Grassroots International

Defend Indigenous Activist and Free Speech in Guatemala

An Indigenous small farmer and movement leader in Guatemala is facing legal attacks by the privileged son of a former minister under the Montt dictatorship. Our partner the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC) is asking people of conscience to pressure the Supreme Court of Justice to defend an important activist in their movement.

Check out this interview with Daniel from People's Dispatch.

In January 2013, Daniel Pascual Hernández, CUC General Coordinator, spoke out on television about an assassination attempt against him and the role of right-wing groups. That June, Ricardo Mendez Ruiz of the misnamed Foundation Against Terrorism filed charges against Daniel for slander and defamation. As Maya k’iche’ and a rural organizer, Daniel has faced racism, evictions and death threats just for standing up for the Indigenous poor. Months after Daniel’s statement, Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, a privileged son of a former general and interior minister, whose father aided in the murder of as many as 75,000 people, filed a lawsuit against Daniel claiming “injury” of character. Even though the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended the legal process in 2016; the case was reactivated in 2019 and the corresponding court trial began on January 14, 2020. This is why we need you to speak out for free speech and human rights today.

We know free speech is the cornerstone of any democracy. We also know that the powerful, whether in the U.S. or Guatemala, have the courts and the media on their side. When they go unchallenged, they can slander or attack whomever they want.

Guatemala’s elites recognize CUC’s strength. They are targeting Daniel’s voice to silence the whole movement. But if we come together across borders, we can free him. We can ensure free speech is not just for the rich and powerful, but a critical tool for Guatemalan movements — those who are building a world where Indigenous small farmers, the planet, and regular people are put before profit.

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  • Demand Letter (English Translation)

    Drop the Charges Against Daniel Pascual Hernández, Indigenous Human Rights Defender

    Daniel Pascual Hernández is Maya k’iche’, and has been a member of the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) of Guatemala since he was 10 years old. In 2003, he was elected the General Coordinator of CUC. Some of his responsibilities as a human rights defender include the following: in 2000 to 2006 he was the co-president of the National Food Roundtable where he represented Guatemalan Civil Society in the elaboration of the Law and Policy of Food and Nutritional Security; and from 2004 to 2006 he was a member of the National Council of the Peace Agreements, where he participated in the creation and lobbying process of the Structural Law of the Peace Agreements in Guatemala.

    Due to his role as human rights defender he has been attacked in conservative media, threatened with death, and criminalized and falsely accused by people and entities that promote hatred.

    Among these accusations, he was charged with defamation, slander and injury on June 10, 2013 by the president of the Foundation against Terrorism, Ricardo Menéndez Ruiz, son of the ex-general and minister of the interior in the times of the dictator Ríos Montt.

    The accusation was based on public declarations that Daniel Pascual made on January 25, 2013 shared on a cable tv channel.

    In this moment, a conference organized by the CUC was taking place, and there, Daniel Pascual as the organizational spokesperson, spoke about the attack against his life that he suffered. The assassination attempt occurred in San Juan Sacatepéquez in the midst of conflicts generated after the instalation of a cement plant in this municipality.

    On June 7, 2016, the Constitutional Court, temporarily suspended the legal process; however, the case was reactivated in 2019 and the corresponding court scheduled the beginning of the debate for January 14, 2020.

    As one can see throughout the process there is a clear intention to criminalize Daniel Pascual for his role as an Indigenous and peasant leader, using the pretext of the declarations that he gave to the media.

    The continuity of the process is not only a violation to the national legislation but also it violates a series of international instruments that safeguard the free sharing of thought, which have been signed and ratified by the Guatemalan State.

    This penal process, in addition to the specific criminalization, signifies a setback in democratic liberties. It sets a dangerous and violatory precedent that implies grave consequences for citizens, in particular for social leaders that are suffering from open political persecution and could be accused and tried and incarcerated, just because of what they think and publicly share when they speak out against measures and policies that violate their rights.