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News > Latin America

Guatemala Arrests Mayan Activist Opposing Hydroelectric Plant

  • Members of Greenpeace in Spain cut the water supply of ACS, responsible for the Renace projects in Guatemala, April 2018.

    Members of Greenpeace in Spain cut the water supply of ACS, responsible for the Renace projects in Guatemala, April 2018. | Photo: EFE

Published 1 August 2018

Rogelio Cac is a community leader opposing the Renace project, which is being built by the same tycoon who owns the Real Madrid soccer team.

Rogelio Cac, a Mayan Q'eqchi environmental activist opposing a hydroelectrical plant in Guatemala, was arrested on Monday after his community filed a complaint against the project in Pansamala.


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Cac was detained by national police officers in Coban Alta Verapaz, central Guatemala, when exiting the Public Ministry offices. He was called by the prosecutor's office to ratify a complaint filed by the Pansamala community against the hydroelectric company Renace, accusing them of illegally seizing lands of the community, and was arrested when exiting the building.

The activist is an authority within his community and is a member of the Environmental Commission of the Pansamala community in Alta Verapaz, which opposes the construction of the Renace hydroelectric project.

Renace is trying to build its fourth hydroelectric plant using the Calich river. The Renace 4 – Phase 2 project will connect with other plants on the Cahabon river. The construction of these plants are in charge of Grupo Cobra, in turn a subsidiary of corporate giant ACS, owned by the Spanish tycoon Florentino Perez, who also owns the soccer team Real Madrid.

"Criminalization of community leader by the RENACE hydroelectric company. Arraignment of Mr. Rogelio Cac, member of the Pansalama Maya Q'eqchi community, accused of illegal detention and incitement to crime by the Renace company, currently in prison."

The Pansamala community opposes the plant and claims the company diverted the river by taking the water through tunnels directing it directly to the power house.

The plants on the Cahaben and Oxec rivers have long been opposed by the people of Alta Verapaz, mostly Mayan Q'eqchi, but the company enjoys the support of the Guatemalan authorities.

As a result, several community leaders are the subject of arrest warrants, while activist Bernardo Caal Xol has been held in pre-trial detention since January 30, accused of aggravated robbery, incitement to crime, threats and illegal detentions.

Rogelio Cac was also accused of aggravated illegal detention and incitement to crime by an employee of Renace. On May 15, 2017, several employees of Renace arrived in Pansamala looking for Rogelio Cac, president of the Community Development Council (Cocode) at that time.

Due to security protocols, the community halted the company pick-up truck in which employees were traveling. The employees were able to leave after reaching an agreement with the community, brokered by the human rights office of Guatemala and the Madre Selva collective, but one employees later filed a complaint.


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Several human rights, Indigenous and environmental organizations in Guatemala have denounced the systematic criminalization of social leaders by the companies and authorities, often making up charges, threatening and even murdering in order to dismantle popular resistance.

Vladimir Soto, Madre Selva's lawyer, claims the projects are being carried out with the previous consultation of the communities, which is supposedly guaranteed by the International Labor Organization's Convention 169.

Soto says the consultation should have been carried out by Guatemala's government with the cooperation of the firms involved, but because that didn't happen the communities are filing an appeal.

The community was surveyed regarding the Renace 2 and 3 projects, but the 57 people polled didn't know the poll was used as a consultation and weren't informed of the environmental consequences.

"Nobody explained to us that we would be left without a river," one of those surveyed told the NGO Alliance for Solidarity.

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