In the heart of the Mayan world, communities still remember a green childhood, dotted with colorful birds and crystalline streams where they learned to swim as if they were inside a large placenta. That scenario has been broken for years. History repeats itself: a megaproject tears apart the forests and the indigenous people hide, as if it were a trailer for the Avatar saga. Mayan lawyer Ana Rutilia Ical Choc has seen it again and again, but she has managed to overcome fear.
Ical Choc, a professor at the Rafael Landívar University, has grown up among the ghosts of genocide in Guatemala, more than 200,000 deaths and disappearances during the eighties, most of them indigenous, according to the UN Truth Commission. Despite the peace accords and the fact that figures such as former President Ríos Montt were prosecuted, the abuses against the Maya do not end. The lawyer has not only learned to live with death, but has put the state against the wall.
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"They wanted us to disappear. They still see the Indians under the boot and that is no longer possible. I have faced a corrupt, unpunished system, bought by the oligarchies. I'm not afraid of them. They are afraid of me," the leader stresses. In addition to bringing litigation of exiled communities, he got the Supreme Court to agree in 2019 in his fight against Renace, the largest hydroelectric complex in Central America composed of five plants, four of them built by the then Spanish company Cobra, chaired by Florentino Pérez.
The lawyer had appealed to the lack of "prior, free and informed consultation" of the native communities of San Pedro Carchá, as indicated in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. Despite this, the project did not stop. The Cahabón River, sacred to the Maya, began to dry up as tractors grinded the forest and fences were erected. The water that fed their world disappeared and to cross their territory they had to identify themselves.
The graduate, as she is called in her community, began to feel the plundering from a very young age, when her brother disappeared. While looking for him in military detachments, she was a teacher in the villages of Alta and Baja Verapaz, home of the Q'eqchi Maya. She then helped found the Academy of Mayan Languages and the Office of the Ombudsman for Indigenous Women. From the Academy they highlight the struggle "of Sister Ical" so that the Constitution includes as an official language of Guatemala, along with Spanish, the more than 20 living languages of Maya. Ical criticizes a society proud of the ancient Maya of the pyramids and the codices that inspire NASA, but forgets the living conditions of the current ones.
His degree in Legal Sciences advanced along with his conviction to learn to defend himself. "I defend our dignity. Mother earth, the forest, the river are sacred. Human beings cannot live without them," he says, his voice cracking on the phone.
The lawyer knows how to defend herself, but she also knows current and former prosecutors who remain incarcerated, she says. Threatened, Ical Choc has been branded a troublemaker, accused of stealing from her parents, of defrauding the state. The cases have been won at the tip of litigation and leaving health. He usually changes his mobile to avoid eavesdropping and disconnects from networks to avoid harassment.
"She is a woman with a lot of character and a huge level of commitment. It is already difficult to be a human rights defender in Central America and more complicated if you are indigenous. Ana Rutilia has dared to stand up to one of the country's large economic groups and the community division that this has caused," says Almudena Moreno, of the Spanish NGO Alliance for Solidarity.
From the hydroelectric company Renace, they point out that they have created a nature reserve, promote education and nutrition programs and employ members of the population. The community criticizes that they are temporary jobs, that they have destroyed the ecosystem and that they will not benefit from electricity, which is for export.
Marginalization is historic. Since the conquest, independence or the massive arrival of Germans in the nineteenth century, who implanted coffee and cardamom, the natives have been condemned in many cases to servitude and invisibility.
Moreno's NGO, which makes the situation in the region visible, accompanied Ical to an audience of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Madrid where Florentino Pérez was also cited. Ana Rutilia does not forget that moment. The OECD reminded the businessman that his status as a contractor did not exempt him from complying with international standards and recommended that he collaborate with the authorities to remedy the damages. Cobra was sold to French group Vinci at the end of 2021.
The lawyer appealed the decision of the Supreme Court of her country not to suspend the hydroelectric complex before the Constitutional Court. The Court has not yet handed down its judgment. Hydroelectric plants continue to be built. The Q'eqchi people await the day of the consultation on the complex. The months pass deaf without the noise of the water. It is already rare to see a quetzal, that magical bird with a red chest and green feathers that has always protected the Mayans.
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