Free Environmental Activist Bernardo Caal Xol
Imprisoned since January 2018 in retaliation for opposing a harmful hydroelectric project that local communities never consented to, Caal is paying the price for standing up to powerful corporations and authorities who routinely misuse Guatemala’s justice system to criminalize human rights defenders.
A respected teacher and community leader, 49-year-old Caal is the oldest of six siblings from Santa María Cahabón, a Q’eqchi’ Mayan territory in the northern region of Alta Verapaz.
In 2015, locals nominated Caal to represent them in a dispute with OXEC, a hydroelectric project that has restricted their access to the sacred Cahabón and Ox-eek’ rivers where Q’eqchi’ people have bathed and fished for generations. Access to water is a common concern among the lush, green hills and pastures of Alta Verapaz, where a 2018 census found that only 28% of the population had running water in their homes, while 42% relied on rainwater, rivers, lakes and springs.