Take Action NOW to Free Q’eqchi’ Political Prisoner Abelino Chub!
April 19, 2018 update: Disgusting but not surprising outcome of today’s hearing that SHOULD HAVE led to Abelino’s freedom after over a year in prison… the hearing was postponed because the representative of the business making fraudulent accusations against him sent in a doctor’s note saying that he was sick and couldn’t attend. So Abelino will remain in prison, despite the fact that EVEN THE PROSECUTION HAS SAID THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AGAINST HIM AND HE SHOULD BE RELEASED. Please join our urgent action list by sending an email with the subject “Add to Action Alert List” to firstname.lastname@example.org in order to receive updates on future actions in support of freedom for Abelino Chub.
April 18, 2018
Tomorrow, April 19, our longtime friend Abelino Chub has a hearing that could result in his being granted freedom after over a year in prison. For over a decade Chub has worked courageously in our partner communities and as a result was imprisoned by the Guatemalan government. Please take action NOW by sending an email to the US State Department – it’s quick and easy and a sample text is below.
The following information including sample email is from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (ghrc-usa.org):
Please send an email to the State Department’s Guatemala desk asking they closely monitor the hearing tomorrow, April 19, to determine if Abelino Chub will be released from prison, and that they communicate concern for the case to the Guatemalan government.
Abelino, wrongfully imprisoned for over a year, is one of dozens of indigenous and poor land rights defenders who are facing malicious prosecution as retribution for defense of community land rights. 2015 Alice Zackmann awardee Prensa Comunitara estimates 750 malicious prosections are ongoing in Guatemala. In light of the growing crisis, human rights organizations and a United Nations agency have asked the Guatemalan Attorney General’s office to sign directives to provide guidance to prosecutors in the malicious prosecution of human rights defenders. This would facilitate sanctions for those who engage in malicious prosection. Such a directive has yet to be signed.
The Fundacion Guillermo Toriello (FGT) is a co-petitioner with GHRC and the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) in a petition for protective measures and a petition for violation of Q’eqchi land rights currently before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Abelino and the FGT worked closely with GHRC on the IACHR petitions. On January 17, Maria Choc, who GHRC hosted in a 2011 speaking tour, was arrested on similar charges.
Below is sample text for the State Department, and below that you will find an action alert that provides an in depth description of the Abelino’s case.
Sample Text: Urgent Action to the U.S. State Department
I write to ask that you closely monitor the hearing tomorrow, April 19, of human rights defender Abelino Chub, who is imprisoned without sufficient evidence because of false allegations made by a company interested in taking Q’eqchi land, and communicate concern for the case to the Guatemalan government.
Dozens of Q’eqchi defenders face malicious prosecution, while threats and violence against indigenous land rights defenders in the region go without investigation. Please tell the Guatemalan government that United States cannot continue to promote investment where fundamental human rights are not respected.
– Please send a similar email to the Guatemala Desk Officer at the State Department: email@example.com
Interview in Spanish with Abelino Chub Caal:
Act Now: Political Prisoner Abelino Chub, land rights defender in the Polochic Valley
14 months after his wrongful arrest, a hearing tomorrow, April 19, will decide if the Q’eqchi land rights defender will be released from prison
Ten years after he began working with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation (FGT), Abelino Chub Caal, a young Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ man had become a well-marked target for the economic interests in the area where his work was focused. Bilingual and university educated, the FGT Technical and Social Promoter had been accompanying indigenous communities near Lake Izabal and the Polochic River basin in Guatemala’s north-east region in the struggle for recognition of their land rights.
“This is an area known for land grabbing for large single crop plantations, diverting rivers for hydroelectric projects and nickel mining exploitation; activities imposed by companies without the least amount of consultation as is required by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization,” wrote the FGT in a written statement.
