On Wednesday January 12, 2005 many people were sitting around tourist offices decorated with posters of indigenous women proclaiming, “This is the colour of happiness” planning their next outing from Panajchel, Guatemala. At the same time, 45 minutes north in Los Encuentros there was a battle between the military and the indigenous people of this land.

When my companion and I caught wind of the protest we bartered for a taxi to take us up north to the blockade where the campesinos had blocked the highway and were not allowing traffic to pass through. The taxi driver dropped us about four kilometres from Los Encuentros as he wouldn’t go any closer to the site of conflict. We started walking not sure where we would arrive.

After crossing a barricade of fallen trees in the middle of the road a man shouted at us not to go any further, that we were in danger. We stopped to ask why and get further information and it was only after a busload of campesinos drove by and shouted in our direction did we realize that we were talking with an undercover cop. We quickly got away but it was almost dark so we decided to head back to town to see what we could piece together.

From the patchwork of information we were able to gather, it seems pretty clear that a Canadian-registered mining company, Glamis Gold, through Montana Exploradora, its Guatemalan subsidiary, was sending mining equipment from Guatemala City to San Migel Ixahuacan to start drilling for gold in an indigenous community. Montana Exploradora obtained permission from the government of Guatemala but disregarded obtaining permission from the indigenous community themselves.

In compliance with convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (which Guatemala signed in 1996) it is necessary to have permission from the indigenous communities that will be affected. According to Pensa Libra, Guatemala’s national newspaper, if permission had been asked of the indigenous peoples in the communities of Mam and Sipacapense, 95 per cent would have been against granting permission to Montana Exploradora.

Along with the concern of what impact mining may have on their community there is great concern for the environmental impact of the operation of a mining company that uses cyanide in the process of extracting gold. There is the probability of the cyanide leaking into the environment and possibly contaminating the water. As well there is the fact that the company will be using up to 250,000 litres of their water resources (by the company’s own estimates) in a zone with very limited water supplies. Montana estimates that it would be mining there for approximately a 10-year span, which will create only short-term employment and long-term impacts on the community and land.

Under these conditions, Montana Exploradora was driving the mining equipment northbound and onwards to its destination. In order to reach this destination, the transport would have had to pass through the community of Solola. In order for the transports to pass through Solola, a bridge, a site of civic pride that was built with volunteered time, would have to be taken apart because of the size of the load. With callous disregard to what it meant to these people, economic tunnel vision merely saw it as an obstacle in getting their equipment from point A to point B.

The community of Solola would not have any part of this and actually denied the mining company passage through their district when they discovered that it would mean the dismantling of their bridge. Montana and the Guatemalan government disregarded this and attempted to pass through with the protection of over 750 police and soldiers in full riot gear. The indigenous residents resisted by creating a road block in Los Encuentros (just outside of the Solola community) to stop the passage of Montana Exploradora which then created a dispute between the police and the indigenous people.

At least two people, Raul Castro Bocel and Miguel Tzorín Tuy, were killed in the clash and at least 12 were injured. Meanwhile, Guatemalan president Oscar Berger stated, “The government has established the laws…. We have to protect the investors.”

Guatemala and its people have been mired in political oppression and exploitation for hundreds of years. Its historical roots are drenched in racism, terror and conflict that were produced by the country’s élite through the works of an authoritarian state onto the majority of the population in order to serve their own economic interests. More recently, according to the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) that was established through the Accord of Oslo on June 23,1994 in order to clarify the human rights violations that caused suffering among the Guatemalan people of more than three decades of fratricidal war from 1960 – 1996, it was said (by the CEH) that entire Mayan rural communities were eliminated, and urban political opposition, trade union leaders, priests and catechists were persecuted.

The CEH registered a total of 42,275 victims including men and women and children. Of these, 23,271 were victims of arbitrary execution and 6,159 were victims of forced disappearances. The confrontation at Los Encuentros is evidence that the exploitation of the Guatemalan people and the land is not only an issue of the past.

It is important to look at this situation in the context of other large scale forms of economic imperialism happening now in Central America. Currently Central America is in the process of becoming a giant conveyor belt, delivering more and more goods into the belly of the beast that is consumerism in the west. Through the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA — modeled after NAFTA) and the Plan Puebla Panama (the PPP) the Isthmus of Central America would be filled with the greys of industry and the greens of military sent there to protect it. The Isthmus will be massively transformed for global trans-oceanic trade.

In Mexico these designs will literally take the land and break it in two so that freighters can pass more easily from coast to coast. Says Association of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Zone of the Isthmus (UCIZONI) coordinator Carlos Orres, “PPP means construction of dams, highways and port expansion — in other words things that advance the expansion of multi-national corporations in the region. It means immediate expulsion of our communities from our lands.”

This is not an agreement the people of Central America are accepting quietly, as there have been massive widespread protests. The Pan American highway has been blockaded at many different points from U.S. to Panama. In Guatemala the international airport in Tikal was taken over by protesters. It has also received the fierce disapproval from the Zapitistas. “The Isthmus is not for sale!” said Subcomandante Marcos.

Throughout our research on the uprising at Los Encuentros we have only found internationally that CNN and The Toronto Star have reported on this issue, and both were extremely biased and left out many details in their reporting. For example, both omitted to report the fact that permission must be given by the indigenous people by international law.

We believe strongly that all Canadians should become aware of the impact that our corporations are having on the world. Los Encentros is only one of the many tragic stories that are far too frequent in this globalized economy. Pass this story along and let everyone know what hundreds of corporations are doing on a global scale.