Photo taken during a protest for the political prisoners arrested during the 2021 mobilization for the Chicoyogüito community. Signs read “We demand the return of our land that the state evicted us from July 28th 1968.” “We only demand what is ours.” “Freedom for the 21 political prisoners from Chicoyogüito.” (Photo Credit: Caso CREOMPAZ)
Chicoyogüito is located in Cobán, Alta Verapaz and is a community engaged in a struggle for their land, identity, and dignity. In 1968, the Q’eqchi’ community of Chicoyogüito was driven off of their land to build Military Zone 21 which operated as a detention and clandestine execution center during the Guatemalan Internal Armed Conflict. The remains of 565 people were found at this military base, now representing the largest case of enforced disappearance in Latin America.
Displaced from their land, the community has been seeking to reclaim their ancestral territory. Since 2008, on the anniversary of the eviction, the community has mobilized to demand their land repossession. on June 9th 2021, during the annual mobilization, 21 members of the Chicoyogüito community were arrested for crimes of aggravated usurpation. At the hearing on June 21, the judge granted 18 people house arrest, however, three of the political prisoners were forced to pay a Q4,000 bond to get out of jail. Further hearings will be held in October.
The Chicoyogüito community has been holding annual peaceful demonstrations for the past 13 years without such intense criminalization. In June 1994, Guatemala signed the Agreement for the Resettlement of the Populations Uprooted by the Armed Confrontation which undertook to “promote the return of the lands to the original possessors and/or seek adequate compensatory solutions.” That agreement was formally incorporated into the Peace Accords in 1996. Indigenous peoples have the right to return to their own land and when it is substantially impossible due to objective and well-founded reasons, they have the right to obtain replacement land of at least the same size and quality and/or to be paid fair and timely compensation. In December 2015, the IACHR commented: “The information available suggests that years after the conclusion of the conflict there are still displaced communities who have not been able to return to their ancestral lands.”
Despite the Resettlement Agreement of 1994 and the Peace Accords of 1996, the community of Chicoyogüito is still struggling for the return of their land and now facing criminalization for asserting their rights.
BTS remains committed to supporting justice for land defenders facing criminalization and those seeking the return of their ancestral territory.