Guatemalan pastor persecuted fighting for indigenous peoples' rights wins Swedish award

(Photo Ola Richardsson / We Effect")Guatemalan Lutheran church leader Rev. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera (right) and Anneli Rogeman, We Effect, at the 2017 Lobbyist for Change prize ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.

Guatemalan Lutheran church leader José Pilar Álvarez 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.

Rev. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera, president of the Guatemala Lutheran Church (ILUGUA), received the 2017 Lobbyist for Change Award on Oct. 26 in Stockholm.

The prize recognized 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.

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 US$10,000, which will go toward continuing advocacy.

"The prize gives us hope," Álvarez said the Lutheran World Federation reported.

"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."

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."

Inés Bustamante Antezana, Church of Sweden regional representative in Central America, said, "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."

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.

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