MAC: Mines and Communities

"If we're attacked, we'll die together", a 16-year-old anti-mining activist told her family

Published by MAC on 2017-12-29
Source: Los Angeles Times (2017-12-29)

But when the bullets came, they killed only her

The appalling  murder of young Topacio Renoso, ceaselessy opposing construction of a Canadian-owned silver mine in Guatemala, has resounded around the world.

It is told here by a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

If we're attacked, we'll die together,' a 16-year-old anti-mining activist told her family. But when the bullets came, they killed only her

By Kate Linthicum

Los Angeles Times

27 December 2017


Edwin Alexander Reynoso was shot multiple times along with his daughter, Topacio Reynoso, age 16. They had both been outspoken in opposition to the Escobal silver mine in nearby San Rafael las Flores.

Topacio Reynoso was so precocious her mother sometimes joked she was an extraterrestrial.

A farmer’s daughter from a remote village in Guatemala reachable by a rugged mountain pass, she was playing perfect Metallica riffs on the guitar by age 12. She won beauty contests, filled notebooks with pages of heady poetry and moved through life with a fearlessness that made her parents proud — if also nervous.

At 14, she devoted herself to opposing construction of a large silver mine planned for a town nearby.

Topacio formed her own anti-mining youth group, wrote protest songs and toured the country talking about the environmental risks she believed the mine posed to her community. During a school trip to Guatemala’s capital, she led her classmates in refusing the small welcome gifts from a congressman who supported the mine. Then she heckled him so mercilessly that he fled the meeting.

The teenager’s efforts were not popular with everyone. Although some in the community worried chemicals used at the mine might contaminate nearby rivers, threatening the corn and coffee fields that have long been the region’s lifeblood, others said it would bring needed jobs and tax revenue. The community was split and violence was coming.

Topacio’s father, Alex, knew that speaking out could put the family in peril. Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for environmental activists, with at least 120 killed last year alone, according to the nonprofit Global Witness.

But Topacio convinced him that it wasn’t a choice to oppose the mine, that it was an obligation: His father had left him land that was uncontaminated; it was up to him to pass on clean land to his kids.

He threw himself alongside his daughter into the fight.

These days, when he touches the bullet scars on his body or gazes at the memorial to Topacio that the family has erected on the porch, he wonders whether his decision was right.

The small coffee farm where Topacio grew up might be one of the greenest places on Earth. Half an hour outside Mataquescuintla, a town of 30,000 in southern Guatemala, there are no neighbors in sight, just neat rows of coffee plants, then slopes planted with banana and palm groves, and up near the cloud line, towering pines.

Like her grandparents before her, Topacio grew up living off the land. The corn her family planted, dried and ground into powder was pressed into thick tortillas. Milk produced by a herd of bleating goats was churned into cheese. Yucca root plucked by her younger brothers was fried by her mother and served with salsa and rice.

Many nights, Topacio would sit on the porch or in her cramped, dirt-floor bedroom and strum the guitar, draw pictures and write poems. She filled a spiral notebook with drawings of the planet cracking open and butterflies flying out, and wrote verse after verse about “the betrayal of cowards” against “our generous Mother Earth.”

Nature, she scribbled in blue pen, “is a paradise where we sow dreams and reap happiness.” She dreamed of a day when “no hero will have to die in defense of his land.”

Controversy came to her community in 2010 when a Canadian mining company called Tahoe Resources bought El Escobal silver deposit for more than half a billion dollars. Located on about 250 acres of former farmland in a small town called San Rafael las Flores, just a few miles from Mataquescuintla, El Escobal had never been mined but was believed to contain one of the world’s largest caches of silver, along with deposits of lead, zinc and gold.

This story was reported with a grant from the United Nations Foundation.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

 

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