, pointing in particular to the army's "notorious presidential intelligence service (archivos)" and the National Police, "who have traditionally considered labor activists to be communists."

This and other U.S. documents provide context for Fernando García's kidnapping as well as describe a pattern and practice on the part of Guatemalan security forces to use forced disappearance in their war against their political opponents.

Daniel Guzmán, a statistician from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group of California-based Benetech, followed me as an expert witness, introducing the records contained in the Historical Archive of the National Police with a statistical analysis of the quantity and movement of documents found in the collection.

According to Guzmán, documents concerning the Fernando García case flowed between entities high in the chain of police command (such as the Director's office, the Police Corps commanders and the Joint Operations Center) at twice the rate that occurred within the estimated 31 million records produced by the National Police between 1960 and 1996, the years of the armed civil conflict.

His conclusions helped define the universe of police records consulted in the investigation into the crime and offered supporting evidence of the involvement of senior police and military structures in the planning, design, orders and oversight of the operation that resulted in García's abduction.

The most extensive and important expert testimony of the day, however, came from the Police Archive's own investigator, Velia Muralles Bautista. Muralles described and displayed on a screen set up inside the courtroom images of some of the key records found in the police archive related to the crime. Her presentation provided chilling bureaucratic details behind the "cleansing operation" (operación de limpieza) launched by the army high command and National Police on the day of Fernando García's kidnapping.

As Muralles walked the judges through dozens of records leading up to and including the day of the disappearance, everyone present was able to examine projections of the surveillance files tracking García's movements beginning in 1978; intelligence reports describing CAVISA, the trade union he belonged to, as a subversive organization; orders sent by the army general staff to prepare for the operation in January and February 1984; records from the Joint Operations Center (Centro de Operaciones Conjuntas: COC) commanding which units would be involved; and a hand-drawn map of Guatemala City, with Zone 11 - the area where García and his companion, Danilo Chinchilla, were captured - assigned to the Fourth Corps of the National Police.

The document with the most immediate impact on the proceedings was a recommendation from the National Police hierarchy that the defendants - Ramírez Ríos, Lancerio Gómez, and the two fugitive police agents - be considered for a medal for their heroic actions on the day, at the time, and in the place of the capture of Edgar Fernando García and Danilo Chinchilla: "On February 18, 1984, at 11:00 a.m., while carrying out an Operation in the Guard's Market, Zone 11, they were attacked by two subversives, from whom they seized subversive propaganda and firearms."

The testimony given by Muralles was extraordinary in the depth of its analysis, and established beyond doubt the firm control in the hands of the most senior officers of Guatemala's army and police institutions of the operation that ended with Fernando García's disappearance.

In addition to the experts, six witnesses gave heartrending testimony about their relationship to García and their knowledge of the crime. Nineth Montenegro de García, today a representative in the Guatemalan Congress, spoke about her last day with her husband and described how the terrible realization that he had disappeared dawned on her and his relatives as night fell and he failed to show up for a family party.

Her reaction was to mobilize and begin combing the city for Fernando. "I filed a habeas corpus request the next day. I spoke to Héctor Bol de la Cruz, Director of the National Police. I spoke with the commanders of the police corps. I looked in jails, I spoke to firemen [famous in Guatemala for retrieving bodies from the city's streets], I visited institutions for the disabled. I contacted Mejía Víctores directly. So many other friends and colleagues had been disappeared under his government. I went to Mejía Víctores with my daughter in my arms and I begged him to help me. I went to the United Nations. I wanted him back alive."

Montenegro went on to found the Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo: GAM), Guatemala's first human rights organization.

Another of GAM's co-founders, Doña Amelia García, Fernando's 83-year-old mother, also appeared as a witness. After waiting patiently for hours for her turn, Doña Amelia gave the court a glimpse of the suffering endured by the families of the disappeared. "I feel a mother's pain in waiting for news about her son every day, every week, every year - and still living with hope. I wait for a response from the people who took him. But I have never received a response from anyone."

Marina Villagrán gave a moving psycho-social evaluation of the "lingering anguish" of forced disappearance on the families left behind, and specifically addressed its impact on the relatives of Fernando García.

She explained that the target of the disappearance is society: "it creates an enormous fear and mistrust within society. One thinks, 'if this could happen to him, it could happen to me.' And that produces in turn an absolute paralysis on political participation."

Ana Lucrecia Molina Theissen, whose 14-year-old brother was disappeared in 1981, was the person Fernado and Danilo Chinchilla were on their way to meet when they were seized by police. It was Molina Theissen who first told the court of García's militancy: "We were members of the Guatemalan Workers' Party (Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajadores: PGT)."

Her testimony was an astonishingly brave and open acknowledgement of the political activities that she, García and Chinchilla were involved in. To a hushed courtroom, she recounted how she arrived late to her planned rendezvous with the two men and found them gone. It was only the next day that she learned what had happened. "It was a very hard blow," she told the judges.

