Guatemala: Indigenous Water Defender Lolita Chavez and Colleagues in Danger
Maya-K’iche human rights defender Lolita Chavez is known to Canadians for her determined and principled stance on the right of Indigenous peoples to determine what happens in their territories. Lolita has spoken to Canadian leaders, investors and the public about the ways in which the Guatemalan government has failed to protect Indigenous peoples and how this leaves them exposed to abuses by corporate actors, such as mining, hydro-electric or logging interests. Most people in the region rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods and are concerned that these industrial activities would destroy sources of water needed for irrigation and drinking. Lolita organized a community referendum on resource development in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Quiche department and residents overwhelmingly voted ‘NO’ to any form of industrial development on their lands.
For her work to defend her territory from unwanted and unregulated resource extraction, Lolita has suffered numerous threats, attacks and attempts on her life. She was granted precautionary measures to protect her life by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and lives with an armed guard by her side. However, while this guarantees some degree of protection, it is not nearly enough.
Indigenous women in Guatemala who speak out against powerful companies face enormous risks in the course of their work and significant challenges in seeking justice when their rights are violated. Lolita and other leaders at the forefront of peaceful resistance to unwanted resource extraction projects are often branded ‘eco-terrorists’ and ‘anti-development’ by the forces that wish to silence them. Guatemalan authorities must not stand idly when this happens, but rather must take a strong stand to protect human rights defenders like Lolita Chavez from harm.
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