Extractive industry and conservation projects are threatening the Maya Q’eqchi’ communities’ special relationship to their traditional lands and resources in Guatemala. For more than 40 years, the Agua Caliente community has worked for the recognition of its land rights while faced with threats to their human rights, including forced evictions from their traditional lands to make way for nickel exploitation. On behalf of Agua Caliente, the Center has taken legal actions at the domestic and international level to ensure such recognition, prevent harm to the environment by extractive industry projects, and protect the life of community leaders. In early 2011, the highest court of Guatemala made a precedent-setting decision recognizing the community’s land ownership and ordering Guatemala’s executive branch to take all corrective actions necessary to properly title Agua Caliente’s lands. Due to lack of enforcement of the decision, the Center has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Guatemala in mid-2011. We continue to represent Agua Caliente in this international proceeding to secure strong measures to protect Maya lands and resources.
The creation of “protected areas” poses a second threat to the Maya Q’eqchi’s rights of self-determination and ownership of their lands and natural resources. These protected areas—some proposed and some already established—transfer the control and management of lands from the Q’eqchi’ to private/public institutions, most of which are non-governmental conservation organizations. We presented this information at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in March 2008. We have since developed legal arguments to support indigenous control of such protected areas, drawing upon environmental law and human rights law and, most importantly, maintaining an indigenous point of view. Relevant research and findings have been included into one of our most recent publications on this matter: Conservation and Indigenous Peoples in Mesoamerica: A Guide. We continue to work with the indigenous leaders of these communities to monitor the situation and develop a plan of action.