A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Oxfam is deeply concerned about the kidnapping and murder of a local leader who was abducted with three others following a community vote on a mining project owned by San Rafael, SA, a subsidiary of Canada’s Tahoe Resources.
The four leaders were kidnapped on Sunday, 17 March, from the village of El Volcancito in the San Rafael Las Flores municipality of the Department of Santa Rosa. One of the hostages, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, was found dead the next day.
Local groups had organized a community consultation in which citizens cast votes in favor or against the mining project known as "El Escobal.” The project is located 2.5 kilometers east of San Jose, municipal head of San Rafael Las Flores. Its operations would impact more than 3,000 people living in the area.
After the consultation, the four leaders, known for defending the rights of local citizens, were kidnapped. Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López managed to escape. A third man, Roberto González, a community administrator and Xinca parliament president, was released the next day.
Oxfam is calling on the government of Guatemala and the national justice system to investigate these crimes quickly and effectively, and to prosecute the perpetrators. Oxfam also urges the government to end the persecution of those who are making legitimate demands for social justice.
Ana Eugenia Marín, Oxfam's country director in Guatemala, said:
"We express our support and solidarity with the victims and with local and national organizations that are facing threats because of their work advocating for the enforcement of the law in the country, defending the specific rights of people to know and decide on the use of the natural resources."
"The occurrence of such violent events, as well as the criminalization of social organizations and leaders exercising their right to protect their land and natural resources is disturbing."
Threats to people’s security, criminal activities, and violence around mining projects are all on the rise, yet the government continues to grant licenses without respecting the free, prior, and informed consent of the people who could be affected by the projects. This is increasing unrest across the country.
The communities’ free, prior and informed consent is a right protected by Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organization, Guatemala's Peace Accords, and the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a State commitment.
Notes to editors
The four community leaders who were abducted are: Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, leader of the Xinka Parliament – an important community decision-making body; Roberto López; Rigoberto Aguilar, indigenous mayor of the municipality of Santa Maria Xalapán; and Roberto González, President of the Parliament and Steward of the Xinka indigenous community
These crimes are a sequel to other events:
- On 8 March, Carlos Antonio Hernandez, leader of Coordination of Popular Organizations, Indigenous Peoples, Churches, Eastern and Peasant Unions (COPISCO) was killed in Chiquimula.
- On 12 March, Jerónimo Sol Ajcot was killed, also a CONIC leader in Chacayá village of Santiago Atitlan, Sololá.
- On March 15, Rubén Herrera, leader of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango, a member of the Council of Western Communities was detained by authority of the Court of Santa Eulalia. This same court issued another 18 arrest warrants against community leaders – four persons have been prosecuted, who had recently undergone criminal proceedings due to false accusations of causing damage to the property of the company Hidro Santa Cruz, subsidiary of Ecoener-Hidralia Energía.
- Additionally, Germán and Santiago Vargas Hernández, leaders of Verapaz Union of Peasant Organizations (UVOC) were recently interrogated and illegally arrested by officers who were identified as part of the Specialized Criminal Investigation Directorate (DEIC). This took place minutes before a hearing which they had been summoned to by the First Court of the First Criminal Instance of Coban, Alta Verapaz.
Alex Castillo, +502-3031-9003 or email@example.com