By: Este, BTS Interim Guatemala Coordinator
A preliminary hearing on the case against María Magadelna Cuc Choc, Maya Q’eqchi’ human rights and land defender, was held on September 11, 2020. Judge Edgar Anibal Arteaga who presides over the case took less than 5 minutes to present his resolution and send the case to trial.
Proceedings on this case have lasted 2 years and 8 months, since María’s arrest on January 17, 2018 in Puerto Barrios. She is accused by Lisbal S.A. of aggravated usurpation, threats, and illegal detention. The accusations stem from an alleged incident that took place on October 30, 2017 during a land invasion at the Santa Isabel Finca in the community of Chab’il Ch’och’, Izabal, where two people were attacked.
María Magdalena Cuc Choc works as a Q’eqchi-Spanish translator for the judicial system, helping to bring forward cases of human rights violations and violence against Indigenous women. Her case is being tried at the First Instance Criminal Court and has been postponed until May 6, 2021 following a cancelled hearing on September 22, 2020 where a motion was filed to transfer the case to another court.
According to lead defense lawyer Geraldina López, the judge on the case expressed his rationale behind the resolution stating that since María comes from a family of land invaders, it is very likely that she committed the crimes she is accused of. Her brother Ramiro Choc is a well known political prisoner who served six and a half years for similar accusations and in 2009, her brother-in-law Adolfo Ich was killed by security agents of then Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), a subsidiary of Canadian mining giant HudBay.
Photo: BTS delegation visits with Maria Choc in El Estor in 2018
Highly concerning in the case is the judge’s motive for pushing the case to trial despite the lack of presence and representation by the plaintiffs, as well as the clear indication that the trial extends far beyond María herself. Her lawyers as well as local and national observers argue that there is no evidence for the accusations, and that the proceedings are a continuation of corrupt, systematic attacks against María’s family as well as human rights and land defenders in Guatemala. In 2018, the International Commission of Jurists flagged judge Arteaga for “abusing power to punish defenders”
Breaking the Silence has accompanied María in the past, including a delegation visit with her in 2018 and a staff visit in late 2019. We will continue to stand in solidarity with her and her family throughout this process, and strengthen our work against the criminalization of human rights and land defenders in Guatemala.