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Land and water defenders resist mining in eastern Guatemala

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Photo by Peace Brigades International.

A remarkable story of resistance is unfolding in eastern Guatemala.

Nuevo Dia (the New Day Central Indigenous Campesino Ch'orti' organization) is opposed to the Industria de Canteras y Minas (Incamin) SA-owned Cantera Los Manantiales antimony mine on the territory of the Indigenous Maya Ch'orti' people.

For over 40 days, Maya Ch'orti' land and water defenders have maintained a presence through a "permanent assembly" at the entrances to the mine.

On March 21, Nuevo Dia posted (in Spanish) on Facebook, "The permanent assembly has been installed, until the Authorities of the State of Guatemala, represented in our municipality by the Municipal Mayor and his Corporation, carry out the technical and legal closure of the Company Cantera Los Manantiales."

Why are they there?

Nuevo Dia explains that their opposition is "due to the ecological, economic and health disasters suffered by the inhabitants of this municipality, and the illegalities with which the company operates."

And RIO Medios Independientes has posted (in Spanish) on Facebook, "they accuse the mining project of causing damage to health and the impact on water sources and the biodiversity of the region. The direct concern is about the pollution of the Jupilingo River, as well as the appearance of skin diseases of children and elderly people."

The Belizean newspaper Amandala reported that locals opposed to the mine also say that it is polluting the Zacapa River and affecting their crops and cattle.

With respect to the permanent assembly, Prensa Comunitaria reports (in Spanish), "Every day, eleven communities in resistance take turns to stay day and night in the camp 'La Presa'. Carmelita Pérez, an Indigenous Ch'orti' authority from the community of Amatillo, says, 'No, we will not leave until that mine is gone.'"

On March 27, the Maya Ch'orti' Indigenous Council posted (in Spanish), "Odilio Guzmán Salazar, owner of the company Cantera Los Manantiales, together with armed men assaulted and intimidated with airshots the people who maintain the peaceful resistance of the Ch'orti 'community in La Prensa, Olopa, Chiquimula."

That post adds, "We call on human rights organizations to make a presence in the place and thus make the corresponding complaints. To the National Civil Police, to make a permanent presence in the place and act with equanimity and justice."

And on April 4, Nuevo Dia posted (in Spanish), "Officials from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the community of La Prensa, Olopa, Chiquimula to meet with the Maya Ch'orti' indigenous authorities."

That post highlights, "The Indigenous councils exposed the constant threats, intimidation and aggressions against those who remain in the peaceful resistance against the Cantera Los Manantiales Mining Company. In addition, the serious violations of human rights against the Ch'orti' people, such as their right to consultation, health and water."

The resistance has also experienced a fatality.

Elizandro Perez, a leader of the resistance against the mine and the head of the Indigenous Maya Ch'orti' Council (a member group in Nuevo Dia) was found dead in November 2018.

The Irish human rights group Front Line Defenders has noted, "According to witnesses, he was followed by armed people who circled around his house moments before his death. The human rights defender also received phone calls and messages threatening his life."

Earlier this month, Prensa Comunitaria reported (in Spanish), "Five months have passed since this possible murder was reported but justice has not advanced."

On April 17, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted (in Spanish), "Yesterday we were in the two plants formed by communities in resistance against the Cantera los Manantiales de Olopa mine. We remain concerned about the threats they receive for defending the Ch'orti' territory."

PBI-Guatemala Project has been providing protective accompaniment to Nuevo Dia since 2009.

There are regular updates about this struggle and the permanent assembly that are posted in Spanish on the Nuevo Dia Facebook page that can be found here.

Brent Patterson is the Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada, a political activist, and a writer. 

Image: Peace Brigades International 

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