Quarterly Report December 2016

Third Quarter of the Mayan Year Kajib’ No’j

September-December, 2016


Indigenous Rights Versus Terrorism and Environmental Destruction: GSP Delegation, January 3-10, 2017.  Space is still available – join us in Guatemala!


We are looking for activists, organizers, teachers, journalists, students, farmers and other people of conscience to join us as we build solidarity with indigenous and peasant communities organizing to rescue and recuperate Mother Earth and their ancestral land rights in Guatemala.

Participants will spend most of their time in rural indigenous communities. We will visit political prisoners, community leaders who have been threatened with arrest, survivors of recent government violence and others who are organizing for justice. We will travel to and stay in communities that have been threatened with or have already suffered violent evictions. We will build personal and organizational relationships with those we meet. Transportation, basic housing, three meals a day and translation to/from English will be provided.

The central goal of the delegation is to provide participants with the tools and motivation to promote indigenous rights in Guatemala. Participants will commit to work on areas of interest to them such as publishing articles and videos; organizing informational presentations in Guatemala, the US and other countries; participating in fundraising efforts in support of the communities we visit; participating in civil disobedience; lobbying US Congress against military “aid” to Guatemala; collecting petitions; pressuring multinational banks such as the Inter-American Development Bank to stop funding theft of indigenous lands; assisting with translation; assisting with research; and other solidarity actions.

We understand that participants have their own previous commitments, bills, jobs, families, etc. Some participants may do as little as write a few letters after the delegation while others may spend months or years in Guatemala. All participants will need to be with us for the entire delegation, each participant will be paying his/her own expenses during the trip which includes transportation and lodging on some nights.


For more information email us at info@guatemalasolidarityproject.org If you are interested in joining the delegation please briefly describe why.  Click here to view reports from previous delegations.

GSP helps win freedom for Maria Cristina Chun after illegal arrest

On October 1 indigenous community leader Maria Cristina Chun Ac was arrested on fraudulent charges.  It was the second time Chun Ac has been arrested in recent years, although her only “crime” is defending the legitimate rights of her community against the interests of a wealthy landowner.  Chun Ac has faced significant threats and repression, including the kidnapping of her son.

Maria Cristina Chun Ac is from Rincon de San Valentin, located just outside of Purulja, Alta Verapaz.   Chun Ac and others in her community are the children of people known in Guatemala as mozos colonos, who are basically indigenous Maya serfs who lived their entire lives on a large plantation and exchanged work for the right to plant on their boss’s land, without any financial compensation.

As the children of mozos, Guatemala’s law permits them the right to stay on their land, with a certain amount of space to plant their basic staples, corn and beans.  But in San Valentin and on three other nearby properties, the “land owner” is doing everything in his power to steal their agricultural fields and force these communities to disintegrate and leave – including burning of corn crops, direct violence and falsified legal charges.

Chun Ac is accused of a series of crimes, including aggravated robbery and stealing land.  GSP has been accompanying San Valentin and El Mezcal, an adjacent community defending their rights against the same landowner.   Please take a moment to watch the 8 minute video alert from June of 2015 in which Chun Ac tells the story of her previous incarceration for made-up charges, which she eventually settled after 40 days in jail and a “fine” of Q10,000, with the charges being dropped.

Guatemalan justice is exactly that absurd – the rich can easily throw the poor in jail where frequently their best option is to accept a deal by paying off some powerful interests.  Now she faces a new round of expensive legal challenges and GSP will be helping her with financial support as the new legal case develops.  Maria Cristina is only one of 30 people from her community that has a current arrest warrant, all with the same falsified charges. Sign the petition calling for justice for community members.

If you would like to join us in providing direct financial support to Maria Cristina Chun Ac and other courageous community leaders like who are facing incarceration or medical trauma as a result of their fight for their land and survival, please contribute through our website.  Also please consider joining our list of monthly donors, as this helps us to expand the number of people that we can support for the duration of their sentence or to take care of chronic health issues.  We are a volunteer-run organization and all donations go directly to our partners in Guatemala.

