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Q'eqchi' community displaced by Guatemalan military base wants their land back

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Image: @CasoCREOMPAZ/Twitter

The Indigenous Mayan people of the Q'eqchi' community of Chicoyogüito, Guatemala have long sought their land back.

On July 28, 1968, they were displaced by a military base known as Military Zone 21 that was built in the city of Cobán in the department (region) of Alta Verapaz.

Between 1981 and 1988 at least 565 Indigenous people were disappeared at that base. Exhumations of mass graves at the military base began in 2012. The bodies identified are of Mayan Achí, Q'eqchi', Pomochí, Ixil, and Kiché peoples.

At least 90 of the bodies found belonged to children.

The military base was closed in 2004 and despite its notoriety became CREOMPAZ, a United Nations peacekeeping training base.

Every year since 2008, the Chicoyogüito community has held a peaceful march to demand that their lands be returned to them.

The Government of Canada has seemingly been indifferent to their demand.

In 2009, it made a $250,000 grant to CREOMPAZ to assist Central American armies to participate in UN peacekeeping missions.

In 2011, the then-named Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (now Global Affairs Canada) funded a workshop at CREOMPAZ on police and military cooperation. By 2014, the Canadian Armed Forces hosted a course at CREOMPAZ and bought specialized equipment for the base.

In 2015, CREOMPAZ was funded through Canada's Global Peace Operations Program. And Global Affairs Canada currently funds a program at CREOMPAZ through its Peace and Stabilization Operations Programme.

The Q'eqchi' continue to want their land back.

On June 9 of this year, 21 residents of Chicoyogüito were arrested as they prepared to participate in a demonstration with that demand.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Centre for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) have stated: "The authorities are thus obstructing the human right to social protest, enshrined in the Guatemalan Constitution and in international human rights treaties signed by the Guatemalan state."

CALDH has further noted:

"The National Civil Police used excessive force, injuring some of the demonstrators and violating the right to freedom of demonstration. It indicates that those captured were taken to the Cobán Penal Center without being heard by a competent judge or being treated for their injuries."

La Hora reports:

"On June 18, the first statement hearing was held, where they were linked to trial for the crimes of aggravated usurpation and three for attack. 18 of them were granted coercive measures, including financial security of 5,000 Quetzal [about CAD$800], while three were sent to pretrial detention."

The hearing on those coercive measure will be on July 12.

Just a few days after that hearing, PBI-Canada will be holding a webinar with a member of Q'eqchi' community of Chicoyogüito and human rights lawyer Édgar Pérez Archila who represents the families displaced by the military base.

Rachel Small of World Beyond War Canada will also provide context on the displacement of Indigenous peoples around the world for military bases.

To register for the webinar on Thursday July 15, click here.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. You can follow them at @PBIcanada.

Image: @CasoCREOMPAZ/Twitter

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