When asked by the prosecution what the objectives of the PGT were, she explained simply that "The goals of the party were to construct a just, supportive and democratic society, in which all would share in the benefits of the country."

"Did you ever consider yourself to be a combatant?" asked the government lawyer. "Combatant, that means armed, participating in an armed group. No. We were militants." Molina Theissen explained how she and her companions were targeted by the State as "internal enemies": "in the sense that the State considered anyone who criticized the government an internal enemy. To oppose the government was an illegal act for the State."

Other witnesses contributed their accounts of García's political work. Ruth del Valle, current President of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, talked about how PGT members operated in small, clandestine groups to organize people. "We believed we could achieve justice and create a Guatemala in which all could live in peace in a socialist nation - because we embraced the socialist ideology. Despite the persecution and despite all the colleagues we had lost, we remained convinced that this was possible."

Bethy Palacios, a friend of Fernando's and fellow PGT member, told of working with Nineth after his kidnapping to investigate the crime. "Even then we ran the risk of being targeted as terrorists or subversives for the work we were doing. It wasn't like today; you couldn't express yourself freely as you can now."

Witnesses Iduvina Hernández and Aura Elena Farfán described a missing piece of the puzzle of that day in telling of the fate of Fernando's companion, Danilo Chinchilla. Although both men were shot by police when they tried to flee the marketplace, Fernando was spirited away in an unmarked car while Danilo was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

Hernández played for the court an audio tape of an interview conducted with Chinchilla days after incident. In it, he recounts in minute detail how the operation unfolded, as police agents and armed men in civilian clothing swarmed around the two in the middle of the crowded street. After Chinchilla was transported to Hospital Roosevelt, he lay wounded in a bed surrounded by his captors.

In fear for his life, he managed to smuggle out a note to a companion begging to be rescued. The nurse who carried the note for him was Farfán. She gave it to her brother, Ruben Amilcar, who successfully organized a rescue operation with the help of some of the hospital staff. Ruben himself was disappeared months later, on May 15.

Danilo, who survived his first encounter with the police, was recaptured and killed later that year, along with his companion.

After ten hours of wrenching testimony, the judges called a recess until the following day. We reassembled in the courtroom on Tuesday to hear the final two experts, Rember Larios - a former member of the National Police who added his own assessment of the police records and their implications for the senior tier of police and military officials involved in the crime - and Fernando López, who gave his expert analysis of habeas corpus law at the time of García's disappearance.

Thus ended the first phase of the Fernando García trial. The trial resumes this morning with the last witnesses to present and the lawyers' arguments. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Human Rights Accompaniment Training: June 2011

We will be hosting our next accompanier training, June 11-14, 2011 at the
Tatamagouche Centre, NS and we are eager to get the word out and recruit for
the new round of accompanier applicants.

Our best recruiters and 'word-spreaders' have been the BTS network, so
please consider flyering for us at your local schools, universities,
cooperatives, collectives, bookstores, etc. Please see the attached poster to
print and post; and please forward this e-mail far and wide to your networks.

The deadline for EXPRESSION OF INTEREST is March 31, 2011. You can find
the application information here: (see Become An Accompanier link on the right).

Please forward on (or check out the info yourself!) to those who may be

*** Some background information:

Currently, BTS accompaniers support ACOGUATE as they accompany individuals and organizations in several regions of the country whose work encompasses themes around impunity, security and justice, land rights and self-determination. This includes the on-going accompaniment of the members of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), who are witnesses to the massacres and violence of the genocidal period of the late 70s and early 80s, community organizations struggling against mining and hydroelectric projects on their land and human rights organizations challenging endemic impunity and corruption within the Guatemalan state. The requests for accompaniment from these groups are evaluated and responded to by ACOGUATE’s Guatemala City-based accompaniment team which represents 10 different international solidarity and human rights organizations from North America and Europe.

BTS accompaniers have provided human rights accompaniment to the witnesses
and human rights organizations working on the genocide cases since their
inception in 2000. It is extremely important to continue this work. If you
are interested in becoming an accompanier or taking the human rights
accompaniment training which is an excellent training for anyone interested
in human rights work, please contact Janelle the BTS accompaniment

“Have a Fair Trade Christmas” campaign launched

Two local social justice groups have joined forces to launch the province’s first Fair Trade Christmas campaign.

The “Have a Fair Trade Christmas” campaign is aimed at encouraging shoppers to consider gifts that are ethically produced, environmental sustainable, and the workers receive fair wages for their work.

Rick McDaniel is director of International programming at the YMCA and founder of Culture’s Boutique - the city’s first fair trade store, located in downtown Fredericton.

