Commissioners: Dinah Shelton, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, and Maria Silvia Gullén
Participants: Guatemalan Lutheran Church, Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo, and the National Forest Institute, Right to Potable Water
Topic: Rights of Inhabitants, Deforestation, Environmental Degradation
Standing 1,800 meters above sea level in the north-eastern corner of Guatemala, Las Granadillas Mountain has been the source of contention between the Guatemalan government and a collection of 22 local communities united under the banner of Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), in partnership with the Guatemalan Lutheran Church (ILUGUA). At the heart of this conflict is the government-run National Forest Institute (INAB), which has issued a number of licenses to cut down trees on the mountain. ILUGUA has accused the Guatemalan government of allowing 80 percent of the trees to be cut down to the detriment of the local environment, the cultural landscape, and the health of the inhabitants of Las Granadillas. After a series of domestic court battles, civil unrest, and attempts by GAM and ILUGUA to make the mountain a protected area, the partnership filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On October 25, 2011, the IACHR held a thematic hearing on the situation of the inhabitants and human rights defenders of Las Granadillas Mountain, Guatemala.
Speaking on behalf of the ILUGUA, Reverend José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera began the hearing by explaining how the logging has exposed large swaths of the mountain to both drought and flooding, as local residents attempt to find clean and suitable water and food on the increasingly temperamental mountain face. He went on to say that he and several others have been unjustly arrested and harassed by the Guatemalan government because of their work related to Las Granadillas. A colleague from Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo continued the conversation by declaring that the best way to move forward is to stop issuing logging licenses and to legally protect all 740km2 of the mountain. A bill has been circulating the Guatemalan Congress; however, the upcoming elections have greatly diminished any progress building up to this point.
Several members of the government, including a representative from the National Forest Institute, responded by largely agreeing with GAM and ILUGUA. The government urged patience, noting that protection can only be given once an extensive study has been done illustrating the legal, environmental, and social impact consequences of a formal protection,, including a long-term plan and short-term benchmarks. Government representatives also noted the need to ensure that several sizable communities in the area were not going to suffer under the environmental requirements that might stifle their economic development and well-being. Additionally, the government emphasized that Article 45 of the Constitution of Guatemala, protected peaceful protestors and that the government quickly dropped the charges against Reverend José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera and others when allegations that they attempted to incite less-than-peaceful protests were exposed as unfounded. The government also stated that Guatemala ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which also requires fair and just trials.
When asked by the commissioners what the next step would be after the IACHR hearing, the Guatemalan government said it would be finishing the technical study sometime between November 2011 and early 2012. The government of Guatemala reiterated its commitment to protecting this and other national resources, evidenced by numerous Redd Pilot Projects currently underway and the constitutional requirement that Guatemalan citizens have access to potable water. GAM responded that the conflict has taken years to reach this stage and the longer the government waits, the worse it is going to become for the people of Las Granadillas Mountain.