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Land rights defender finally walks free in Guatemala

30 April 2019

Guatemalan activist Abelino Chub Caal has insisted that his struggle to support Indigenous communities’ land rights will continue after finally walking free from jail last weekend.

Abelino Chub Caal holds up a sign highlighting the 813 days he spent wrongfully imprisoned for his work defending the land rights of indigenous communities in Guatemala following his release photo @LibertadAbelino

Having been wrongfully imprisoned for over two years, Abelino’s trial lasted less than five days last week as he was cleared of all charges.

Working in defence of Maya Q’eqchi’ community land rights, the 35-year-old human-rights defender had been arbitrarily detained since his wrongful arrest on February 4, 2017.

Originally charged with five offences, last Easter Monday marked the start of Abelino’s trial. The case essentially focused on false accusations that he had invaded and damaged land that has been misappropriated by a large agribusiness. 

This company and the Public Ministry alleged that Abelino had encouraged the community of Plan Grande in an effort to burn African palm trees in the El Estor region, despite the fact that he was at a workshop numerous miles away from this location.

photo: Johanna Perez/ISMUGUA

These accusations and questionable legal irregularities led to Abelino being detained for over 800 days. 

However, by last Friday, the truth had won out as the three-judge Higher Risk Court ‘A’ acquitted him of charges of illegal abduction, usurpation and arson, while the court resolution also emphasised that “he is free of any charge.”

The fight for land rights goes on

A university-educated bilingual teacher, Abelino has regularly acted as an intermediary for numerous Mayan communities, who do not speak Spanish, in talks with the government.

The campaign for his release received support from a number of international bodies and figures, including Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the  United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Having worked with Trócaire-supported organisations Guillermo Toriello Foundation (FGT) and the Committee for Peasant Unity (CUC), upon his release Abelino has insisted that he will continue to rail against the corruption that has negatively impacted the land rights of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans for generations.

This toxic legacy of a 36-year civil war has seen indigenous communities regularly face the prospect of violent forced evictions from their ancestral homelands.
 
After the verdict, Abelino declared to loud applause: “My struggle will continue until the [indigenous] communities are liberated.

“[I was accused of] five crimes… classified as worse than a criminal,” said Abelino. “But here we are, I overcame the fear in the [community] and also before the tribunal I conquered the fear.”

Truth and justice

A Trócaire delegation had visited Abelino last March as he prepared to spend a third year in prison.

Despite the injustice he had faced, his thoughts of freedom focused solely on how he plans to continue to help the communities he has defended in the past against the land grabs orchestrated by big businesses and corrupt authorities. 

“I want to tell the real truth of what is happening –people are hungry and suffering,” he said. “I have seen it – people without food and no roofs on their houses. 

“We have been humiliated by companies and the powerful. I want to highlight the dispossession of land happening all over the country.”

Abelino is now free once again to spread the truth about Guatemalan land grabs and defend indigenous communities.

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