The murder of two Mayan children by an employee of a contested hydroelectric plant sparked a lynching in Guatemala and activists are now calling for protection and help in seeking justice for the victims.
Indigenous activists are charging that the murderer was an employee of the Santa Rita Hydroelectric Company which has faced community opposition to the building of a plant on the Dolores River near the Mayan Q'eqchi community of Monte Olivo, in the town of Coban.
Activists are also saying that the intended target of the assassination, activist David Chen, who is also the uncle of the murdered boys, had just recently avoided being kidnapped by assailants dressed as police officers. On the day of the murder, Chen was meeting with Dinah Shelton, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
On August 23, in Monte Olivo, it is alleged that Guillermo Pacay Bol came to the residence of Chen, did not find him there and then shot 13 year-old Ageo Isaac Maas Guitz in the trachea and 11-year-old David Estuardo Pacay Mass in the head.
Both children were rushed to local hospitals but died within four days of the shooting, on August 27, as a result of the wounds.
According to various sources, community members detained Bol right after the shooting and not long afterwards beat him to death.
On the same day of the deaths of the children, a group of 17 indigenous and human rights organizations issued a press statement about the murders, the 3-year history of the conflict between the communities, the government and the hydroelectric plant company, the continued harassment of anti-hydroelectric plant leaders and the need for justice.
“We hold responsible the Hidro Santa Rita SA Company and the government for violating the rights of the population and provoking conflict in the area. … and the attack against the children happened because the company hired a gang member to carry out the attack.”
“The death of the children,” the statement continued, “demonstrates the disinterest and indifference of the Guatemalan State and its different organs and entities to listen to and resolve. … the needs and the decisions of the communities.”
The activists further alleged that men dressed as police officers arrived at Chen’s office on August 14, stating that he had to accompany them to a judge in Coban. The supposed police could not produce an arrest warrant and attempted to remove Chen from his office but were stopped by nearby community members who defended him.
According to the statement signed by organizations such as the Committee of Rural Unity (CRU), the Grand Council of Mayan, Garifuna and Xinca Ancestral Authorities, the Guatemalan Front of Those Threatened and Affected by Dams asserted that the mostly Mayan communities in the region had consistently opposed the building of the plant starting in 2010 and that the Santa Rita Hydrolectric Company and various Guatemalan government officials had engaged in political persecutions against leaders.
The signers of the group statement as well as other organizations like the Mayan Attorneys and Notaries of Guatemala Association have called on the Public Ministry and human rights organizations to investigate the murders and to prosecute all involved.
Organizations such as the United States based Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) have been advocating on behalf of rural and indigenous communities in struggles similar to the one facing the Maya Q’eqchi people of Monte Olivo. GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones stated that the murder of the Mayan children follows a pattern seen in other conflicts in Guatemala.
“The companies often use their private security as private armies or hit men, or they pay off other community members to attack local human rights defenders. These attacks occur with almost total impunity, although pressure from national and international organizations has led to some investigations and prosecutions,” Alford-Jones asserted.
Along with the many Guatemalan and international organizations that have condemned the murders and the persecution the IACHR has also released a press statement noting how the communities do not trust the government’s handling of their complaints or honoring their rights.
“The Inter-American Commission understands that the lack of confidence of this indigenous community in the State’s security forces is related to a longstanding high level of impunity. The Commission calls on the Guatemalan authorities to work in agreement with the community of Monte Olivo in order to establish effective mechanisms to guarantee that the material and intellectual authors face justice, safeguarding at all times the rights and integrity of the community and its members.”
“In addition, the circumstances and timing of this attack raise concerns that there may be elements within society seeking to intimidate or retaliate against members of indigenous communities who speak to the Commission’s Rapporteurship during its visit to Guatemala.”
“It is deeply worrying that a tragedy like this took place during the visit, with our presence in the area. We will be closely monitoring the actions to be adopted with great attention,” said Rapporteur Shelton.