What Is Happening to Guatemala’s Land Defenders?

She Defended Her Land Against a Mine in Guatemala. Then She Fled in Fear for Her Life.

Teresa Muñoz was riding her motorbike along her regular delivery route on a winding Guatemala road, carrying the homemade cheese she sold for a living, when she saw in her rearview mirror one of the white sedans that employees of the Escobal silver mine drove. Mining company cars had followed her before, but this time, the vehicle swerved. The driver rammed her motorbike, pitching her into the street, and then sped off. Muñoz was left bruised and scraped, convinced they’d meant to kill her.

For years, she had been a leader in the fight against the silver mine, the project of Tahoe Resources, a U.S.-headquartered Canadian company. Located in the southeastern Guatemala city of San Rafael las Flores, Escobal was on its way to becoming one of the largest silver mines in the world. Muñoz and her family helped organize community votes on the mine, participated in rallies to stop production, and educated people about the mine’s potential harms.

Rainfall in the mountains that contain the Escobal mine feeds the Los Esclavos River and a multitude of natural springs, whose waters fuel the production of coffee and onions in the region, grown for export. For sustenance, families grow beans, corn, and squash in the forested hillsides. More than half the surrounding population lives below the poverty line, making them particularly vulnerable to changes in the local hydrology. Mines like Escobal use massive quantities of water and divert flows in ways that can disrupt communities’ access. Such projects have also been known to leach heavy metals into drinking water sources.

The mountains are part of the territory of the Xinca people, an Indigenous group whose language and culture were nearly wiped out by Spanish colonizers and the Catholic Church. For years, Tahoe Resources argued that there were no Xinca people left in the communities surrounding the mine who would require any consultation. They were wrong. In fact, the mine’s denial of the Xincas’ existence fueled a regional reclamation of the identity. “Soy Xinca” — “I am Xinca” — has become the rallying cry under which Muñoz and others fight.

In response to the anti-mining movement in San Rafael, Tahoe hired firms run by U.S. and Israeli ex-special forces veterans to protect the project and lobbied the Guatemalan government to quash the resistance. Over the course of the 12-year conflict, mine opponents have been shot, imprisoned, and even killed.

For Muñoz, the fight meant exile. “I’m sure, as is my family, that if I had continued there, I wouldn’t be alive anymore,” she told The Intercept. In 2016, she abandoned the land for which she’d risked everything and sought asylum in the United States, a process that has stalled since Donald Trump’s crackdown on asylum-seekers began.

A name for people like Muñoz has emerged over the last decade: land defender. The term encompasses not only environmental activists defending their communities from contamination and lawyers fighting to enforce environmental regulations, but also peasant farmers attempting to hold on to their livelihoods and Indigenous people organizing to protect spaces that represent an extension of their identity.

The most famous land defender was Berta Cáceres, a member of the Lenca Indigenous group in Honduras who organized opposition to the Agua Zarca Dam. Cáceres’s murder by the dam’s hired hitmen was preceded by a U.S.-backed coup in Honduras in 2009 that paved the way for a wave of mega-project approvals. Now, a global shift toward autocracy is precipitating new threats against land defenders, and Guatemala is a case in point.

Last year was one of the most dangerous for land defenders in Guatemala since the end of the country’s brutal civil war in 1996. According to the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, 18 land defenders and campesino organizers were assassinated in 2018, including Indigenous people fighting to protect their territory from agribusiness and hydroelectric projects, and the leaders of peasant organizations fighting to maintain access to land they use to sustain their livelihoods. Ronal David Barillas Díaz, a Xinca leader who organized against the sugar industry as well as the San Rafael mine, was among those killed. Of 392 aggressions against human rights defenders documented by the unit, including threats, assaults, arrests, and unfounded judicial complaints, 184 were aimed at Indigenous people defending their land.

Jorge Santos, the organization’s general coordinator, credits the increase in violence to outgoing President Jimmy Morales’s abandonment of the nation’s lauded anti-corruption efforts. But he finds it hard to be optimistic that the looming runoff presidential election in August holds hope for change. “Guatemala is at an important crossroads,” Santos told The Intercept. “One road is uphill, with many large rocks, but it allows us to build democracy, consolidate mechanisms of equity, aspirations for peace, for social justice, probably very slowly. The other is a road of regression, and it’s a regression that’s taking place at a very fast and accelerated rate. It’s a scenario that is going to put us in a state where it is understood that the only mechanism of exercising power is through violence.”

 

A Precarious Peace

The roots of the mining industry in Guatemala are soaked in the blood of its 36-year civil war. Beginning in 1960, Guatemala’s military government mercilessly repressed Indigenous-led, leftist opposition movements, killing or disappearing 200,000 people. Although the rebels were called terrorists, the state and its paramilitary groups carried out 93 percent of the killings, and around 80 percent of the victims were Mayan. The communism-obsessed U.S. government provided political and financial support to the murderous regime.

