Bernardo Caal Xol, Maya Q'eqchi', from Santa María de Cahabón, department of Alta Verapaz, is one of the spokespersons of the Peaceful Resistance, Cahabón. The Resistance was founded in 2015 as part of an assembly attended by 38 communities in the municipality of Cahabón. The communities organized to defend their territory against the implementation of hydroelectric projects on the Cahabón river basin. These projects are operated by OXEC S.A., a company belonging to the Energy Resources Capital Corp (ERCC) group. Bernardo became the most visible spokesperson of the Resistance. In December 2015, he filed an injunction before the CSJ, demanding that work on these projects be suspended, arguing that the license was granted without prior consultation, a right guaranteed under the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169 and requesting that this consultation be carried out. In January 2016, the CSJ granted a provisional injunction in favor of the Q'eqchi' communities, which was converted into a definitive injunction in January 2017. This ruling was confirmed by the Constitutional Court (CC) in May of the same year, following an appeal by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM).
It was at this point that the criminalization process against Bernardo began. Days before the CC issued the final ruling regarding the Oxec case, a first arrest warrant was issued against him, limiting his participation in public activities and his ability to speak on behalf of the Q'eqchi' people.
On November 9, 2018, Bernardo was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison. This sentence was questioned by UN Special Rapporteurs and the Business and Human Rights Working Group: "the conviction of the Q'eqchi leader 'is an apparent attempt to silence and discredit the legitimate exercise of the rights of the indigenous community." "This is not an isolated case; there are numerous members of indigenous communities being criminalized in Guatemala for defending their traditional lands and resources against large-scale development projects that cause environmental damage. We recall that criminal investigations must be independent and impartial."
There are 3 elements within the sentence which indicate that this is a clear case of criminalization: the violation of the system of evidence assessment; the criminalization of the right of assembly and the application of distorted criminal definitions. All the inconsistencies, as well as procedural and material flaws, observed did not prevent Bernardo from being found guilty of the crimes of illegal detention with aggravating circumstances (six years in prison) and aggravated robbery (one year and four months in prison). Both these crimes have been highlighted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as recurrent in processes of criminalization against HRDs, where they are "charged with crimes such as robbery, murder and kidnapping based on false accusations and fabricated evidence without observation of criminal, unlawful or guilty conduct in the HRDs."
As in the previous cases delays in judicial proceedings due to the suspension of hearings have led to emotional, social and economic toll on the criminalized HRDs, their families and their organizations. Repetitive suspensions of hearings mean organizations have to dedicate an increasingly significant part of their resources - financial as well as time - to the release of criminalized persons and they can no longer continue to defend their territory and environment to the same degree. Criminalization processes also have a strong impact on the reputation and credibility of defenders, organizations and communities, as well as on the psychological health of all those affected.