‘The prize gives us hope’
Guatemalan Lutheran church leader José Pilar Álvarez receives 2017 Lobbyist for Change Award
(LWI) – He has been persecuted, arrested and threatened with death, but that did not deter his commitment to fight for the rights of the indigenous Chortí populations in Guatemala.
On 26 October, Rev. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera, president of the Guatemala Lutheran Church (ILUGUA), received the 2017 Lobbyist for Change Award, recognizing his and the church’s struggle for the right to water and other natural resources for the indigenous people around Las Granadillas Mountains in Guatemala.
The Swedish organization WeEffect awards the prize to an individual in an organization whose lobbying work has achieved results in alleviating poverty and strengthening human rights. Álvarez received the prize in the capital Stockholm, including USD 10,000, which will go toward continuing advocacy.
For a long time, all of us who work with human rights in Guatemala have become accustomed to receiving threats, being persecuted and being violated; it is part of our lives.
“The prize gives us hope,” Álvarez says. “We have never looked for a reward for our work, but obtaining it has great significance. It gives us relief, a respite. For a long time, all of us who work with human rights in Guatemala have become accustomed to receiving threats, being persecuted and being violated; it is part of our lives.”
Defending the most invisible
The WeEffect prize panel noted that for almost 15 years, Álvarez has “defended the most invisible citizens of our world, indigenous peoples, in a country where those who fight for human rights are harassed, threatened, victims of false accusations and violence, while those who are behind these criminal acts remain unpunished.”
Looking back at years of advocacy with ILUGUA and the local communities he adds: “We stood as a peaceful resistance in our peaceful and non-violent demonstrations to defend the human rights and access to water, and in carrying out this work we came into conflict with a group of landowners who began to attack us and threatened us to the point of accusing us through at least 12 judicial proceedings, where we proved our innocence.”
Inés Bustamante Antezana, Church of Sweden regional representative in Central America, said the church was “very happy” for recognition of the advocacy by Álvarez and ILUGUA. “We know that José Pilar does not act alone in this work even though the prize is awarded to a single person. Nonetheless, he has brought to light the serious threats and persecutions that those who defend the environment and human rights suffer in Guatemala and Central America.”
Support from the Lutheran communion
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), of which ILUGUA is a member since 2014, has intervened at the United Nations for the protection of human rights defenders in Guatemala.
“The Lobbyist for Change Award 2017 is of great moral and spiritual support to the peaceful struggle for indigenous peoples and natural resources,” says Rev. Dr Patricia Cuyatti, LWF area secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean. It should be noted that lobbying in Latin America is challenging because it occurs amid circumstances of violence and violation of human rights, she adds.
According to the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), three out of every four murders of human rights defenders in the world in 2016 were committed in Latin America. During the year, Guatemala itself reported 223 cases of persecution, attacks and violence, 14 murders and seven assassination attempts.
The first Lobbyist for Change prize was awarded in 2016 to a community-based human rights activist in Kenya.