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Human rights activist honoured on Leeside

Wednesday, 2nd October, 2019 4:19pm

A Guatemalan activist who was wrongfully imprisoned was awarded for his human rights work with a presentation from Trócaire in Cork city this week.

Working in support of indigenous Mayan land rights in his native country, 35 year old Abelino Chub Caal was wrongfully imprisoned for over two years due to his efforts to defend local communities.

Guatemala is one of the most unequal and violent countries in the world where the largest 2.5 per cent of farms occupy more than 65 per cent of the land, Trócaire has said.

Around the world, Trócaire work with over 400 local partners who tirelessly support communities facing the threat of violence, intimidation and evictions. The Romero award, named in honor of the late Oscar Romero, is given in recognition of such outstanding efforts.

While indigenous communities make up 60 per cent of the Guatemalan population, many are living in fear of their lives as widespread evictions and land grabs from businesses are backed by corrupt authorities.

Land is being stolen for hydro dams, logging, palm oil and sugar cane developments. Threats, violence, intimidation and murder are the daily reality for these vulnerable farming communities.

Abelino Chub Caal said: “This award is a recognition for a collective struggle in search of justice and peace. It vindicates the dignity and human struggle of those who have fallen and have been persecuted or imprisoned by an act of injustice.”

Detained for over 800 days in jail after his wrongful arrest in February 2017, Abelino’s trial lasted less than five days last April as he was cleared of all charges alleging trespass and damage of land.

A university-educated bilingual teacher, he has acted as an intermediary for Maya Q’eqchi’ communities – who do not speak Spanish, the language of national law – in talks with authorities.

Abelino said: “Justice in Guatemala is equal to snakes, the authorities only bite those who are barefoot.

“This prize is not for me – it is for the communities who continue to fight until they are treated humanely by the state of Guatemala. We fight for life and we fight to resist. Long live the memory of Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdamez and long live the memory of the people!”

Abelino Chub Caal was given Trócaire’s Romero International Award on Tuesday from broadcaster John Creedon.

He visited Abelino in jail during a trip to Guatemala last March, having volunteered as a Trócaire ambassador to raise awareness of the development agency’s work.

John said: “I left Guatemala with a heavy heart and, to be honest, as the prison gates closed behind us following the visit, any hope of justice seemed miles away. I wondered if I'd ever shake the hand again of the man to whom I had just said goodbye.

“To think that I'd be drinking coffee with him in Cork within the year is absolutely remarkable. It’s a testament to the often unnoticed work of Trócaire and their partners in Guatemala.

“Again, I'm reminded that I'm standing in the presence of a man of integrity, dignity and courage. I wish Abelino the very best with the huge task ahead.”

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