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  • Pedro Rafael Maldonado, who has received death threats for his human and environmental rights work, seen amid demonstrators in Guatemala.

    Pedro Rafael Maldonado, who has received death threats for his human and environmental rights work, seen amid demonstrators in Guatemala. | Photo: Facebook

Published 2 December 2015

Lawyer and activist Pedro Rafael Maldonado is just one example of the attacks and death threats human rights defenders in Guatemala regularly face.

A coalition of rights organizations rallied behind a Guatemalan lawyer and activist on Wednesday in response to a slew of harassment and death threats for his work defending environmental and human rights in various cases across the country.

Activists demanded that Guatemala’s Attorney General, the Ministry of the Interior and the Human Rights Office investigate threats against Pedro Rafael Maldonado and hold the perpetrators responsible.

Maldonado, a lawyer and head of Guatemala’s Center for Legal, Environmental and Social Action, known as Calas, has spearheaded a number of high-profile environmental and land rights cases in Guatemala. As a consequence of his work, for months he has been directly targeted with threats of violence and assassination .

Rafael Maldonado (R) present at a public hearing for the case of peaceful resistance known as La Puya. I Photo: Facebook

“The harassment directed against the legal director of Calas is anti-democratic,” the coalition of organization’s supporting Maldonado said in a statement cited by Prensa Latina. “We condemn the attitude of regressive forces for spreading death threats through digital media against Maldonado’s tireless struggle against the damage to nature and human beings that mining causes.”

OPINION: Canadian Mining Undermines Democracy in Central America

In a public example of the harassment Maldonado experiences, an anonymous Twitter user under the alias Armando Romero tweeted at Maldonado on Monday, saying “Remember when I told your network of gangsters and corrupt people they had little time left? You’re next. Hold on!” and “Your time is up. I suggest you to run like a pig. Pre-warned warfare doesn’t kill people.”

“Remember when I told your network of gangsters and corrupt people they had little time left? You’re next. Hold on!”

“Your time is up. I suggest you to run like a pig. Pre-warned warfare doesn’t kill people.”

The threat came in response to a tweet by Maldonado announcing that the security chief of the San Rafael Escobal Mine, owned by the Canadian mining giant Tahoe Resources, had fled after facing charges for crimes against humanity based on wiretap evidence gathered after Maldonado had brought forward a complaint.

In one incident, private security forces at the San Rafael Escobal Mine opened fire on community members who were peacefully demonstrating against the mine. Wiretap evidence revealed that security chief Alberto Rotondo had said: “Let these damn dogs understand that the mine creates jobs,” according to Udefagua, a self-described organization fighting for “the right to defend rights.”

Maldonado also brought forward a complaint against the San Rafael Escobal Mine for polluting the local river with toxic waste that saw the head of the mine face charges for industrial contamination. The complaint represented the case of hundreds of community members facing contaminated water supplies and threats to their agricultural production, according to an alert released by Udefagua.

ANALYSIS: Guatemalan Government, Canadian Mining Industry Responsible for Violent Conflicts

Earlier this year, a woman later identified by prosecutors as the sister of the San Rafael Mine’s general manager threatened Maldonado, referencing his work against the mine and saying, “You’re doing a lot of damage and for that you will be killed.” Months later, shots were fired outside Maldonado’s office.

Maldonado also worked on the case of “ecocide” in the Pasion River to condemn the industrial contamination caused by runoff chemicals from a palm oil processing site that saw the RESPA palm oil company’s operations temporarily suspended. According to Udefagua, RESPA directly accused Maldonado of fomenting “violence” in recent protests against the company, despite eyewitnesses reporting that the protesters were peaceful.

A tweet thanks Rigoberto Lima for his struggle against REPSA in the case of “ecocide” in the Pasion River. Lima was murdered after speaking out.

The human and land rights defender long served as an advocate for communities demanding consultation for the development of resource extraction and other projects on their land in accordance with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization regarding the rights of Indigenous communities to free and prior consent.

OPINION: Mining Corporations vs. Democracy

But under the current climate of criminalization and persecution of human rights and environmental defenders in the Central American country, Maldonado has also worked to defend activists facing violence and legal charges for their peaceful resistance.

WATCH: Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders: "Defending Life is a Right"

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