Eduardo Bin Poou, a Q'eqchi human rights defender and vice president of the Fishermen's Association of El Estor, Izabal, was acquitted on Friday, May 3, 2019.
Eduardo was arrested on June 29, 2018 in El Estor, Izabal and charged on July 9 with the crime of trespassing on protected areas. Since then he has been deprived of his liberty in the prison of Puerto Barrios. His legal defense was led by two lawyers from the Human Rights Law Firm (BDH), Francisco Vivar and Santiago Choc, and PBI accompanied the case.
In July 2015, Eduardo participated in a roundtable for dialogue with several state institutions to support the Agua Caliente community, located on Cerro San Gil in Livingston, Izabal. A month later the community was evicted and the Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation (FundaEco) accused Bin Poou of having led the trespassing on a natural reserve.
The intermediate stage hearing was held in September 2018. The co-complainants, FundaEco, decided to withdraw from the case on the basis that they are "against the criminalization of community leaders". However, the Public Prosecutor's Office continued with the charges and the judge from the Criminal Court of First Instance in Puerto Barrios, Edgar Anibal Arteaga Lopez (the same Judge who formally charged Abelino Chub Caal, a human rights defender defender acquitted a week ago by another court) shared their reasoning. The defense lawyer, Francisco Vivar, rejected these arguments as "illogical and without meaning, because the Public Prosecutor's Offices accuses a person for trespassing because he is participating in a roundtable for dialogue."
The public debate at the the Court in Puerto Barrios began on February 6, 2019, with hearings held once every two weeks. Finally, on Friday, May 3, Judge Jesús Felícitio Ramírez acquitted Eduardo Bin Poou for the crime of trespassing on protected areas. However, the human rights defender is still in prison because he is facing another trial. The Public Prosecutor's Office and the Guatemalan Nickel Company, (CGN)/PRONICO have accused him and four other colleagues from the Fishermen's Union (Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub, Vicente Rox, Cristóbal Pop and Tomás Ché) of threats, instigation, illegal detention, damages and illicit association. The five were formally charged in January of this year.
The facts of this second case refer to a demonstration carried out by the fishermen of Lake Izabal on May 27, 2017. The aim of the demonstration was to denounce the pollution in the lake and to demand that the corresponding state institutions carry out investigations and examinations of waste from the Fenix mine, located on the shores of the lake. Aside from one meeting between the parties, the ministries responsible for these issues have not responded to the demands, nor have the claims against the mine for pollution progressed. During this demonstration the fisherman and human rights defender Carlos Maaz was killed and his colleague Alfredo Maquín was shot and wounded. There have been no investigations or charges brought forward in relation to these incidents.
It important to note that the Fenix mine has been the cause of violence and human rights violations in the region for decades. In the 1960s, a commission of experts investigated the conditions under which the license for the Inco/Exmibal mine was granted at this time. Three out of four members of this commission were murdered.
In 2007, during a violent eviction, 11 Q'eqchi women were raped by workers from the CGN's private security company. Two years later there was a confrontation between members of the community and workers from the security company from the El Estor region. The teacher and community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán tried to mediate the conflict and as a result he was assassinated. He was not the only victim. Germán Chub, another community member from the region, was seriously wounded by a gunshot from the company's security chief, Mynor Padillo, and as a result of this attack he was left paraplegic. These cases have been brought in front of Canadian courts, as in this instance the case is against the Canadian company Hudbay Minerals, the owner of the mine at that time, and therefore the company assumed to be responsible for these acts. The legal case against Padillo, held in Guatemala, was subject to several complaints regarding irregularities throughout the trial, nevertheless, he was eventually acquitted. This sentence was appealed.
In 2012, three students from the del Valle University died near the mine under suspicious circumstances, that have yet to be clarified. One of those accused of causing their deaths is a technician from the mine.