Abelino Chub Caal was detained on February 4, 2017 in San Pedro Carcha, Alta Verapaz accused of aggravated robbery, arson, illicit association, use of coercion, and belonging to illegal armed groups. The accusations were made by the “Inversiones Cobra Sociedad Anónima” company, owned by the Arriaza family, after an October 26, 2016 eviction in a farm called Plan Grande. According to a written statement released by CUC (the National Campesino’s Union) more than 1800 National Civil Police (PNC) officers evicted 88 families, burning their homes to the ground, while some community members suffered injuries. The eviction occurred while a central government dialog process to resolve the land rights dispute was ongoing, a dialog in which Abelino was advising the small farmers. Abelino also faces charges related to occupation of the “El Murcielago” farm owned by the same company.
“The public prosecutors arrive, the large landholder tells them their allegations and they take it as truth. The Prosecutor’s Office and Court in Puerto Barrios has been co-opted by businessmen, ” says Jorge Macias from the FGT.
Local authorities and large landholders assert the Q’eqchi maya were illegally occupying the land, though area residents affirm that the land they were living on was rightfully theirs and that the African Palm and banana plantations had encroached on their land leading to tensions, which Abelino was helping mediate in a central government sponsored dialog. Plan Grande is registered in El Estor municipal Indigenous Community Legal Status registry.
In the initial hearing immediately following Abelino’s arrest, charges were reduced to aggravated usurpation, arson and illicit association, but the charge of illicit association meant Abelino would have to await trial in prison. Hoping for more independent prosecutors, his lawyers were able to secure the transfer of the case to the Human Rights Prosecutors office in Guatemala City. At a hearing to formalize the charges on June 5, 2017, the Guatemala City based prosecutors asked the local Puerto Barrios judge Edgar Anibal Arteago Lopez to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. In a highly unusual ruling the judge charged Abelino despite the prosecutors move to dismiss, ordering Abelino to remain in preventative detention.
Abelino’s lawyers were then able to transfer the case to the High Risk Court “A” in Guatemala City, one of a few courts especially protected to prevent undue pressure from threats and bribes, where they hope to have a better chance to fight the charges. Even so, Judge Claudette Dominguez, who will now decide whether or not Abelino will face trial, has a dubious record of sending indigenous land defenders to trial based on little evidence as happened in 2016 when Ancestral Authorities from northern Huehuetenango, Rigoberto Juárez Mateo y Domingo Baltazar, were forced to face trial for crimes they didn’t commit.
Over a year after his arrest, Abelino Chub Caal is being held in Guatemala City’s preventive prison in zone 18. The father of three has intermittent contact with his family and colleagues.
Jovita Tzul, who is part of Abelino’s defense team, describes three possible outcomes in hearing scheduled for Thursday, April 19. All charges could be dismissed. The charge of illicit association could be dismissed, allowing Abelino to await trial on other charges in his home. Or the judge could rule to send Abelino to trial for all three existing charges, which could mean another year in prison awaiting trial. “We just don’t know. Anything could happen.”
Abelino began his work to support Indigenous families working to recover their territory as a young member of Encuentro Campesino and had worked alongside well known Maya Q’eqchi’ land activist Ramiro Choc in the past. Choc was sentenced to six years in jail in 2008 for his support of the land rights of Maya Q´eqchi´ communities.
The FGT estimates that in addition to Abelino, there are dozens of active arrest warrants for organized campesinos in the Polochic and El Estor area. “I would calculate that in El Estor alone there are more than 50 arrest warrants. In Livingston, Cahabon, Panzos, where there is the most conflict there are a huge number of people who have arrest warrants against them. It’s a way to criminalize them, to accuse them of crimes and later they put them in jail, the same thing they wanted to do with Maria Choc,” says Macias. On January 17, 2018, Maria Choc, who participated in a GHRC speaking tour in 2011, was detained and charged with aggravated usurpation, uttering threats and detention. Two other men, Luis Xol Caal y Antonio Asp Pop, were charged at the same time.
“These are spurious accusations that have no merit and the Public Prosecutor’s Office contributes to mounting the cases with the information they are told by the businesses,” said Macias. “They spend a few years in jail and then are let out due to lack of evidence.”
