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Mama Maquin, the Brave Defender Q’eqchi’ murdered for defending Panzós

On a day like today, 42 years ago, Adelina Maquín Caal, Maya Q’eqchi’ leader, led one of the most challenging walks to reclaim land for Q’eqchi’s peasants.

By: Diana Pastor

Adelina Maquín Caal was born in Panzós, Alta Verapaz in 1915. She lived with her family on the La Soledad estate, Panzós and was already 63 years old when she participated along with other people, in a walk that demanded the right to land (it is worth mentioning that Adelina was an active leader and community guide for several years). Like the vast majority of indigenous women of that time, she grew up in difficult conditions, but her social sensitivity made her worry about justice, access to land, and decent living conditions for her people. Not only did he organize his community, he was also an important figure for those who fought for the territory throughout the Polochic River Valley, for his expression and leadership. He was strong and sensitive, and mastered the Spanish language (something not common for indigenous women of his time).

Her ideals would make a May 29, 1978, be placed in the front rows of that walk where the right to land, freedom, and life itself was demanded. These were difficult times for Indigenous Peoples, but she and her people came out to demonstrate. Adelina was repressed by the Guatemalan Army when she received several bullet wounds along with the rest of the walk, among which were older adults, children and women. The book Buried Secrets: The Truth of Human Rights in Guatemala written by Victoria Sanford and Anne Barbour, mentions that María, the twelve-year-old daughter of Adelina, narrated how her mother tried to dialogue with the commander of the advancing soldiers, before they will shoot him directly in the head. Another story tells that Adelina carried within her güpil, the documents that accredited the community as owners of their lands. She tried to show them to the army before they killed her, but shooting at protesters was an order from the government and landowners who wanted to take over their land.

Adelina knew that the lands of the Q’eqchí peoples would be gradually dispossessed and in complicity with the government. So she fought tirelessly, even knowing that she and hers could die. When the massacre occurred, the survivors fled through the mountains and rivers, and the rest of the community was killed by the army; then Panzós was occupied by them. Today, the lands, resources, and opportunity to live a dignified life are stripped with impunity for the Q’eqchi ‘people. Mining, large monocultures and other megaprojects threaten the rights of families and entire communities in Alta Verapaz, but they, following the example of Mamá Maquín and many other female leaders who have given their lives to defend their peoples, continue to resist.

As an example of this follow-up, a group of Guatemalan refugees from the armed conflict formed a resistance and struggle group in Mexico in the early 1990s. They did an enormous job with the women in the exile camps, and after their return to Guatemala they denounced how married women were not favored with the granting of land as part of the agreements with the government (only the widows and parents of families had been granted land). In recent years, the organization has suffered intimidation on two occasions: in 1998 and 2014 Mamá Maquín’s offices were raided and looted. These criminal acts cannot be considered simple assaults or robberies; behind this there is an intention to terrorize and silence the organization made up of mostly Mayan women.

Despite everything, the fight continues, because as long as there is injustice, there will always be defenders, even if they are criminalized, assaulted, intimidated. We honor the memory of Mamá Maquín and all the defenders who have been martyrs for the defense of the territory.