Posted 2013/5/1

Guatemala: Killing of environmental rights defenders in Petén

On 22 April 2013 three human rights defenders, as well as a temporary labourer and a family member, were violently assassinated in the recently created municipality of Las Cruces in El Petén, northern Guatemala. The human rights defenders were all affiliated with Cooperativa Centro Campesino Yaxchilán (Central Campesino Co-operative, Yaxchilán) which works on developing organic farming practices in Las Cruces, whilst simultaneously preserving the surrounding jungle by not felling trees or hunting wild animals. It has previously denounced the activities of illegal loggers and mining groups that are operating in the area. Mr Mateo García Pérez was the acting secretary of the organisation when he was killed; Mr Eliseo Ramos Martínez was a former board member; Mr Don Medelso Martínez Interiano was a former member of the Supervisory Committee; Mr Jesús Aldana Choc was a temporary worker and Mr Eduber García was the son of Mateo García Pérez.

On 22 April 2013, at 10:30am, a group of six armed men dressed in black civilian clothes entered the community area of the Cooperativa Centro Campesino Yaxchilán and located themselves on a hill overlooking the spot where Eliseo Ramos Martínez was working. From this position they shot the human rights defender on his tractor as he ploughed the land. They then used a machete to partially decapitate him. Two young men passed by at this time and were also attacked but managed to escape as they were on horseback.

The assailants continued on to the centre of the community; on their way they met and killed Jesús Aldana Choc, as well as the horse he used for working. Half a kilometre further they killed 61-year old Mateo García Pérez with a machete, and decapitated his son Eduber García. When they entered the centre of the community, they set fire to grass that lay collected there. This fire led to a forest fire which took over forty-eight hours to extinguish. The assailants continued and killed 49-year old Don Medelso Martínez Interiano, who had been harvesting maize. After shooting the human rights defender, the unknown men set fire to the corpse. As they left, they set fire to the surrounding jungle.

The week before the attack took place, leaders of the Cooperativa Centro Campesino Yaxchilán travelled to the capital of the department, Flores, to give testimony about the destruction of part of the Sierra del Lacondón before the Public Prosecutor for the Environment. The community believes that the killings are directly linked to the filing of these complaints, as well as many previous complaints, and were meant to silence critical voices and scare the community from the region as the illegal loggers and miners have economic interests in the territory.

In 2009, a community leader named Marco Tulio Alvarado, who was also affiliated with the Cooperativa Centro Campesino Yaxchilán, was assassinated after he had denounced the activities of illegal loggers and mining groups. Despite constant attacks on the community as a consequence of the complaints that they have filed, the authorities have not offered any security measures or intervened at any point.

Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned about the security of the organisation as well as the community's way of life, and believes that they are coming under attack as a direct consequence of their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights, in particular environmental rights and their opposition to illegal logging and mining activities.

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