While indigenous land rights defenders are targets for malicious prosecution, they are also victims to violence that goes unprosecuted. Two months after Maria Choc’s arrest, on March 31, Hector Choc, the 19-year old nephew of Ramiro, Maria and Angelica Choc, was bludgeoned to death near his home in El Estor. The Choc family believe that the intended victim José Ich Choc, son of Angelica Choc and Adolfo Ich, a Maya Q’eqchi’ community leader and teacher who was murdered in 2009 for his outspoken activism against the nickel mine in the region. José is an eye-witness into the murder of his father.
February 14, 2017
The Guatemala Solidarity Project is calling for action in solidarity with Maya Q’eqchi’ human rights defender Abelino Chub Caal. Chub was arrested on February 4 and yesterday a judge refused to grant him release despite a complete lack of evidence against him.
The GSP has known Chub for years, witnessing his courageous work speaking truth to power and supporting the recuperation of indigenous land and cultural rights. We have seen many of his friends and colleagues arrested or killed, and it does not surprise us that the government has targeted Chub. Chub has worked for over 10 years with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation, focusing on land rights, local development, environmentally sustainable agriculture and the preservation of the memory of the armed conflict in Guatemala.
“They want to teach him a lesson and frighten him to no longer continue to work in favor of the rights of indigenous communities in the region,” said Rafael Gonzalez of the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC).
Chub is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of indigenous peasant leaders targeted by fraudulent legal charges in Guatemala. At yesterday’s hearing the judge removed the charge of Illegal Association with Armed Groups for lack of evidence. This charge is meant to target international drug traffickers and is a clear attempt to slander Chub. While we celebrate the removal of this charge, we are saddened by the government’s now routine effort to fraudulently accuse indigenous leaders of multiple crimes as a way to keep them in prison without evidence.
Chub remains behind bars for the supposed crime of “aggravated land theft” (usurpacion agravada). Police, soldiers, paramilitaries and private guards are able to burn down indigenous communities and beat and even murder indigenous people with impunity. Indigenous people who organize nonviolently in support of their ancestral land rights face legal charges.
In the case of Chub, the charges appear to be connected to his work with 29 communities in the Sierra Santa Cruz in Izabal, Guatemala. These communities are threatened by mining interests, and even won a crucial land rights case in the Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, the government has continued to target the communities. Earlier this month, a community leader was arrested while exiting a meeting with the with the Agricultural Affairs office.
Action is needed now! We have seen solidarity make an impact on these cases in the past, and it is crucial to make our voices heard before there is a conviction which would make winning Chub’s freedom significantly more difficult.
Make a call or email:
Sample message to the Embassy of Guatemala in Washington, DC:
My name is _______________ and I am contacting you with great concern regarding the recent arrest of Abelino Chub Caal. Chub was arrested on February 4 in Coban and is currently being held in the Preventive Center for Men in Zone 18 of Guatemala City. Chub has dedicated most of his life to organizing nonviolently to support indigenous land rights and sustainable agricultural development. He is a great man who should be supported by the government, but instead he is being held on fraudulent charges in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate him and other indigenous people’s from speaking in favor of their rights. Please do all you can to pressure authorities to respect the law and reject corruption.
Join the GSP Action Alert List:
Making a phone call or signing a petition may not seem like much, but the GSP and our partners have seen how such actions can make a real impact on the ground. When a community is attacked or an indigenous leader is imprisoned, it is important that we mobilize a response as soon as possible. Sending a letter won’t cause a nonviolent revolution in Guatemala. But it may put the government on notice so that they don’t torture a community leader they have just arrested or murder civilians in a town they have just attacked. Join the Action Alert list to get updates about Chub and other campaigns we are working on. To sign up for our Action Alert list please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Add to Action Alert list.”
Donate to our partners:
Donate to the GSP via our website. All donations go directly to our partners in Guatemala. Among our priorities is our commitment to visit political prisoners at least once a month, supporting them with food, clothing, medicine and related basic needs.