The first large metal mine, owned by the Canadian International Nickel Company, arrived in Guatemala in the early years of the conflict, to an area known to be a center of guerrilla resistance. The mining company’s presence fueled a crackdown that cost 3,000 to 6,000 lives, according to some estimates.

Finally, the 1996 Peace Accords brokered a truce between the government and the opposition movements. The heart of the accords was a demilitarization agreement meant to eliminate the paramilitary forces. For the first time in the nation’s history, the accords also recognized the rights of Indigenous people to preserve their languages, practice their religions, and live free from discrimination. Guatemala signed on to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention the same year.

Beyond humanitarian goals, the accords had another purpose: to signal that Guatemala was open for business. Only months after they were signed, Guatemala enacted a new mining law that allowed foreign companies to wholly own mining enterprises operating in the country, exempted those companies from a variety of taxes, and reduced government royalties on mined minerals. Guatemala became one of the cheapest places in the world to mine.

Meanwhile, members of the old military regime were finding their way into the private sector. In response, the United Nations’ International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, the CICIG, was founded in 2006 “to investigate illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations in Guatemala — criminal groups believed to have infiltrated state institutions.” The U.S. would provide $44.5 million in funding over the next decade.

Quelvin Jiménez, a Xinca lawyer, spent the 2000s developing grammatical standards for the Xinca language and working with a federal anti-racism commission to address ongoing discrimination. In 2010, he learned that the Escobal silver mine would be coming to his people’s homeland. He alerted members of the Xinca community. Among the articles of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention was a requirement that Indigenous people be consulted before minerals are extracted from the territory they occupy.

“As we are in this period of reclaiming our rights, the mine arrives,” said Jiménez. “All those processes are stalled by the presence of the San Rafael mine.”

To its shareholders, Tahoe Resources suggested that it had no responsibility to consult with Indigenous people. “According to our understanding, although Indigenous people may have inhabited the site at one time, there are no Indigenous populations that currently live in the immediate area of the Escobal project site,” the company wrote in a 2012 filing.

 

Continue reading here …..

Assassination in Guatemala of nephew of Angelica Choc, plaintiff in Hudbay Minerals lawsuits

Assassination in Guatemala of nephew of Angelica Choc, plaintiff in Hudbay Minerals lawsuits.  Indications that murderers were actually seeking to kill José Ich, son of Angélica Choc, and witness in Hudbay lawsuits

Statement by Choc and Ich families, through Rights Action, April 11, 2018

 

During the late evening of March 30, 2018 and early hours of Saturday, March 31, several people brought Héctor Choc to the outskirts of the El Estor community (Guatemala), and beat him to death with rocks and other objects. Héctor died while being rushed to the Puerto Barrios hospital.

 

·         Emergency funding appeal: See below

 

Witnesses (who spoke on conditions of anonymity due to fear) explained that one of the assassins said: “It’s not Ich, let’s go.” “Ich” is how José Manuel Ich Choc, Angélica’s son and Héctor’s cousin, is known in El Estor.

 

The Choc and Ich families demand justice for this most recent attack against them and denounce that the murder of Héctor (apparently planned ahead of time) was probably an attempt against the life of José Ich.

Jose Ich: Witness in trials against Hudbay Minerals and CGN (Guatemalan Nickel Company)

José is a witness in the criminal case against Mynor Padilla in Guatemala and in the civil lawsuits against Hudbay Minerals/CGN before Canadian courts for his father’s murder on September 27, 2009, which was committed by Mynor Padilla (a former lieutenant colonel in the Guatemalan army who then worked as head of security of Hudbay Minerals/CGN) and the security forces under his control.

Due to the accumulated sorrow from suffering so many attacks and aggressions over many years, the Choc and Ich families waited several days before publicly denouncing this most recent attack and political crime.

-In 2008, Ramiro Choc – Angélica´s brother— suffered imprisonment as a political prisoner for six years, for his work in defense of the rights and lands of the Maya Q’eqchi’ peoples

-In 2009, Mynor Padilla, then head of security of Hudbay Minerals/CGN along with security agents under his control, murdered Adolfo Ich.

-In 2016, men fired their weapons against Angélica´s home while she was inside sleeping with her two younger children.

-In 2018, María Choc – the sister of Angélica and Ramiro—was arbitrarily detained (“criminalized”) by the Guatemalan state, for her work in defense of the rights and lands of the Q’eqchi´ peoples.

-Throughout these years, members of both families have faced constant harassment and threats for their work and struggle in defense of the rights and lands of the Q’eqchi´ peoples, particularly the Choc family – Angélica and José—due to their participation in legal proceedings in Canada and Guatemala.

