Voices for the care, freedom and defense of water

Maiz de Vida

“As towns, communities, and neighborhoods with awareness, we want to firmly state that we yearn to CONTINUE LIVING IN THE TERRITORY WITH DIGNITY. Consequently, we invite all peoples and nations to unite in resistance and ensure both a dynamic of self-governance and strategies that allow a common and equitable use of water for the people and for all living beings whose lives depend on it.
What we ask of this assembly of peoples and multinational authorities, is that they recognize the resistance and capability for defense of the thousands of women, men, boys and girls who, in the face of threats and pressure from companies and governments, defend life, defend water, defend their rights to be in this world.” Fragment of the communiqué of the II Second Water Conference.

According to the worldview of the Abya Yala people, water is a living being.

In the context of World Water Day, more than 300 people from Maya, Xinka, Garífuna and Mestizo communities gathered in a multi-national meeting for the freedom and defense of water in San Pedro la Laguna, Sololá.

During the meeting, there was an assembly of defenders who held multiple conversations, dialogue tables and art presentations.

The hosts of the summit were the Tz’unun Ya’ community and a group of women who clean the lake. Berta Navichoc, spiritual guide and member of the community, carried out an artistic action together with her companions to raise awareness of the damage that industrial waste and garbage cause to Qatee’ Ya’, as Lake Atitlán is named in the Tzutujil territory. The group of women did a performance named “Your industry, your garbage”, an action carried out months ago where they walked towards the Chamber of Industry and the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala to return the garbage generated by the industry and the imposed system of consumption.

During one of the dialogue tables, “Caricias del agua” (“Caresses of water”), community members spoke about interventions concerning the oceans, lakes and rivers that are part of their different territories. Abelino Mejía discussed that the problem that affects the south coast communities is the diversion and excessive use of water by the sugarcane industry, which also damages the ecosystem of the Manchón Guamuchal protected mangrove area in the Guatemalan Pacific, causing the closure of the estuary that flows into the sea in the Chico area.

During one of the conversations, “Voces por la defensa del agua” (“Voices for the defense of water”), law and human rights professionals addressed the issue of criminalization and cooptation of the State and the dispossession of water from communities. Bernardo Caal Xol, one of the defenders of the natural resources, mentioned that there are no laws that defend native people. The only law is the right to Community Consultation, but for exercising this right and defending the Cahabón River, he was taken to prison. Lawyer Carmela Curup, from the Law Firm for Indigenous Peoples, testified that there are 1,200 arrest warrants for human rights defenders in Alta Verapaz.

In the area working around “Resistiendo junto al agua” (“Resisting by the water”), people reflected on the impact of extractivism in the territories; such as open-pit mining, licenses and malpractice of business. Water quality tests were also carried out by Xinka community scientists and the Observatorio de Industrias Extractivas (OIE) to analyze the effects of mining on communities’ water sources.

The Observatorio de Industrias Extractivas stated that there are currently 683 running applications for licenses for mining exploration and exploitation.

No Land to Farm

The Movement of Communities in Defense of Water Qana’ Ch’och’ was present at the summit, being the most affected by a loss of biodiversity and arable land in the region of Ixcán and Raxruhá, Alta Verapaz. The monoculture of oil palms presents a problem in the northern area of the country. According to David Paredes from the Red Nacional por la Defensa de la Soberanía Alimentaria en Guatemala (REDSAG) (National Network for the Defense of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala), a bill is urgently needed to protect biodiversity, native seeds, and communities’ food sovereignty.

Affected residents of urban areas complain that the capital’s municipal water company sells the vital and indispensable liquid to residential areas and privileged sectors. Judith Valle expressed that water is a human right and not a privilege. The Chiviricuarta Collective is currently organizing to deal with this problem in Palencia.

One of the main forums was “Permanecer en el territorio para vivir con dignidad” (“Remain in the territory to live with dignity”), a space dedicated to women and to care for water, where María Jacinta Xón, Mayan Kʼicheʼ anthropologist and activist for the rights of the native peoples of Guatemala, spoke with Sadia Lujan and Luz Mary Quispe, colleagues from the network of women leaders united by Lake Titicaca in South America, who visited Guatemala to share their experiences of the Peruvian lake with the women’s network of Lake Atitlán.

No More Criminalization

The event was dedicated to the women who care for and defend Lake Atitlán: the Qana’ Ch’och’ Movement of Communities in Defense of Water, the Estor Fishermen’s Guild, the Resistance of Cahabón, the Resistance of Carchá, the Resistance of San Juan Sacatepéquez, the Resistance of Maya Ch’orti of Olopa and Quetzaltepeque, the Council of Communities of the South Coast, the Xinka Parliament, and the Women of Semuy II. All their defensive actions have been persecuted and criminalized by the State of Guatemala. Likewise, colleague Virginia Laparra, former prosecutor of the Public Ministry, was mentioned. Laparra has been in prison for more than a year for denouncing acts of corruption and is currently being persecuted.

Art and Defense

The entire event was accompanied by activities and artistic expressions, among them the music of Selva y Cerro which accompanied a spiritual ceremony on the shores of the beach; the dance and music group Sot’zil presented a performance inspired by the natural elements and the worldview present in the Popol Vuj; the colleagues from Colectiva Teatro presented “Tzultaqaa’” for the first time, a shadow play that talks about criminalization. One of the artists that was most present throughout the summit was Manuel Chavajay. Several of his works, inspired by the theme of water, embellished both the areas and the actions that were carried out. Throughout the cultural evening, there was also marimba music, shops with agroecological products and artisan initiatives.

The summit ended with a walk and an offering of flowers around Lake Atitlán, where, in a political action, they read a statement and committed to continuing to defend the water. Abelino Chub Caal emphasized the importance of holding these multi-national meetings to continue strengthening the communities’ fight.

Valeria Leiva, ecologist, photographer and communicator of Maíz de Vida.