Thursday, July 31, 2014

Resistance and criminality

One of the key tactics of the Guatemalan state in response to the popular movements in opposition to mining, hydroelectric and other "mega projects" has been the criminalization of community leaders (well, outright lying is another important tactic). The leaders are harassed with trumped up or completely false criminal charges, and arrest orders. Last night I had the chance to talk with one of the leaders of the movement agains the cement plant in San Juan Sacatepéquez. She explained some of criminal charges that have been levied against community leaders, and they are so far-fetched as to be barely credible. But of course credibility has not been a strong point in Guatemala's legal system. The charges including assembly with criminal intent (that is, having a public meeting) and disturbing the peace; fabricating chemical and biological weapons; fabricating atomic bombs; terrorism. Those are just some of the charges. In Santa Eulalia, there is an arrest warrant out for one of the resistance leaders, Rigoberto Juarez, for setting fire to some of the machinery of the hydroelectric company in San Mateo Ixtatán (Rigoberto was in Guatemala City when the blaze was set).  The criminalization of resistance has ramifications on multiple levels. It clearly creates a degree of uncertainty and fear -- people who are involved with the resistance movements fear that once arrested, they will be taken to jail and never seen again. That no matter what the legal system supposedly guarantees in terms of due process, that once they are in the hands of the authorities, that is the end of the story. I was told that in the case of one leader for whom there was an arrest warrant, the resistance movement had gotten word that there were criminal gang members in the jail where he would have been sent who had been paid to kill him. 

So, bringing false charges against leaders clearly inconveniences people by making it hard, if not impossible, for them to go about their everyday business, planting crops, going to their jobs, what have you. The young San Juanera (person from San Juan) whom I met yesterday said that several of the leaders in that community were afraid to step outside of their homes, for fear that they would be arrested on some of these false charges and never seen again, so they weren't really able to go anywhere outside of a narrowly circumscribed area. 

But it also represents an effort to discredit he resistance movements among the general population -- no matter how absurd and far fetched the charges might be, the constant repetition in the news media that there is an arrest warrant out for such-and-such anti-mining activist, or that some resistance leaders have been hauled into court on criminal charges, creates the impression that these are criminal, delinquent, anti-social elements. 

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