Choj Mayan people have been blocking a road in Yich Kisis, San Mateo Ixtatan, Huehuetenango, in protest against a hydroelectric project in their community. On Monday and Tuesday, anti-riot police came to the scene. Six people were reported injured.
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The people have been blocking the road for almost a month, remaining peaceful, as they oppose a project they claim is illegal. Local media reported that police argued with the demonstrators and threw tear gas at them when things started to get tense. Three demonstrators and three officers were reportedly injured.
“We’ve been here in peaceful resistance five days a week. When we arrived on Monday, there were about 200 police agents already in our place. They installed their encampment and portable washrooms here,” one of the demonstrators told the local independent news outlet Prensa Comunitaria.
In a public statement, the Plurinational Ancestral Government of the Akaeko, Chuj, Popti and Q’anjob’al Maya Nation said the private ranch Yich Kisis is safeguarded by the military and 200 anti-riot elements of the National Civil Police, “with the sole motive of protecting the energy company,” and claim that it’s operating with licenses granted illegally by the Guatemalan government.
“The people of Yich Kisis has been permanently harassed by personnel of the Energy and Renovation company,” says the statement, “including private police, workers and political operators, especially when crossing roads.”
The communities decided to take care of their road and take turns to block it, arguing it was previously seized by the energy company and the government, and now they’re recovering it.
“The safeguarding of the roads to guarantee the respect of human rights in Yich Kisis, san Mateo Ixtatan, Huehuetenango, is considered by the Energy and Renovation company, the Chamber of Industries of Guatemala and state security forces as terrorist and illegal acts. The attack by security forces of the state of Guatemala against civilians yesterday and today is a result of this.”
Con mucha preocupación manifestamos la represión a #DDHH de la Microrregión de Ixquisis que retornaban de su manifestación pacífica a sus comunidades y que fueron sorprendidos con @PNCdeGuatemala fuertemente armados, lanzando gases lacrimógenos. Han dejado 4 heridos. pic.twitter.com/xjNMPE26BC— Protection International Mesoamérica (@PImesoamerica) 9 de octubre de 2018
“We express great concern regarding the Human Rights repression in the Ixquisis micro-region, where demonstrators were returning to their communities and were surprised by armed members of the Guatemalan National Civil Police, throwing tear gas. They left four injured.”
The Plurinational Ancestral Government is demanding a halt to the hydroelectric project and for the security forces to leave their territory.
A demonstrator on the site said that agents have been monitoring the protest, but declared they won’t leave the blockade.
“We will stay here all night and if anything happens they will be responsible,” he said. “Because they have weapons.”
He said a group of people will camp on the site overnight to avoid being displaced by the officers.
Miguel Colop, from the local Human Rights Prosecuting Office, said there was no legal order to displace the demonstrators.
“The company has already filed a constitutional appeal, but this has not been resolved. We’re waiting to be notified, as third parties, when there’s a resolutive verdict.”
The governor of Huehuetenango, Ramiro Barillas, has said that negotiation attempts have failed because the opposition as not agreed to sit down and discuss on the matter.
In turn, the opposing communities claim the dialogue should have taken place before the project started.