Raising our voice

June 15, 2017

By Fanny Polania

Read this interview in Spanish here.

I am Angélica Choc, a Maya-Q’eqchi ‘ nativehuman rights defender and defender of El Estor community of the Izabal Department in Guatemala. I am a woman who calls out and defends the land because I do not want to leave this place, as I was born here, this is where I am from and here I want to stay. We are many women defending our natural resources, the land, water, plants, animals and even ourselves. I think a lot about our people’s future, young people’s future, the children’s future. I am aware of how mother nature, mother earth, is being destroyed, and it is a great sadness.

I bring this courage in the blood, being strong is within my blood, to be able to express myself in the moment I feel offended. I can raise my voice, I can say when our rights are violated. Perhaps my grandmothers and grandparents chose me as an example because so many women have kept in silence for generations. I am an indigenous woman who has no academic preparation, but there is no need to have it to raise our voice. I also feel very proud to have a large family, from my roots, my grandparents, my parents, brothers and sister, we have this gift, the power to support communities that have been stripped of natural resources and had their fundamental rights violated.

We can intervene, speak so that they listen to us and respect us. As a woman it is very difficult, we women are hardly heard, we are not taken into account, more so for being an indigenous women. I feel that there are so many obstacles for us. Oftentimes I have felt very tired, worn out, sometimes I have thought I should stop and I say to myself “no more, no more”. There are days when I want to get up late, I think tomorrow I want to rest, but this is not fulfilled because I spend my nights thinking over our struggle and I wake up thinking about our struggle. Then I gather strength and continue, because us women have been fighting so hard in El Quiché, here in the area of ??Izabal, Petén, in Alta and Baja Verapaz.

Many women defenders in Guatemala have been very important, but there are also some women defenders who have remained silent, and this worries me because many women defenders can be coerced, or sometimes intimidated and threatened. Some men do not value what we do because when we raise our voices, when we support our peers, when we meet or when we are doing our work, we are pointed out by men, and they tell us that we are wasting time because to them we are just women.

As a Q’eqchí Mayan woman, I always find strength to continue. Thanks to my parents and to my grandparents I have a lot of connection through Mayan ceremonies. My parents have been spiritual guides; I come from there and find my strength. I communicate a lot with my ancestors, my grandmothers and grandfathers, my martyr brothers who have fallen in defense of territory in Guatemala also give me strength, my brothers from mother earth, the rivers, the forests, the birds… I walk with them, they transmit to me faith and hope that one day we will all raise our voice to protect and take care for them.  Because there is a lot that they give us every day and we cannot remain silent when they are being wounded and exterminated.

This text is an extract of interviews of Angelica Choc by Fanny Polanía, coordinator of Nexos Human Rights program.

[1] Angélica Choc is the widow of Adolfo Ich, a teacher and community leader who was murdered on September 27, 2009, for defending the territory of his community. In an unprecedented effort to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against the Maya-Q’eqchi’ people, Angélica Choc, along with 12 other plaintiffs, sued the company Hudbay Minerales and its local subsidiary, Compañía Guatemalteca del Níquel, in Ontario, Canada with the support of the organization Rights in Action (Derechos en Acción). Angelica has been invited to speak at in international forums including the CEDAW evaluation in Canada in 2016 and the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in 2015 and 2016. She was nominated for the Human Rights Tulip Award.

We thank the International Platform, ECOGUATE and KAIROS Canada for permission to use the image.