“What sets Culture’s Boutique apart is not just the unique products from around the world, but that we ensure that the artisans are paid fairly and that labor conditions are safe and non-exploitative,” said McDaniel. “The purchases by Cultures are also guided by the principle that the raw materials used to make the items sold are harvested in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. “

Culture’s Boutique has teamed up with the local Chapter of the Martime-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) for the campaign. In 2001, BTS launched its own of brand of Breaking the Silence coffee, to support a cooperative of small farmers in Guatemala by creating a market in the Maritimes for their dark roast, organic coffee. The coffee is roasted by Just Us coffee in Nova Scotia.

“It has been a difficult year for our partners in Guatemala because of severe flooding and landslides. Many families have lost their homes and community buildings,” says BTS member Valerie Kilfoil. “One of the ways we can all make a difference is by using our buying power to support fair trade. Our partners in Guatemala do not want hand outs. They want a sustainable livelihood based on fairness and respect. That is what fair trade is based on.”

Kilfoil said the idea for the “Have a Fair Trade Christmas campaign” came about because of the current situation of their partners in Guatemala. “The situation is quite desperate in some areas where they need rebuild their communities. So the more coffee we sell, the more they earn. And this coffee is not only delicious, but it makes really great stocking stuffers or Christmas gifts for those hard to buy for people.”

Teaming up with Culture’s Boutique, which also has its own Honduran Solidarity Blend of coffee roasted by Just Us, offers shoppers a wide selection of fair trade projects. Culture’s offers unique jewellery, clothing, decorations, handicrafts and other gift ideas from around the world

The two organizations have set up a FairtradeNB Facebook site where different products and special offers will be featured between now and Christmas. BTS will be offering a special $10 Christmas gift bag of one 12 oz bag of Breaking the Silence organic, dark roast coffee (ground or beans) and one fair trade chocolate bar (organic dark or milk chocolate).

Please visit the Facebook site for more information!


Glorious, delicious BTS coffee (ground and whole bean) for sale!

$10 a bag... that beats the store price these days and over $3 per bag goes to human rights accompaniment.

So how can you go wrong? With the chilly days of fall here, birthdays, work parties, and the holidays just around the corner order your "Justice in a Cup" coffee as soon as possible!

Please e-mail directly:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Guatemala’s New Civil Conflict: The Case of Ramiro Choc

Aug 30 2010
Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens

On February 14, 2008 six police officers pulled community leader Ramiro Choc from a public bus to Guatemala City, detained him, and took him to an unknown location. In the seconds before the police reached him, Choc had called his lawyer — a call he believed saved his life. Choc, a Q’eqchi’ community leader, has been fighting for indigenous people’s land rights in Guatemala’s volatile departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal since the 1990s. His story illustrates both the tension and boisterous mobilization of the people around land and natural resource issues in this area of Guatemala. To this mobilization, the Guatemalan government is responding by criminalizing peasant leaders, militarizing regions slated for development projects, and using environmental “protected areas” to exclude indigenous people. This combination of ingredients has become the core of Guatemala’s new civil conflict.

The federal government arrested Choc on trumped up charges of occupying and stealing land, aggravated robbery, and illegal detention. He has now been sentenced to six years in prison in a case in which Guatemala’s National Police provided most of the testimony against him. The accusations came after he mediated a land dispute between an indigenous community and a powerful landowner, when called in by the governor of the department of Izabal as a moral authority. Most likely, however, it wasn’t Choc’s mediation skills that landed him in prison, it was his years of community activism.

This is nothing new for Guatemala’s indigenous leaders, who systematically face harassment and criminalization when they fight to protect their land, resources, and way of life. The Unidad de Defensores/as de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala (UDEFGUA) reports 592 cases of criminalization of defenders of human rights between 2004 and 2009. In 2004, a law established “aggravated usurpation [of land]” as a criminal offense punishable by two to six years in prison, opening the door for these cases. Since the passage of the 2004 law, large landowners have worked with national and multinational corporations and local political authorities to denounce “invaders,” which almost always are people from indigenous, rural, and economically poor communities, and then work in concert to displace these communities from their land. This is how Guatemala’s new resource conflict is executed.

Alta Verapaz and Izabal, where Choc has been working actively for the past two decades to restore land to indigenous communities, together represent nearly half of these cases. These departments are at the core of inextricably linked development projects that include the construction of the Franja Transversal del Norte (FTN) a highway that, when its construction is finished, will run from Mexico to Colombia, traversing the region where mining, petroleum, and hydroelectric dams are concentrated in Guatemala. The FTN also will run through the Technological Corridor Project (CTG) a $12 billion private initiative supported by USAID to link Guatemala’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts through two new ports in Izabal and Jutiapa, a four-lane highway, cargo rail, an international airport, and inter-oceanic oil and gas pipelines. (Business News Americas Feb. 12, 2010) Although the government presents these transportation innovations as means to benefit the indigenous communities that dominate these regions, they are principally designed to provide transport for the products of the rising number of mega-projects being developed along the FTN.

