MAC: Mines and Communities

Guatemala: La Puya Peaceful Mining Resistance Dismantled by Force

Published by MAC on 2014-05-28
Source: NACLA (2014-05-28)

La Puya Peaceful Mining Resistance Dismantled by Force

Jeff Abbott

North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)

28 May 2014

Land is a historically contentious issue in Guatemala. In a country where 2% of the population owns 70% of the arable land, campesinos and their communities must push back against those who would threaten their livelihoods. This is especially true for the community of San José del Golfo. For two years, community activists maintained a 24-hour presence along the remote road that leads to the mine in La Puya, successfully blocking mining machinery.

But this all changed the morning of May 23, 2014, when the mining firm, Kappes, Cassiday, & Associates (KCA), supported by hundreds of elite Guatemalan police officers (PNC), arrived to forcibly remove the La Puya resistance. Police then stood guard as contractors for KCA transported machinery to the site of the mine.

The Guatemalan government granted permits for the El Tambor mine to KCA, a mining firm based in Reno, Nevada, over a decade ago. Yet the communities near the mine were never informed about the construction. According to Kelsey Alford-Jones of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, it wasn't until 2010 that the community learned about the sale and construction of a mine that would affect all of their lives.

La Puya is a symbolic example of what is occurring elsewhere in Guatemala and throughout Latin America. Community members claim there was no advanced warning about the sale of the land to KCA, despite the government's legal obligation to do so. Further, there was no consultation with the community, and to make matters worse, it appears that the environmental impact assessment was fraudulent. An outside independent assessment found that the original had not investigated the impacts of the mine on social, cultural, and environmental factors.

KCA pressured the government to open the mine, threatening to file lawsuits if it remained closed. This increased pressure led to the confrontation on the 23rd. But despite their eviction, community members stated that they will continue protesting the mine.

Throughout the past two years, the resistance at La Puya remained dedicated to non-violent protest tactics. The morning of their eviction was no different. The community activists responded by sitting in the road when police arrived alongside the machinery. But police used tear gas on protesters and beat them with batons, successfully dislodged the resistance.

La Puya's commitment to peaceful resistance represents a "unique situation," said Alford-Jones of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. "Their dedication to non-violence is unmatched in Guatemala."

One incident on December 7, 2012, demonstrates how far the members of La Puya will take their principle of non-violence. On that day, hundreds of riot police accompanied contractors who were transporting equipment to the mine. Activists responded by lying down in front of the entrance to the mine, putting their bodies on the line to prevent the equipment from arriving. The police responded by deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. Despite the suffocating clouds of gas, the activists stood their ground. At the end of the confrontation, the police and contractors turned around.

However, not all standoffs have ended so peacefully. In June 2012 Yolanda Oquelí, one of the principle leaders of the La Puya resistance, was shot in the back by an unknown shooter. She survived, but there is still no investigation into the shooting.

Activists throughout Guatemala risk a lot to maintain their resistance. The heavy-handed response of the Guatemalan government marks a criminalization of protest in Guatemala.

"The government has brought back the idea of the internal enemy," said Alford-Jones. "This idea is what justified torture and genocide during the internal armed conflict."

Government officials have gone on television and equated the leaders of the resistance movements as criminals and terrorists.

Communities have also seen their territories militarized and subjugated to periods of marshal law, during which community leaders are detained by soldiers and illegally held. In Huehuetenago, a northwestern department of Guatemala, during a period of marshal law in 2013, 11 community leaders were arrested and detained. Charges were never brought against them.

Another tactic being utilized in the criminalization of protests is through the courts. Leaders face unfounded charges of kidnapping, terrorism, or assault.

"It seems to be a strategy to exhaust or put in prison the leaders of these movements," says Alford-Jones.

Activists at La Puya have increasingly run into this tactic. On May 3, 2014 members of the resistance were found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison and fined $4,212 for their part in making threats and assaulting employees of the El Tambor mine.

Supporters and observers of the conflict have pointed out that the charges they are being accused of are "baseless." Still, at least eight other leaders including Yolanda Oqueíl face similar charges.

The struggle at La Puya is one of a number of community resistance movements in Guatemala and other parts of Latin America, where campesinos and communities are threated by the expansion of development projects.

