A teleSUR correspondent in Guatemala, the Indigenous Mayan K'iche journalist Rolanda de Jesus Garcia Hernandez, was attacked and robbed of her equipment while reporting on a hydroelectric project and illegal logging by unknown attackers who threatened to kill her.
Garcia and another teleSUR correspondent, Santiago Boton, were summoned by the Q'eqchi' community authorities of Sacta, on Cahabon's riverside, to investigate illegal logging believed to be connected to the Oxec hydroelectric project. Garcia traveled there to meet with local authorities, who accompanied her investigation on August 21.
Garcia, with community leader Francisco Tec, walked for an hour to reach a community on Sacte mountain which has been severely affected by logging. Once there, they interviewed locals and filmed some of the affected areas for a T.V. reportage.
"The people were very worried; we interviewed them on the stop, as part of my job," Garcia told a press conference on Friday. "I managed to film some images, some shots with the locals. At the other side we saw there were some employees from the Oxec company. After a few minutes, they started yelling at us."
The employees then approached the reporting team and tried to take the cameras. They then shouted sexually suggestive threats at Garcia in Spanish.
The reporting team decided to leave the area, but got separated. Garcia stopped at a small river, where she was surrounded by six men who threatened her with machetes.
#UltimaHora Trabajadores de hidroeléctrica Oxec, retienen a periodista Rolanda de Jesús García, junto a comunitarios de Seacté del municipio de Cahabón, Alta Verapaz. La periodista se encontraba realizando una nota periodística cuando fue retenida. @mingobguate @MPguatemala pic.twitter.com/Vi4zQVN3aK— Santiago Botón ���� (@SantiagoteleSUR) 21 de agosto de 2018
“Employees of the Oxec Hydroelectric detained the journalist Rolanda de Jesus Garcia, along with community members of Sacte in the Cahabon municipality, Alta Verapaz. The journalist was doing her journalism work when detained.”
Garcia sent a text message just after 3 p.m. local time, saying: "In Cahabon, just informing you I'm in an ugly place, they want to take the camera away."
The attackers then seized the camera and threw it into the river.
"Our boss gets mad when someone enters his private property," one of the men told Garcia, stressing that the group knew who she was and where to find her.
After threatening to rape and kill her then throw her body into the river, the men finally released Garcia when she promised never to return. The incident has been reported to police.
People living on the Cahabon river say erosion and flooding have increased dramatically with the illegal logging allegedly related to the Oxec hydroelectric company, but the government is ignoring their plight.
"We can't remain silent, it's important to denounce this truth," Garcia said. "We've been the witnesses of several arrests and criminalization against the leaders, and now the press is being persecuted."
“I fear for my life. I was warned they know who I am and took pictures and video of me. I was threatened and I was told their boss would have the files" - Rolanda Garcia Hernandez, teleSUR correspondent.
Guatemala's social leaders, especially those involved in human rights and environmental issues, are often criminalized by the government and private companies whose economic interests are at stake, occasionally resulting in murder.
Garcia said: "It would seem like it's a confrontation between brothers and sisters, but we know this persecution comes from groups that are behind all these actions because when the communities try to speak to the cameras, the radios, to denounce, what they immediately receive is persecution. We're also at risk."
Several Guatemalan and international alternative media outlets and human rights groups are standing in solidarity with Garcia, condemning the attack and demanding the Public Ministry prevent such assaults on freedom of speech.
The Oxec Hyodroelectric has denied any responsibility for the incident or having knowledge of Garcia's journalistic work.