Several years ago a Spanish transnational, Hidro Santa Cruz, began work on a proposed hydroelectric dam outside of the town center of Barillas, contravening a popular "community consultation" in which residents overwhelming voiced their opposition to mining, dams or megaprojects -- a catch-all term used to describe any large-scale undertaking, usually financed with foreign capital, such as biofuel production or the installation of a cement plant. These consultations in good faith (consultas de buena fé) are carried out by community members with help from some indigenous rights NGOs based on an interpretation of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which calls for prior consultation with and informed and free consent by indigenous communities regarding any projects that are to be undertaken on their territory. The consultations are supposed to be carried out by the national government, or at least with the government's participation, but the Guatemalan government has refused to abide by a ruling ordering it to establish such a procedure -- their proposal was to have some kind of a vaguely defined "public comment period". Since the government hasn't set up a process, indigenous rights groups decided to undertake this on their own. Technically these consultas (I am going to use the Spanish word here) are not legally binding because the national government doesn't participate in the process but they carry a lot of symbolic and moral weight.
Many residents of Barillas began to mount an organized opposition to the dam. I am not going to lay out an entire chronology here, but starting in May, 2012, a company guard killed a local leader in Barillas, and the government responded in a militarized fashion, declaring martial law and occupying Barillas. Folks from Santa Eulalia supported this movement, and the community radio station in Santa Eulalia, Snuq Jolom Konob, reported on the protests and other activities of the resistance movement. Residents of Barillas blocked the access road, burned machinery, and set up an encampment along the access road. There were also protests in nearby communities in between Barillas and Santa Eulalia about propose hydroelectric projects in those areas. Residents blocked the highway in the aldea (hamlet) of Pett, which belongs to the municipality of Santa Eulalia, and there were some disturbances in the Chuj municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán, which lies on the highway that connects Santa Eulalia and Barillas. As more communities were affected, leaders in the different municipalities joined together to form what they called the Plurinational Govermental of the Chuj, Akateko, Popti, Qanjobal and Mestizo people, and there were also local formations - the one in Santa Eulalia was called the "movimiento social" (social movement). Rigoberto and Domingo were leaders in the movimiento social in Santa Eulalia and also participated in some of the regional meetings. Rigoberto had made a trip to visit a group of Q'anjob'al elders in the immigrant community in Nebraska, who were familiarly called "los abuelos" (literally, grandfathers but it is used to mean "the elders" or "the ancestors"), and so his role in the community was not just local and regional but also international. When I first met Rigoberto in 2012, he was living in Salcajá, a small municipality in Queztaltenango, outside of Xela, but sometime in 2013 he moved back to Santa Eulalia, or at least began spending most of his time there, leaving his wife and children in Salcajá, so that he could assume more of a leadership role in the emerging movement. It may have been after the assassination of Daniel Mateo in April 2013; there's not really a precise date.
The next entry will look at the specific situation in Santa Eulalia that led to Rigoberto and Domingo's arrest in March of this year.