In Alta Verapaz and Izabal these mega-projects include hydroelectric dams, petroleum exploitation, mining, and export agriculture. Choc is only one of the thousands of Q’eqchi’ people in these departments actively mobilizing to stop or delay “development projects.” The successes have been important and startling, and most likely are the motive behind new governmental strategies used against activist communities.

In the Ixcán, 144 communities came together in 2007 for a non-binding popular consultation regarding Xalalá, a hydroelectric dam central to Guatemala’s development programs. Nineteen thousand of the 21,155 who took part in the consultation opposed the dam, leading to the withdrawal of international funding in 2008 and a hold on the project. In San Marcos, indigenous communities with the support of national unions and environmental groups engaged in massive protest and an appeal to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (CIDH) in order to stop Canadian Gold Corp/Marlin Mines from mining exploitation. The CIDH supported their appeal and this month, the government conceded and stopped mining operations, which have grossly contaminated water, land, and air, leading to birth defects and illness among Maya residents of the municipalities of Sipacapa y San Miguel Ixtahuacán. In San Juan Sacatepequez, Maya communities are providing to “Cementos Progreso,” a private company that has a monopoly on the manufacture of cement in Guatemala, which is working to establish a cement factory in the area. The factory would have a devastating environmental impact, primarily dust pollution.

Indigenous communities have been so successful at organizing, that CGN, a Nickel Mining subsidiary of Canadian HudBay Resources, whose Fenix Project dominates the department of Izabal, has included a statement in its annual report to shareholders asserting that “uncertain land tenure for many indigenous people, could have adverse effects on the Fenix Project. Such adverse effects could result from the local populations encroaching on Fenix Project land, challenging the boundaries of such land, impeding Fenix Project activities through roadblocks or other public manifestations or attacking Fenix Project assets or personnel.” (Hudbay Minerals Annual Information Form, March 31, 2009 at In other words, these mobilizations have become a threat to foreign investment, and the Guatemalan government is aware of this.

In July, Guatemala’s president Alvaro Colom renewed a 15-year petroleum-extraction contract for Perenco, a French company drilling in the center of the Laguna del Tigre national park, a protected area in Guatemala’s northern jungles in the Petén. Ominously, the contract included the condition that the company provide $5 million to support six newly established military bases of “Green Batallions” in the Petén to guard the “protected areas” by ensuring that they contained no “illegal settlements.” The “illegal settlements” are often indigenous communities that have been declared “invaders” and expelled because of the “environmental degradation” they might cause.

In addition to re-establishing military bases in the Petén, Colom’s government has announced plans to re-establish military bases in the Ixcán, San Marcos, Izabal, and Rabinal,Baja Verapaz. These are the very regions devastated by military repression and massacres during Guatemala’s thirty-six year armed conflict (1960-1996). Opening military bases in a country where a civil war killed 200,000 people (93% attributed to the army) seems to be a strong political statement with implicit threats. Significantly, these are the regions where the new mega-projects associated with the FTN are being established. The government argues that it is responding to community demands for protection against “delinquency,” but indigenous leaders argue that those appeals come from the ladino-dominated urban centers of the departments with ties to political and economic interests, while most rural Maya communities oppose re-militarization.

Militarized zones, like the “Green Batallions” in the Petén, strengthen the government’s ability to expel “invaders.” In Livingston, Izabal, the site of the conflict that led to Ramiro Choc’s imprisonment, the situation is especially acute. Powerful national and multinational companies (including Perenco), large local landowners, politicians, and drug traffickers all seek to control land.

Choc’s situation illustrates the risks of activism in Guatemala. He has been intimately involved in these struggles working with the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), the Coordinadora Nacional Indigena y Campesina (CONIC), the Catholic Church, and later with a group called Campesino Encounter to help indigenous communities restore legal control over their land in Izabal and Alta Verapaz. Guatemala’s El Periódico reports that of the 132 land conflicts in Izabal, authorities identify 15 as “illegal occupation.” Campesino Encounter is engaged in five of those 15 cases, and has been less willing to “settle” when landed interests demand that Q’eqchi’ communities abandon their ancestral lands.

If Choc is forced to complete his prison term of six years, his experience of the land he has devoted his life to defending will be reduced to tending the Jacaranda and Chico trees that he has been allowed to cultivate in his prison Section’s “courtyard.” As Sergio Manfredo Beltetón, an attorney for CUC representing Choc, concluded, Ramiro Choc is identified as a political prisoner for the simple reason that if he were not a leader, he would not be in prison. One method the government is using to resolve peasant conflicts with powerful economic interests, concluded Beltetón, is through criminal prosecution. It is the “criminalization of the peasant struggle.”