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September 18, 2016

A year ago today, Rigoberto Lima Choc was killed in Sayaxché, Guatemala.

He was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle on the street in front of the Magistrate’s Court. Lima Choc had been an outspoken critic of the contamination and massive fish kill that had occurred on the Pasión River, and the problems caused by the palm oil industry in the region.

Just a day before his murder, a judge ordered the closure of the palm oil company REPSA while it was investigated as the source of the contamination. Employees of the company, possibly supported by the management, blocked roads and took hostage community leaders from an ActionAid partner organization, who had worked with communities affected by the long history of labor problems at the company. The hostages were released when the judge agreed to reconsider the order.

It was in the midst of this tension that Lima Choc was gunned down. His killers have never been identified.

U.S. companies are major buyers of Guatemalan palm oil including that of REPSA, and as pressure has come upon U.S. companies like Cargill to clean up their supply chains, REPSA is trying to clean up its public image.

Unfortunately, they continue to deny their company’s responsibility for kidnapping of the community leaders on the day of the violence, and recently they made the absurd claim that Rigoberto Lima Choc was actually a friend of the company.

The video interview below shows how Lima Choc perceived the situation and his concerns about going up against the company, as well as his fear that if he didn’t speak out, people might die, because of a second environmental catastrophe.

Beginning at minute 3:50 in this short documentary, Lima Choc tells the interviewers in Spanish:

“It wouldn’t be convenient for them to make threats against individual persons, but yes those of us who are in leadership, and who lead movements, we always have that fear, because when we compete against someone big, it’s very difficult. So we thank the organizations that have been supporting the movement, including those from other municipalities.

“We feel indignant when now, using the media, the government authorities collaborate in saying that company isn’t responsible, when we know very well, because we live here in the area that there is no one else who is responsible for this, other than the REPSA company.

“If an indigenous peasant is found with an animal skin from just one animal, I can assure you that he will be put in jail. In this case it wasn’t just one animal, it was thousands and even millions of fauna that died, affecting even the people. It makes indignant that the Ministry of Justice could come here, or say in the media, that the company was not involved, or we don’t have any results yet.

“I think we should be saying to the Ministry of the Environment, if you can’t resolve this, then just say so. Just say, ‘We can’t resolve this.’ Because then we the community can go ask for international assistance, because it’s available.

“What we want is justice, so that this doesn’t keep happening here. We said this time maybe it was fish and other river life. But next time if we don’t take action on this issue, maybe in the future it won’t be fish, maybe it will be humans. Imagine needing to bury a number of people. That would be lamentable.”

It’s been a year, since Rigoberto Lima Choc was murdered. His killers have not been found. No person or company has been held responsible for the ecological disaster on the Pasión River.

We call on the Guatemalan government and the buyers of Guatemalan palm oil to take action against companies that are violating the rights of local communities and to stop the loss of indigenous and community land, and the contamination and misuse of water.