Bernardo Caal

Jailed for defending a sacred river


Bernardo Caal Xol holds a whole people in his heart. Through his teaching and trade union leadership, he has made it his mission to empower his people, the Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ in north central Guatemala. He has done everything he can to peacefully protect their land and natural resources from plunder and biodiversity loss.

So, when a company licensed by the government dammed the Maya Q’eqchi’s Cahabón river to build two hydroelectric power plants, Bernardo and his people protested. The river is one of the longest in Guatemala, and is sacred to the Maya Q’eqchi’. Construction of the power plants had already stripped their forests; now they were losing the precious water they needed to survive. Bernardo demanded a stop to the power plants’ activities, saying the authorities had failed to properly consult his people – a requirement under international law.

But his actions put him at odds with the company, and economic and political elites. Bernardo was publicly smeared with repeated and baseless accusations. In 2018, a judge sentenced him to more than seven years in prison, convicting him without any evidence.

Tell Guatemala to free Bernardo today.

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