Face of Bernardo Caal

Action for rivers and water: “I will not give up this struggle! My people will not give up!”

These are the words of Bernardo Caal Xol, a teacher who has been jailed unjustly since January 2018 in retaliation for his leadership of Maya Q’eqchi’ communities who oppose the damming of the Cahabón River in Guatemala. Bernardo led a legal challenge over failure on the part of authorities to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to meaningful consultation and decision making about hydro-electric projects that impact their land and access to water. Amnesty International has declared Bernardo to be a prisoner of conscience and is campaigning for his release. Scroll down to the bottom of this blog for solidarity action you can take.

I write to express my gratitude to the people, the friends, who sent me letters and greetings to encourage me in this struggle … Everything you wrote strengthens me. Your letters will not be read just once, but many times for strength to continue resisting. Justice for the Maya Q’eqchi’ people! Justice for the Cahabón River! The struggle continues and continues!

Bernardo Caal Xol
Bernardo Caal Xol’s response to messages of solidarity and calls for his release.
Bernardo Caal Xol’s letter from jail on the occasion of International Day of Action for Rivers on March 14. Bernardo’s words are translated to English below.

“Rivers are alive, they sing, breathe, laugh and also get angry. Rivers are fed. They give life to thousands of living beings. Rivers cry. March 14, International Day of Action for Rivers, is a special date to speak out and demand that they do not turn our running rivers into dams. Rivers know their way where they have passed for thousands of years. It is a crime against humanity to be diverting and cutting off the life of our rivers. It is humanity’s obligation to defend our rivers.

I have been in prison for four years. They fabricated crimes against me for denouncing the diversion of the Cahabón River for hydroelectric plants, most of them built by Grupo ACS of Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid.

It’s been four years that I have resisted inside these four walls. Four years that I have been separated from my family. Four years that I have not been able to live with my two daughters Ni’kte’ and Yaretzi, who have grown up without me. Four years of confinement that has greatly affected my health.

Despite all these circumstances, I continue to resist. I continue our struggle. I continue to denounce and to demand justice for my people and for the Cahabón River.

Approximately 50 kilometers of the river have been diverted and taken over by hydroelectric plants. As a result, how many people have been denied the right to water? How many living beings have been killed by diverting an ancient river into a tunnel?

I also denounce that the majority of Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities are in darkness. They do not have electricity. The electricity produced by the companies is taken to other countries to be sold, while the communities suffer the dispossession and looting of natural resources, the rivers and springs. Development is for the companies and not for the communities.

Prosecutors of the Ministerio Público, judges, magistrates and owners of companies have to be celebrating. They must be congratulating themselves for the criminalization plan they carried out against me and against my people. But history is recording their actions. What they do to my people today will be discussed, analyzed and condemned for hundreds of years, for many generations. The people and history do not forget their executioners.

I will never tire of telling people that the fabricated crimes and prosecution files against me are in the public domain. Anyone can review them, verify all the falsehoods there and conclude that the only goal of imprisoning me is to create fear in Q’eqchi’ communities so that they do not claim their rights, while the predators appropriate the rivers. The legal proceedings against me are intended to teach us a “lesson”.

The only goal of imprisoning me is to create fear in Q’eqchi’ communities so that they do not claim their rights, while the predators appropriate the rivers.

Bernardo Caal Xol

It is early morning as I write these lines and very cold here in the jail in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. Four years I have been imprisoned … I will not give up this struggle. I embrace all my people, who have not abandoned me and continue this struggle, who continue to resist. My people will not give up.

My thanks to all the organizations inside and outside Guatemala that have offered their solidarity and accompanied me in this struggle, during all the difficult moments of criminalization and persecution … For our future and the future of new generations, we must struggle in unity.”

~ Bernardo Caal Xol

Scene of the Cahabon River with text about the persecution of Bernardo Caal



Please sign this e-action calling for the release of Bernardo and respect for the rights of Maya Q’eqchi’ communities. If you have already signed the action – which automatically sends an email to the Attorney General of Guatemala, please share it with your networks and personally invite your friends to raise their voice too!

Solidarity Action

Make your concern visible. Create a sign to show your support for Bernardo and the Maya Q’eqchi’ communities he represents. You might include any of the following phrases: “Free Bernardo Caal Xol” – “Libertad Para Bernardo (this message in Spanish will be immediately understood in Guatemala)” – “Defending water and Indigenous rights is NOT a crime” or “Q’eqchi’ rights are human rights”. Post a photo of yourself with your sign on social media, tagging Bernardo via @bernardo.caalxol on Facebook or @BernardoCaal2 on Twitter. You might want to take the photo beside water that is important to you, though this is not necessary. Please also send your photo to Amnesty Canada campaigner Kathy Price [kprice@amnesty.ca] so she can use in advocacy with authorities.

Not on social media? Write your solidarity message to Bernardo and send it to kprice@amnesty.ca to forward on to Bernardo Caal Xol.