A few weeks ago, we spoke to criminalized community leader and human rights activist Maria Chub Choc. We invite you to read Maria’s powerful words (below), in which she speaks out about being criminalized. 

Maria is a leader in the struggle for access for land in the community of Chab’il Ch’och’, Izabal. She is accused of aggravated usurpation, threats and illegal detention by Elias Joel Diaz Guerra and Miguel Angel Alvarado Cruz, the administrator and legal representative, respectively, of Lisbal Sociedad Anonima. Lisbal claims ownership of the Finca Isabal, a large tract of land which was illegally acquired by ex-president Otto Perez Molina. After Molina’s arrest on corruption charges in 2015, plantation workers reclaimed their historic rights to the land, and began to build their community, now known as Chab’il Ch’och’.

Maria was jailed for two days before ultimately being released on bail. Her trial is set for August 2018. Until then, she must register with the court each month and cannot leave the department of Izabal. Read more about her case here.

Maria Choc

“Good day everyone, brothers and sisters, friends who are listening. To society in general, Maria Magdalena Cuc Choc sends her regards from the Q’echqi’ region of El Estor, Izabal, from the banks of the Lago Izabal. I want to send my regards on the beautiful day that is today, as the sun has shone on us after so much rain and so much flooding by Mother Nature, but also because of climate change and natural disasters.

So, I am Maria, an Indigenous woman, who has seen so much violence, that reigns over our society and starts from our governments, from the seats of our government and members of Congress. I hope that my messages lands deeply in your hearts, because being limited with your life, to have your space limited, to prohibit where you are able to go, to prohibit your words- I think that is criminal in the eyes of the law. If Mother Nature lives among us, and us with her, so then we must defender her. My only crime, I think, is that I have raised my voice, and I have fought for my rights, so that I am respected. And I have fought for the rights of many women, that were raped, not only during the Internal Armed Conflict, and not only in the evictions executed by transnational corporations, land owners, monocrop companies, like African palm and sugar cane.

I want to send them my message, after being jailed for almost two days, two nights in jail. It was a very horrible experience for me. I never thought that for speaking about your rights, that they would jail you. But now I am recovering from these traumas. I feel like my enemy isn’t just any enemy; my enemy is in Congress. My enemy is sitting and controlling my next steps. My enemy is powerful. It’s a millionaire, that has acquired his riches, his millions, through corruption. But I compare myself to them, my enemy, who put me in jail, and who issued my arrest warrant. And the reason that there is an investigation of me now. I want to compare myself to my enemy. I have no riches. I don’t have millions. My humble home with my four children, is roofed with laminate with wood walls, and a healthy environment. So I say, I want to recover from this trauma. I want to continue my path, because no one can prohibit me. If in the moment I was born, I screamed the first time- this is to say, I can speak. And no one can silence me.

So now, I am a woman with four children. I need to continue to speak. I need to continue to raise my voice. I have my struggle for Mother Nature and for all the injustices caused by the powerful against the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala. The Indigenous Q’echqi’ people are being criminalized.

Thank you, and that we continue to raise awareness wherever we are- in the corners, in the spaces, in your offices. Wherever you are, know that you need to struggle for the future of our children, our grandchildren, and whatever comes, so that one day they enjoy living together in harmony, leaving them a good inheritance which is Mother Nature, that is this space where we can breathe, and we can turn our gazes towards the burning sun. Thank you.”