A delegation of leaders from Agua Caliente, a Maya Q’eqchi’ community in Guatemala, worked with the Center’s Washington, D.C. office in March to raise international awareness about a nickel mine that threatens to destroy their homelands. Because of the rich deposits of nickel beneath their territories, Q’eqchi’ communities are facing efforts by government agencies and the mining company to evict them from their lands. The communities’ cultural and spiritual beliefs are deeply rooted to their lands; their home territory is critical for their physical, economic, and cultural survival.
The delegation included Rodrigo Tot, the President of Agua Caliente; Carlos Pop, a Maya Q’eqchi’ attorney and local counsel for Agua Caliente; Romel Reyes, Executive Director of the Center’s partner organization AEPDI/Defensoria Q’eqchi’; and Manuel Xo Cu, Coordinator of Defensoria’s Legal Department.
The Center planned a series of meetings for the delegation with the Inter-American Commission Human Rights (Commission), U.S. government officials, and civil society organizations to raise awareness of Guatemala’s failure to enforce the Constitutional Court’s February 2011 ruling recognizing the Agua Caliente community’s land rights and of the escalating violence and threats against the community, including the murder of one of Rodrigo Tot’s sons last October. The murder prompted the Commission to grant precautionary measures to protect Rodrigo, Carlos Pop, and their families. A working meeting with the Commission and the State of Guatemala to discuss the implementation of the needed safeguards was a focal point of the delegation’s week in Washington, D.C.
The meeting with the Commission was an important opportunity to again ask the Commission to grant collective precautionary measures to protect the entire community of Agua Caliente. The Center made concrete suggestions on how such measures could reasonably be implemented by the State of Guatemala. These discussions are on-going, but the Center and community leaders are optimistic that the Commission will eventually agree that collective measures to protect the entire community are needed.
The Q’eqchi’ leaders also met with the U.S. Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Congressman Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa. In addition to the Agua Caliente case, the delegation also discussed the escalating violence against indigenous peoples throughout Guatemala. The Center and the Q’eqchi’ delegation were encouraged by the Congressman’s and Lantos Commission’s great interest and their willingness to help bring the particular situation of the Agua Caliente community to the attention of the highest levels of United States government.
The Center will keep these various entities informed and provide additional information about the Agua Caliente case and human rights violations facing other indigenous nations in Guatemala.
We are also thankful to Indian Country Today for covering the Maya Q’eqchi’ delegation’s visit, you can view the story here.