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Indigenous rights defenders in Guatemala challenge logging, Canadian mining on their territory

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Twitter photo by @SHEOrganisation.

The Consejo de Pueblos K'iche' por la Defensa de la Vida, Madre Naturaleza, Tierra y Territorio (the K'iche' People's Council in Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Land and Territory, or the CPK) was formed in 2008 by Maya K'iche' Indigenous peoples of northern Guatemala.

The CPK coordinates collective action against violations of their right to free, prior, and informed consent and works to stop the damage done by mining, logging, hydroelectric dams and agribusiness to their people and ancestral territory.

The organization is led by Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic, a Maya K'iche human rights defender based in the city of Santa Cruz in the region of El Quiché, which is predominantly Mayan.

Chávez says that the CPK defends "a way of life that is completely different to that of the neoliberal model imposed primarily by transnational companies [that] are illicitly profiting from the water, the land, and the natural resources" on their territory.

And she has commented, "The state is not a friend. It's connected, along with the oligarchies, transnational corporations, world powers, and militarism."

In March 2013, the Montreal Gazette reported, "Chávez has been branded a threat to national security and a terrorist for speaking out against the development of Canadian-owned mines against the people's will."

In that article, Chávez states, "Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction. And when we say we don't want it, they say we are ignorant, or brutes, or we don't understand the benefits. But we have a right to say no."

In 2016, the CPK began monitoring logging trucks on their territory.

In June 2017, Chávez and several members of the CPK stopped a truck loaded with wood on their territory in order to verify the origin and legality of the wood. CPK asserts the right to do this in defence of the forests within their territory.

The truck did not have a logging permit, so the CPK escorted it to a nearby city to bring it to the attention of local government authorities.

Then, as Amnesty International has reported, "At least 10 unidentified armed men arrived in a pick-up truck with long guns."

It adds, "They threatened Chávez and a few women human rights defenders of the CPK and told them they were going to sexually assault them. The women ran away but the armed men chased them while firing gunshots into the air."

This was not the first time Chávez has experienced violence.

Several years earlier, in July 2012, Chávez and several women were at a demonstration where they criticized a mayor from the governing Patriotic Party.

That was a right-wing party founded by retired Army General Otto Pérez Molina who had been trained at the notorious U.S. Army School of the Americas and who was implicated in 2011 in torture and genocide against the K'iche' people in the 1980s.

Following the protest, Chávez and others were attacked on a bus by a group of men with machetes, knives and sticks.

She was able to escape injury, but four other women were wounded in that attack.

And on November 21, 2018, Sandra Cuffe reported, "[Chávez] has been the target of frequent threats, defamation campaigns, and intimidation, especially from men with links to logging companies and state security forces. She has also been a subject of more than two dozen criminal complaints and investigations, and may face arrest or worse if she returns to her territory."

Chávez has stated, "The backlash is even stronger against women because we make decisions, and we are clear about our decisions, and we have a lot of energy from nature."

She adds, "And when we say 'no', it means 'no' and this has generated a lot of repression against us -- sisters have been jailed, murdered, threatened."

Peace Brigades International began providing protective accompaniment to the K'iche' People's Council in September 2013.

Image: SheOrganization/Twitter

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