Thousands of Indigenous and campesino protesters have flooded Guatemala City, bringing the demands of their 11-day march for water to the country’s highest decision makers and breaking up months of calm in the streets and squares of the capital after the winding down of last year’s mass mobilizations, which pressured former President Otto Perez Molina to resign.
The March for Water, Mother Earth, Territory, and Life brought together Indigenous groups from across Guatemala, unified around demands for a guarantee to the right to water and dignified livelihoods in the face industrial agriculture and exploitive mining projects that threaten to contaminate and siphon off water resources from remote and vulnerable communities.
Gathering in Guatemala City’s central square on Friday, thousands protested the displacement of their communities by unwanted hydroelectric dams and called for justice for pollution caused by corporate farming and extractive projects in their territories. They also demanded an end to the criminalization suffered by their community leaders as a result of fighting to defend land, water and local resources, calling for the immediate release of jailed leaders.
The marches saw some 15,000 protesters in the streets of the capital city, Prensa Latina reported.
Now, leaders of the national water march, organized in the Social and Popular Assembly, are set to address Congress on Monday and demand legislation that would punish the unnatural diversion of rivers and waterways.
The movement argues that such water laws are needed to hold big agribusinesses, mining giants and hydroelectric companies responsible for practices that exploit and destroy communities and ecosystems in the name of corporate profits.
One group that joined the march from the Canjola community has vowed to camp out in front of the National Palace, President Jimmy Morales’ home, in protest until the demands of the water march are met.
The marches come as Central America continues to suffer harsh drought conditions that have affected millions of farmers across the region and exacerbated already fragile food security. El Salvador declared a water state of emergency for the first time ever last week in response.
The water situation is also a crisis given the risk of violence, criminalization, and even death activists face for standing up for their rights. According to Global Witness, Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for land and environmental defenders, with five killed in 2014 alone. Four of the victims were Indigenous.
Resistance to dam projects in particular takes a heavy toll. Since 2005, over 40 activists fighting to defend rivers have been killed in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, according to GeoComunes. At least 13 activists were killed in Guatemala.