“I left Guatemala with a heavy heart and, to be honest, as the prison gates closed behind us following the visit, any hope of justice seemed miles away. I wondered if I’d ever shake the hand again of the man to whom I had just said goodbye”.
These are the words of RTÉ broadcaster John Creedon who was reunited this week with Guatamelan activist Abelino Chub Caal on his visit to Ireland. John had met Abelino earlier this year on a visit to Guatemala with Trócaire, visiting the human rights activist in jail.
“To think that I’d be drinking coffee with him in Cork within the year is absolutely remarkable” said Creedon.
After 800 days in prison, Abelino walked free in April, and this week was awarded with Trócaire’s Romero award for human rights.
This Monday, at a ceremony in Belfast, Abelino received his award. Speaking at the event, Abelino said “This prize is not for me – it is for the communities who continue to fight until they are treated humanely by the State of Guatemala. We fight for life and we fight to resist.”
Around the world, Trócaire works with over 400 local partners who tirelessly support communities facing the threat of violence, intimidation and evictions. The Romero award, named in honour of the late Oscar Romero, is given in recognition of such outstanding efforts.
“We are delighted to acknowledge Abelino’s tireless work and bravery with the Romero award” said Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra at the ceremony.
“In truth, Abelino was jailed as a result of corruption and unscrupulous business practices in Guatemala. His case is yet another example of the need for an international treaty on Business & Human Rights, which Trócaire is calling on the Irish government to support.”
Abelino also travelled to Maynooth, Dublin and Cork, speaking at a series of events around the country.
Violence, inequality and powerful business interests
35-year-old Abelino Chub Caal chooses to stand up against the injustice and inequality he sees in his country. This is a brave thing to do in a country where threats, violence, intimidation and murder are the daily reality for vulnerable farming communities. Last year, 26 human rights defenders were killed in Guatemala.
Guatemala is one of the most unequal and violent countries in the world. The largest 2.5 per cent of farms occupy more than 65 per cent of the land. While indigenous communities make up 60 per cent of the Guatemalan population, many are living in fear of their lives as widespread evictions and land grabs from businesses are backed by corrupt authorities. Land is being stolen for hydro dams, logging, palm oil and sugar cane developments.
Working in support of indigenous Mayan land rights in his native country, Abelino was wrongfully imprisoned for over two years due to his efforts to defend local communities.
However his sentence was eventually exposed as a sham when the evidence was examined. Abelino’s trial lasted less than five days in April this year as he was cleared of all charges alleging trespass and damage of land.
“Justice in Guatemala is equal to snakes, the authorities only bite those who are barefoot” says Abelino.
Having worked with Trócaire-supported local organisations Guillermo Toriello Foundation (FGT) and the Committee for Peasant Unity (CUC), Abelino hopes the Romero award will help to highlight the ongoing battle for justice and equality.
“This award is a recognition for a collective struggle in search of justice and peace. It vindicates the dignity and human struggle of those who have fallen and have been persecuted or imprisoned by an act of injustice” said Abelino after receiving the Romero award.
On meeting Abelino on his visit to Ireland, John Creedon remarked “again today, I’m reminded that I’m standing in the presence of a man of integrity, dignity and courage. I wish Abelino the very best with the huge task ahead.”
Trócaire directly supported 78,000 people in Guatemala last year, including 17,000 people in the area of Human Rights.