We have an important favor to ask of you. In one week, on January 13, Guatemalan human rights activist Bernardo Caal will celebrate his 49th birthday… in prison.
Bernardo is a loving husband, dedicated father, respected teacher, and committed defender of the environment and the rights of indigenous people.
However, for daring to question the environmental impact of a massive, foreign-owned hydroelectric dam on the Cahabón River – and the negative effect on the indigenous farming communities who live along that river – Bernardo was convicted in a sham trial to 7 years and 4 months in prison.
Amnesty International declared, in June of 2020, that “Bernardo Caal Xol, a Q’eqchi’ Maya Indigenous leader and Guatemalan human rights defender, is a prisoner of conscience who has been wrongfully imprisoned for more than two years.”
Dania and I had the privilege of meeting Bernardo in prison, shortly before the COVID crisis made such visits impossible. Despite putting on a brave face for us, it was evident that his time in prison was beginning to exact a heavy mental, emotional, and physical toll.
With the arrival of the Coronavirus in Guatemala, his situation has only grown more dire. Placed under lockdown, Bernardo is forced to live in inhumane conditions, crowded into the same room as 180 other prisoners. Due to COVID restrictions, family visits are severely limited (his mother and daughters aren’t allowed to visit.) His health has suffered, and his appeal process has been stalled in a backlogged legal system.
Bernardo just wrote, in a letter from prison, “Upon receiving my teaching certificate, I returned to my community. It was there that I became conscious of the injustices, of the abandonment in which the indigenous communities are forced to live: without schools, without teachers, without any of the basic services that the State is obligated to provide.” He adds: “And I, for the third consecutive year, will celebrate my birthday in this place of torture called prison.”
Dania and I would like to invite you to send Bernardo birthday wishes and messages of support and encouragement. We will gladly collect, translate (if necessary), and send your messages to Bernardo before his birthday.
Let’s stand with this brave man during his dark days of suffering and seclusion. Let’s lift him up with our messages of support and solidarity. Please leave a message below or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to mention your location (city, state, country.) Please share this note with your contacts!
A moment of your time will make an enormous difference to Bernardo and his family! Thank-you.