Whether it is for the development of eco-friendly tourism, the expansion of industrial agriculture, or projects based on the extractive model, communities have been pitched in a zero-sum battle against the sale and destruction of their lands.

* Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist and photographer currently based out of Seattle Washington. He has lived in Haiti and Guatemala, and has covered social movements in Mexico and Guatemala.


Stand in solidarity with La Puya, Guatemala!

http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6497/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17631

After more than two years of peaceful resistance to a gold mine, and repeated calls for dialogue, the communities in resistance of La Puya, just north of Guatemala City, were violently evicted from the entrance to the project on Friday, May 23. Hundreds of police used tear gas and flash bombs to remove the women who formed the front lines of the resistance. Over twenty people were injured.

But the brave men and women of La Puya are not backing down. They continue to oppose the project and have received overwhelming support from national and international organizations and individuals in solidarity with their struggle in defense of water, life and community wellbeing.

U.S. engineering firm Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) and Canadian mining company Radius Gold are those principally invested in the project.

Take Action: Urge KCA and Radius Gold to halt all mining activities until the dialogue process has concluded between the Guatemalan government and the communities of La Puya, and to cease any pressure on Guatemalan authorities to use violent force against the protesters.

Online action: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6497/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17631

Go online and sign onto the following open letter:

Dear Kappes Cassiday & Associates and Radius Gold,

re: Violent repression at La Puya

I write to you, the principal companies invested in the El Tambor mine project just north of Guatemala City, to vociferously denounce the violent repression on Friday May 23rd that Guatemalan security forces used on your behalf against men, women and children who have been peacefully defending their water, health and community wellbeing since March 2nd 2012. Considering the ongoing dialogue process between the Guatemalan government and the community, we urge you to halt all mining activities and to desist from any efforts to pressure Guatemalan authorities to use aggression and violent force against Guatemalan citizens.

On Friday, hundreds of police were deployed to the encampment known as La Puya; they used tear gas and flash bombs against an unarmed and peaceful group of protesters. Some were caught on video throwing rocks on the group from a nearby hill. Over twenty people were injured, two seriously; seven were taken to the hospital in Guatemala City.

People at La Puya have demonstrated ongoing willingness to dialogue to find a non-violent solution to community concerns regarding the future of your project. In fact, for almost one year, representatives of the movement have been participating in a high-level dialogue with their government. They have requested that this dialogue be solely with their government - and not with KCA or Radius - because the issues on the table relate to the government's obligations to respect the rights of its citizens.

The dialogue stalled early last week when the government refused to allow the conversation to be recorded. During the standoff at La Puya on Friday, the Vice-Minister of the Interior insinuated that the government had agreed to accompany the mine equipment because the dialogue was effectively "broken." Community members at La Puya continue to reiterate that they want to complete the dialogue process, but with transparency. Encouraging the Guatemalan authorities and affected communities to find a peaceful solution to this conflict should be your top priority.

The attack on Friday was not the first incident of violence against the people of La Puya. In June 2012, an unknown gunman shot and wounded Yolanda Oquelí while she was on her way home from the roadblock. In addition, security guards hired by EXMINGUA were convicted of intimidating journalists at the roadblock in December 2012.

Community concerns about the impact of the project on water and health are supported by an evaluation carried out by hydrogeology and geochemistry expert Robert Moran. He states in a May 22, 2014 review that your company's Environmental Impact Assessment is the worst quality that he has seen out of hundreds he has reviewed in 42 years of experience. While the process has been slow, all parties were working toward an agreement to review the EIA to address the report's failure to consider water contamination due to high levels of arsenic already present in the soil.

Although Radius Gold sold its shares in the local Guatemalan subsidiary Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala S.A. (EXMINGUA) to KCA in August 2012, it retains an economic interest in the mine. The company's 2013 audited financial statements state that three quarters of the cost of the sale transaction will be paid to Radius once gold shipments commence from the property and that Radius also anticipates quarterly payments from KCA based on gold production.

I call on Kappes, Cassiday & Associates of Nevada and Radius Gold of Vancouver halt all mining activities out of support for the dialogue process and to publicly call for an end to the use of violent force by Guatemalan security forces.

Sincerely,

[YOUR NAME OR ORGANIZATION'S NAME HERE]

cc:
President Otto Pérez Molina
Guatemalan Ministry of the Interior
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala
Canadian Embassy in Guatemala

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