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REPRESSION AGAINST GOOD LIVING. The struggle of human rights defenders

By: Leiria Vay

Between 2018 and 2019, 16 human rights defenders who exercised leadership in different organizational structures of the Farmers Development Committee (Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, CODECA) were assassinated. All of them worked to defend the individual and collective rights of peoples in the territory and communities. Two of the victims were women, who were tortured before they were killed.

The repression against the peoples, and in this case against the social movement CODECA, has the purpose of stopping or curbing the struggle and dreams of the peoples for the exercise of their rights and the construction of structural changes from the communities for the Good Living of all. CODECA is an organization of indigenous farmers. It arose in 1992 due to the need to live with dignity and cultivate the land, which is denied by poor working conditions in the countryside. Of all CODECA member families, 95% are landless peasant families who work as laborers on farms or migrate in search of work in different places.

Its mission is to promote rural development through social participation, joint effort and effective impact on public policies within the framework of inclusive and participatory processes of social transformation, the construction of peace and democracy. CODECA has managed to break the schemes and limits allowed by the sectors of economic power in the country, since, after the signing of Peace in 1996, the neoliberal system of looting of goods and natural resources, land grabbing, privatization of public services, etc took hold; but CODECA did not just talk about the urgent need for changes in the country. This movement began as the ants do, to organize and generate processes of reflection and socio-political formation from person to person, from family to family and from community to community.

At the same time, after the signing of peace in Guatemala, the neoliberal system brought with it its strategy of distraction which is based on “the illusion of impact”. The organizations and peoples were told to bring influence so that decision makers or those in power could see them and attend to their demands. It was just an illusion. Nothing ever changed in favor of the people. Increasingly, the looting system is strengthened in the territories of indigenous peoples, more and more Mother Earth is destroyed, more and more there are higher levels of over-exploitation and semi-slave labor, more and more families need to migrate in search of survival and more and more there is greater poverty and discrimination, etc. And increasingly, the sectors of power are looking for new distractions to generate greater ignorance through corporate media that respond only to the interests of those who plunder and repress the people.

Despite all the adversities and limitations due to lack of financial resources or technical and professional tools within the organization, CODECA did not allow itself to be distracted with the illusion of impact. In 2012, organized communities reflected and decided in an assembly that the struggle for structural changes and the Good Living of Peoples must be built from territories and communities, from those that have historically been excluded and discriminated against. The consensus was “we have to fight to be subjects of rights, we have to defend Mother Earth with the source of our life, we have to fight to build together a Plurinational State where there is room for everyone”. It was there that CODECA began its journey through commitment to the Popular and Plurinational Constituent Assembly Process in Guatemala.

But already in 2010 the communities organized in CODECA had also committed another unforgivable crime for the sectors of economic power. They had begun to exercise their right to resistance, which despite being included in the Political Constitution of the Republic, in this country had never been assumed as a right. The communities had initiated the demand for the nationalization of privatized goods and services, including Electric Power. For the sectors of economic power and the government, CODECA had begun to be a dangerous movement, which had gone beyond the allowed limits, which had not caught the hook of the strategy of distraction and illusion of “impact”. CODECA had not only dared to demonstrate in the streets and denounce the different violations of human rights, the looting of the goods, resources and basic services of the peoples, but it was also daring to dream and fight because from the communities all are constituted as subjects in the construction of structural changes in the country.

The Government of Otto Pérez Molina publicly stated that CODECA is a growing social cancer that must be eradicated. He created a prosecutor’s office (prosecution against the theft of electric fluids) that so far has been dedicated to prosecuting and criminalizing human rights leaders / defenders organized in CODECA, but for all the state budget that such prosecutor has and for all the agents of ENERGUATE and the Public Ministry accusing and intimidating the communities, they have not been able to demonstrate through oral and public trial that leaders / defenders organized in CODECA are criminals. Only three cases of all those who oversee this prosecution have managed to come to resolution and in all three the leaders and defenders have been acquitted. The current government of Jimmy Morales also followed in the footsteps of Otto Pérez Molina and has publicly signaled and defamed the CODECA movement.

The repression against CODECA has been a strategy designed to curb the struggle of the peoples for the construction of structural changes and Good Living for everyone. The mass murders of 2018 and 2019 were aimed at curbing those struggles for the defense of human rights and mother earth, as well as generating anxiety in the political participation of the Movement for the Liberation of Peoples, which is the political instrument created by CODECA and other organizations to make the Constituent Assembly process for the Construction of the Plurinational State in Guatemala viable.

According to the document “Repression against CODECA,” Published by CODECA, from 2016 to September of this year, 5748 defenders / leaders have been victims of different attacks / aggressions for their work in the defense of human rights and for the struggle for construction of structural changes in the country. Despite all that adversity and repression, the people have lost their fear, and increasingly, CODECA grows in the territories and urban areas, thus positioning the struggle and dreams of the people of this country to build together Good Living for everyone.