GSP organizes support for Q’eqchi’ leader shot in back

On October 23, community leaders Dominga Caal Col, Mario May Maquin and their two children were fired on with rifles while working in the field where they grow their subsistence crops.  Caal Col was most seriously injured.  The GSP and other allies in the area have supported her medical care and we need your donations to continue to provide similar support in our partner communities.


Caal and over 450 families living in the Seamay and Sebax plantations in the municipality of Senahu, Alta Verapaz, in northeastern Guatemala, are organizing to win respect for their legitimate land rights.  They have faced a series of threats and intimidation, culminating in this most recent attack.  They believe the attack was orchestrated by Benjamin Ponce.  Ponce is a wealthy landowner who has been accused of numerous attacks against indigenous communities, as well as drug trafficking and bribery of government officials.  The GSP calls for his immediate arrest.  We fear that if the wealthy Ponce family is not held accountable these attacks will intensify.

Thousands of Guatemalan soldiers, police attack Q’eqchi’ communities

On October 26, over 1,500 Guatemalan police and soldiers and multiple helicopters participated in attacks against the indigenous Q’eqchi’ communities Esperanza Tunico, Plan Grande and Rio Sumach in the municipality of El Estor.  The government labeled the attacks as “evictions.”  The illegal “evictions” violated community members right to food, right to housing and right to land.  Several people were injured, homes were burned to the ground and two community leaders were arrested.  The purpose of the attacks was to clear the land to grow bananas for export.


The communities had been participating in negotiations with the government regarding their right to the land.  Instead of respecting the basic rights of the communities and continuing the negotiations, the government chose to use widespread arson and violence.  Community members are now living a desperate situation of hunger and displacement.

The communities are affiliated with the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC for its Spanish acronym), one of the country’s largest and oldest indigenous-led grassroots organizations.  CUC leadership is facing escalated repression, including the September 2 attack against national leader Hermelindo Cux at his home and the September 24 arrest of CUC’s South Coast Coordinator Dalila Merida.  Many indigenous communities in the El Estor region continue under threat of imminent government attack.

GSP accompanies successful referendum – Xinka and Poqomam communities say NO to chemical mining!


On November 27th, the GSP witnesses a historic referendum in which 98% of the voters of the municipality of San Carlos Alzatate, Jalapa, Guatemala, chose to prohibit any chemical mining activity within their municipal boundaries.  Alzatate is an organized indigenous Xinka-Poqomam community with a history of self-government that goes back to the colonial era.  The Indigenous Community of San Carlos Alzatate continues to exist today alongside the local municipal government.  The indigenous leadership organized a petition to force the municipal mayor to call for a binding referendum according to established Guatemalan law for Municipal referendums.


The vote is especially significant as the hugely profitable Escobal silver and gold mine, opened in 2014 by the Canadian company Tahoe Resources, operates literally right next door in the municipality of San Rafael las Flores. The Escobal mine uses the highly contaminating technique of open pit cyanide leach mining (banned in many places worldwide, including the mining-friendly US states of Wyoming and Montana). The profitability of this mine has led to dozens of concessions for exploration in the region, granted by the business-friendly national government with the full cooperation of the mayor of Jalapa, a member of the area’s most powerful political dynasty, the Estrada family.

In June 2015, a GSP delegation visited Alzatate at the invitation of the commission established by the Indigenous Community to oversee the petition drive.  From July through November, GSP supported this commission’s efforts and also sent a representative as part of a team of election observers from nearby Santa Maria Xalapan.  The election was relatively calm compared to other referendums in which the mining companies openly harassed and intimidated voters. One community member, amidst the sounds of fireworks and cheers while the results were read over loud speakers in the plaza that night, even told us with a grin that he had taken the Q300 ($36) that the mine was offering to buy his vote but voted against the mine anyway.  Over 70% of the registered Alzatate voters participated, with over 6,750 votes cast, demonstrating widespread and organized community resistance.

However, no one can predict what will happen next.  Will companies in the area respect this vote knowing that just in the Escobal concession there are 367.5 million ounces of high quality silver, making it the 3rd largest silver mine in the world?  Will the national government intervene with violence, as they did in Jalapa and San Rafael in 2013-14 by instituting martial law and suspending constitutional rights which resulted in multiple deaths and incarcerations of peaceful protestors?

