Rocael’s uncle, Pablo Antonio Pablo, 59, was one of the community members who received an offer for his land. He refused, and on May 1, 2012 was wounded in the assault that killed Andrés Francisco Miguel. In fact, it appears that the attempt was not specifically against Andrés Francisco Miguel, but rather against Pablo, for refusing to sell lands that lay close to the river.
We walked with Don Pablo along the path where he was shot and where Andrés died. There is a stone cross in Andrés’ honor. We came to the Cantón Recreo B community and spoke with more neighbors. All of them agree that despite being afraid, they will keep fighting for what is theirs.
“They already forced our grandparents and ancestors from their houses during the war. And now? Where do they want to send us?” asks one indignant woman who chose to remain anonymous. She says that she has seen how the company’s security takes pictures without permission of everyone who goes by their stations.
Even though Guatemala’s government suspended martial law, and even though two company security employees were arrested and accused of killing Andrés Francisco Miguel, the zone continues to be isolated and militarized.
After leaving Barillas in May of 2012, Hermelinda returned in June. The next week an arrest warrant was issued for her saying she had participated “in the May 1 disturbances.” What those disturbances could be is rather a mystery. There was a town fair, and there was a murder by the river. She was at the fair.
In all, Hermelinda was accused of ten crimes, among them drug trafficking and terrorism. Three months later she was able to demonstrate that the arrest warrant was illegal, and it was cancelled on September 11, 2012.
Hermelinda isn’t the only indigenous community leader accused of drug trafficking and terrorism. According to Bezares, the lawyer, the government uses the specter of terrorism to pursue communities-in-resistance or social organizations. The government says the occupation of roads or other mass-mobilizations are “acts of terrorismo,” thereby justifying their repression before public opinion.
This ideological reconfiguration of the enemy as “terrorist” shows itself to be a new form of counter-insurgency strategy, in which social leaders and their demands are said to be linked to drug trafficking and organized crime.
From this writer’s perspective, it is difficult to conceive of Hermelinda, Rocael, Don Pablo and the other community leaders I met as part of a dangerous drug-trafficking organization or a terrorist ring. Much more likely, they are what they claim to be: people who don’t want to be pushed off their land.
The Work Of Community Organizing
Barillas has been organizing itself against this megaproject for years. In workshops, often led by energetic young activists, environmental concerns surrounding other megaprojects have become central to the narrative. Organizers realized they needed to educate their neighbors about the impacts of megaprojects throughout Guatemala. “We started to inform communities about mining and the construction along the northern border. We have been researching in order to better inform our communities,” says Hermelinda.