An Indigenous small farmer and movement leader in Guatemala is facing legal attacks on his free speech by the privileged son of a former general 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.
As Maya k’iche’ and a rural organizer, Daniel Pascual Hernández, CUC’s General Coordinator, has faced racism, evictions, harassment and death threats just for defending the Indigenous poor. Right now Daniel is facing criminal charges simply because he spoke out on television in 2013 about the role of right-wing groups in an assassination attempt against him.
Months after Daniel’s statement, Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, president of the misnamed Foundation Against Terrorism, filed a lawsuit against Daniel. This privileged son of a former general and interior minister, whose father aided in the murder of as many as 75,000 people, claimed Daniel’s speech against the far right “injured” Ruiz’s character. 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.
Free Speech vs. the Elite
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.
For example, Ruiz’s far-right movement seeks to revise history and deny the military’s widely documented mass killings ever happened. As Jimmy Morales has consolidated power after the slow-moving coup that gave him the Guatemalan presidency, he has undermined the Constitutional Court when it suits him. The far right may try to claim the mantle of “free speech,” but it is happy to toss the liberty away when it wants to target social movements.
But for all their power, Daniel has challenged — and defeated — Guatemalan elites and international capital. Back in 2014, he and CUC took on the agribusiness corporation Monsanto and defeated their seed laws through protest. In 2015, CUC and other movements took to the streets in the thousands, forcing both Guatemala’s president and vice-president to resign amid scandal. When Daniel spoke out against Ricardo Menéndez Ruiz and the far right, he was once again speaking truth to power.
Guatemala’s elites recognize CUC’s strength. They are targeting Daniel’s voice to silence the whole movement. If they win, the far right and elite can tie up CUC and Daniel in costly legal proceedings.
But if we come together across borders, we can free him and beat back the attacks. 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.