The elected leadership of the Indigenous Community of Alzatate is already discussing which legal actions to take against the companies already exploring in their area in order to implement the ban on mining activities, taking a brave stand against the inevitable backlash and oppression coming from these companies and their allies in the government.  The GSP will continue to stand with these communities and follow their lead.

GSP Supports Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Water

This year many of our partner community’s have asked us to prioritized access to water.  There are two areas of access to water that we have been working in – filtered water for drinking and stored water primarily for agricultural use.

We have purchased hundreds of water filters for our partners, and with your support we will purchase hundreds more.  We have been directed to purchase ecofilters, which are highly effective water filters made in Guatemala.  The filters are primarily in support of our Q’eqchi’ partner communities in the Polochic valley who have faced systematic repression since 2011, including grenade attacks by helicopter, assasination of community leaders, arrest of community leaders on fraudulent charges, theft of land, destruction of crops and large scale arson attacks.  This violence has cause extreme hunger, and the overwhelming majority of children in these communities suffer from chronic malnutrition.  Lack of access to clean water means exposure to dangerous bacteria and parasites that worsen hunger.  Our partners believe that these water filters make an enormous impact on their ability to survive.

filters 1

Water filter distribution from earlier this year

In their struggle to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impact, our Xinka partners have asked us to support the construction of permanent communal water deposits.  These indigenous communities are resisting land theft and environmental destruction caused primarily by foreign mining interests.  They tell us that one mine uses as much water in one hour as one family of five uses in 20 years, and they are watching their ecosystems being devastated around them.  They are fighting back by building systems of food production that require minimal environmental impact.  They have secured mechanical water pumps that allow them to irrigate small plots of land without the use of oil or electricity, and they need our support to become even more efficient in their use of water.  During this quarter we helped build the first communal water deposit and in the coming months will support similar efforts.


GSP looking for Winter/Spring 2017 interns

The GSP is accepting applications for interns and volunteers in the Washington, DC area for Winter/Spring 2017.  Together with the GSP, each intern will decide on the particular focus of their internship before it starts.


Interns will have the opportunity to gain experience, improve their skills and support the work of the GSP in the following areas:  Fundraising, Website and Social Media Development, Video Editing and Production, Congressional Meetings, Translation, Organizational Development, Writing and editing articles, Outreach and Petitions.


Documented interest in at least one of the following areas: Latin America, activism, human rights, peace, justice, indigenous rights, the environment, and ecology.  Strong oral and/or written communication skills. Strong organizational skills. Fluency in English and Spanish preferred but not required.  Minimum commitment of 10 hours a week, maximum of 25 hours a week.  Candidates must be able to commit to a schedule and be punctual.

To apply please send cover letter and a resume to info@guatemalasolidarityproject.org

Onward: Standing with indigenous communities in defense of Mother Earth

The GSP believes in long term solidarity with our partners, and in the coming months we will continue our work.  We need your support to be successful, including for our monthly commitments to visit and make small financial contributions to political prisoners and to orphans of community leaders.  We hope to continue to give partial support for the burials of people exhumed from clandestine cemeteries.  We will work to provide access to clean water for victims of government violence.  As often happens, we expect to be asked for emergency support for people injured in government and paramilitary attacks.  We will continue to stand in solidarity with our partners in many other ways, and need your support.  Please donate now through our website.  We are a volunteer run organization, so your donation in its entirety will go directly to our partners in Guatemala.  Donations of any size are helpful.  Because we have many monthly commitments, it is especially helpful if you sign up through our website to make a small monthly contribution.

This report is being sent to our Quarterly Report email list, but we also have an action alert list that we ask you to join if you have not already done so.  It is important that people join the action alert list to take timely actions in solidarity with our partners.  These timely actions play a critical role in our solidarity work.  For example when community leader Maria Cristina Chun was arrested in October, we immidiately sent out an action alert.  Your calls and emails put pressure on the Guatemalan government and played a role in helping to win her freedom.  To join our action alert email list, please send an email to info@guatemalasolidarityproject.org and write “Add to action alert email list” in the subject line.