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Press Release

Declaration of the OAS General Secretariat on Indigenous Communities and the Transition Process in Guatemala

  November 10, 2023

Within the framework of the work of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) in support of the transition process in Guatemala, the Secretary General, Luis Almagro, and the missions of the General Secretariat sent to support specific aspects of the transition held meetings with the following organizations and representatives of the country's indigenous communities: Board of Directors of the Council of Communal Mayors of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán; Board of Directors of Mayors of the 14 Communities of Totonicapán; Allied Indigenous Communities of Chichicastenango, Quiché; Indigenous Municipality of Sololá; Pueblo Ixil; Xinka People's Parliament; the Indigenous Municipality of Santa Lucía Utatlán; Indigenous Women’s Platform; and Ancestral Indigenous Authorities of the Mayan, Xinka and Garífuna Peoples of Guatemala.

Following up on these meetings, the General Secretariat expresses the following:

We condemn the murders of the Xinka leader and human rights activist Noé Gómez Barrera and the Guatemalan union leader Doris Lisseth Aldana Calderón, of the Izabel Banana Workers Union (SITRABI). We offer condolences to their families and loved ones, and demand justice for these two activists who, like thousands of others, bravely defended their human rights and the possibility of a dignified life in Guatemala.

We also continue to call for justice for the many other indigenous community activists who have lost their lives in the active pursuit of justice and defending the equal rights of their people, including their ancestral land rights. These atrocities against indigenous peoples are a crime against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Among the victims is Tereso Cárcamo Flores, human rights defender and member of the indigenous and campesino movement of Guatemala (CODECA). He was murdered eleven months ago and yet there appears to be no proactive investigation by institutions into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Likewise, we call for an end to the unfounded criminalization of indigenous activists, who have come to be accused of “creating financial panic” and committing “crimes against humanity” for exercising their right to protest. We demand that the efforts of these activists to claim, through peaceful protest, their rights to their ancestral lands and democracy be respected.

The OAS General Secretariat further emphasizes that the right to education of indigenous children must be respected, not only because education is a direct path out of poverty, but also because failure to do so violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Guatemala is obliged as a signatory State. Academic institutions are a zone of peace and enlightenment and must be protected. Likewise, we call for an end to the discrimination and marginalization of indigenous communities in access to banking services, thus restricting their effective and beneficial participation in the national economy.

Furthermore, it is important to strengthen the political participation of indigenous communities in Guatemala, which represent almost half of the country's population. One of the many ways to reflect inclusion is by publishing electoral materials including instructions in a Mayan language generally accepted by Guatemala's indigenous communities, so that everyone has the opportunity to participate politically. This is a simple step that can reap progressive, lifelong results.

The OAS Mission that accompanies the transition process in Guatemala has met with several indigenous groups, including Ancestral Indigenous Authorities of the Maya, Xinka and Garífuna communities, the Indigenous Women's Platform and 48 Cantons of Totonicapán, during several visits to the country at the invitation of the Government of Guatemala. We admire the maturity with which 48 cantons of Totonicapán and other indigenous communities have managed peaceful protests after the elections. The members of the 48 cantons and other indigenous communities have refrained from participating in any armed conflict and have not generated confrontations of their own making. The brave efforts of these indigenous groups and their community defenders in defense of democracy are meritorious and deserve more than just applause: they deserve our respect for leading this fight for democratic order and democratic institutions.

When we arrive at the January 14, 2024 inauguration of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, the citizens of Guatemala will want more democracy. All Guatemalans have the right to an integrated and inclusive political fabric. We support all efforts aimed at developing capacity-building measures to accommodate the full participation and representation of indigenous communities in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the government structure and in all sectors of Guatemalan society.

Likewise, the OAS General Secretariat encourages all Guatemalan citizens to maintain their commitment to democracy while the transition process is completed. We demand respect from all elected officials and political actors throughout this transition process, which must continue to unfold without further interruption. This General Secretariat remains fully dedicated and committed to accompanying the transition process in Guatemala until its completion.

Reference: E-075/23