In addition to the pain and suffering for yet another political crime that forced them to bury another loved one, the families are now extremely concerned for the safety of José Ich.

The Choc and Ich families request national and international solidarity and support.  They continue to demand justice, and to demand an end to impunity in Guatemala (and Canada) for all the political crimes against them for their work in defense of the human rights and land rights of the Q’eqchi’ peoples.

For more information

·         In Guatemala: Victor Manuel Cuz and Sofia Cuz (parents of the deceased Hector) and Angelica Choc, Telephone/ Whatsapp (Angelica): +1 502 4487-7237

·         In Canada: Grahame Russell, Rights Action, +1 416-807-4436, info@rightsaction.org

A massive wound to the heart of the Amazon!

Brave indigenous tribes are fighting a Canadian mining giant that plans to open a toxic gold mine in the heart of their sacred Amazon lands! One tribe is facing extinction if this disaster goes ahead — now grassroots groups are asking for our help!

The mining company is close to getting all its permits — but the tribes have managed to delay the project through the courts. Now, mounting losses are putting pressure on investors to pull out.

This is our moment to strike.

Experts say the mine’s top investor, Agnico Eagle Mines, cares about its international reputation as a sustainability leader. If one million of us call them out for this project, and deliver the petition to shareholders at their annual meeting in weeks, we could be the game-changer to end this insane venture.

If the mine goes ahead, they’ll need to build a dam too — to hold a mountain of chemical waste twice the size of Rio’s iconic Sugarloaf. In 2015, a similar, smaller structure broke, leaking the equivalent of 20,000 Olympics pools of toxic sludge into the rivers and ocean, killing 19 people. And now the same engineer who said that dam was “100% safe” is in charge of this mine’s safety report!

This region is home to 9 indigenous tribes, and hundreds of traditional communities. One of the tribes only recently made contact with “modern civilisation” — now they’re stepping out to fight for their survival!

Agnico has huge leverage. If they pull out, the project is dead. But they’re operating under the radar and without public attention they’ll keep funneling money into the project. A million pairs of eyes drilling into them now can convince them to give up.

Let’s welcome shareholders to their annual meeting in Toronto with a hard-hitting campaign, show them the disastrous nature of the project they’re backing, and push them to drop it for good. Sign and share:

 

 

From Europe, to South America, Africa to Asia, our movement has stood with indigenous peoples and local communities to protect our planet’s treasures against powerful corporations and mega-projects. Let’s do it again for the Amazon!

With hope and determination,

Luis, Diego, Flora, Danny, Joseph, Alice and the whole Avaaz team

Mensaje desde Argentina para la Convención minera en Toronto

The people of the north to the south and east to west of Argentina, we express our most energetic repudiation of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada.

We want to communicate to the citizens of Toronto that their city has become the red carpet of a business meeting of mining companies. A carpet covered with blood. That of the people with cancer and that of generations without a future in our country.

Nothing stops them. Neither the right to self-determination of the indigenous people, nor the trials for pollution and fraud in the north, nor the mobilizations, referendums and plebiscites against them in the south, nor the laws that should protect the glaciers. .. the fresh water source of the planet.

They have joined entrepreneurs and local governments that are now in Canada, without remorse for giving up our lives and our territory. This is the case of San Juan where Governor Gioja allowed Barrick Gold to cause significant spills, generating a serious impact on water basins and affecting water sources for human consumption.

Our people and cultures are reluctant to lay down millenarian reasons for petty interests, excessive ambitions and ill-gotten fortunes.

The populous has already been pronounced for the refusal to exploit our common goods.

We want to tell you that each step we take is a step beyond rebelliousness, making visible the looting and strengthening of a resounding NO to your endeavors.

We are organized to face their greed, lobby and purchase of weak wills.

Our planet unites us. Argentines, native people and conscious Canadians say

NO TO MEGAMINING

NO TO THE DELIVERY OF ANCESTRAL LANDS

NO TO THE INSTALATION OF FOREIGN MILITARY BASES IN ARGENTINA

LONG LIVE THE LEGTIMATE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE’S STRUGGLE

LONG LIVE LIFE!!

 

The Mining Record of OceanaGold’s in the Philippines

The Mining Record of OceanaGold’s in the Philippines

by John Cavanagh and Robin Broad – STOPESMINING
August 17, 2016

Ever since it took over PacRim in El Salvador in 2013, the large Canadian-Australian Mining Company, OceanaGold, has wanted to mine gold along the Lempa River in northern El Salvador.  It claims that it will be an environmentally-responsible mining company that will protect this river, which supplies over half of the drinking water of El Salvador. 

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