Misuse of the justice system to imprison indigenous environment defenders in Guatemala is an all too common practice designed to silence them and paralyze their vital struggles for human rights. This is happening at a time when Guatemala is experiencing devastating impacts of climate change, including water shortages, crop failures and famine.
Bernardo Caal Xol is a Maya Q’eqchi’ teacher and trade unionist who is in jail, although he has committed no crime.
Authorities prosecuted Caal Xol with trumped up charges as he was successfully leading a peaceful struggle by communities seeking to protect the Cahabón River from big dam projects that violate indigenous rights, affect fish stocks and limit Indigenous communities’ access to water. Caal Xol was convicted without evidence. Since then, on six separate occasions, authorities have cancelled scheduled court hearings for an appeal of the wrongful conviction.
Bernardo Caal Xol speaks to media before he was unjustly imprisoned. Photo: Diario La Hora/Jose del Aguila
One of the dams on the Cahabón River that Indigenous communities oppose for violating human rights – Photo: Anais Taracena
Here is what Bernardo Caal Xol wrote in a recent letter from jail:
“I want to thank everyone who is accompanying the struggle of the Q’eqchi’ people and the machinery of criminalization that I am facing. Thank you to the national and international organizations who are speaking out alongside the Q’eqchi’ people to denounce the repression, dispossession and plundering we are suffering … Based on rights in International Labour Convention 169, we carried out consultations in good faith, all the Q’eqchi’ people in Cahabón. We strongly rejected the construction of the Oxec I and Oxec II dam projects – 26,537 inhabitants of the municipality participated in this great expression … Five months later they captured me to keep me imprisoned…They sentenced me for the crime of aggravated robbery. I am not a thief. On the contrary, they are stealing natural resources. They are stealing the river.”
In July, Amnesty declared Caal Xol a prisoner of conscience.
It is all the more urgent to call for his release because of the dangerous threat of COVID-19 contagion in jail.
Thousands of signatures from Canada, along with those from other countries, will help convince Guatemala’s Attorney General to review the conviction of Bernardo Caal Xol and release him from wrongful imprisonment.
Please sign our action here >>
2. Write a letter
Letters are an important way to add weight to e-action calls for the release of Bernardo Caal Xol. Write a short, polite, personalized message to Guatemala’s Attorney General:
- Explain who you are and where you are writing from
- Express your concern that Bernardo Caal Xol was unjustly sentenced to more than 7 years in jail for a crime he did not commit and without any evidence to substantiate the conviction
- Call for his immediate release because he is a prisoner of conscience who peacefully defended Indigenous rights and the environment
- Ask for an impartial investigation of the wrongful conviction and sanctions against the officials responsible for this miscarriage of justice
c/o Alejandro Fajardo Estrada
Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of Guatemala
130 Albert Street, Suite 1010
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4
Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com Send a copy to: Hon. François-Philippe Champagne
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs
111 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Guatemalan authorities use twitter. Tweet a message to the Attorney General to increase visibility and pressure for the release of Bernardo Caal Xol. Be sure to tag @MPguatemala and use the hashtag #BernardoLibre. Tag @AmnestyNow @KPriceAmnesty so we can retweet.
From Canada, I call on @MPguatemala to release Maya Q’eqchi’ #Indigenous teacher #BernardoCaalXol, a prisoner of conscience in #Guatemala. He should be respected not wrongfully jailed for defending land, water & Indigenous rights. #BernardoLibre pic.twitter.com/bP3qmFPjmF
— Kathy Price (@KPriceAmnesty) August 27, 2020
Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ rights defender #BernardoCaal is a prisoner of conscience in #Guatemala. He was unjustly jailed for defending sacred rivers from dam projects. Now he faces the danger of #COVID19 in jail. Free Bernardo @MPguatemala! #BernardoLibre https://t.co/IpOj1gLqO3 pic.twitter.com/xc2stn2gmO
— AmnestyCanada (@AmnestyNow) July 23, 2020
#BernardoCaal is in jail for defending land, water & #Indigenous rights. Yesterday, #Guatemala once again denied his rights & access to justice. We call on @MPGuatemala: Free Bernardo! Prosecute those who jailed him without evidence https://t.co/S6wfww4eIR pic.twitter.com/bbBT0RGMXK
— AmnestyCanada (@AmnestyNow) September 8, 2020
4. Send a message of solidarity
Send a message so Bernardo Caal Xol and his family know you are speaking up for his release.
Here is a sample message in Spanish:“Le escribo desde [name of your community], Canadá. Quisiera compartir que estoy alzando la voz en solidaridad con usted y la lucha de su pueblo para exigir su liberación. Mi mensaje: Bernardo Libre! Justicia!” (Translation: “I write from [name of your community], Canada. I want you to know that I am raising my voice in solidarity with you and the struggle of your people to call for your release. My message: Free Bernardo! Justice!”).
Send an email, a photo of your signed, handwritten message, or a photo of you with a sign that says #BernardoLibre (Free Bernardo) to firstname.lastname@example.org In the subject line, write Message for Bernardo Caal Xol.