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Guatemala: A Mayan-Qeqchi Community Is Re-Filling The Empty Spaces With Courage And Dignity And Fear

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By Grahame Russell*

altIn the remote Mayan Qeqchi [kek-chi] community of Lote 8, high in the mountains on the north side of Lake Izabal, eastern Guatemala, we stand in thick brush, in the empty space where the home of Amelia Cac Tiul used to be.

We have hiked in here to listen as Amelia explained how her home was burned to the ground on January 9, 2007, along with every single home in the Lote 8 community – 100 homes in all. And she speaks of how she was gang raped on January 17, along with 10 other Lote 8 women, by security guards hired by HudBay Minerals (Canadian nickel company), and by Guatemalan police and soldiers.
 

JANUARY 9, 2007

This illegal forced eviction and destruction of 100 homes was carried out by some 800 soldiers, police and private security guards at the behest of the CGN (Guatemalan Nickel Company), subsidiary of the Canadian nickel mining company HudBay Minerals (then Skye Resources). The private security guards work for HudBay/CGN.

Amelia explained that during the eviction of January 9, the community of 100 families fled further into the mountains and forests. Days later, after sleeping on the ground, in the rain, with no food, the community came back and began to rebuild their huts.

 
JANUARY 17, 2007

altOn January 17, some 800 soldiers, police and security guards again returned to Lote 8. They again burned the people’s homes (temporary lean-tos hastily built over the last week) to the ground, and, this time, the HudBay/CGN security guards, police and soldiers gang-raped 11 women. In the empty space, Amelia pointed to the spot on the ground where she was gang-raped.
 

I was here leading an educational seminar with 30 students from the universities of Guelph and Saskatchewan (in Canada) who came to learn more about the human rights violations caused directly and indirectly by Canadian nickel mining companies – first INCO, in the 1970s and 80s, then Skye Resources and HudBay Minerals from 2004 forward.

 

UNBROKEN CHAINS

For the impoverished and discriminated Mayan-Qeqchi communities of the El Estor region, it has been unbroken chain of forced evictions, destruction of homes and property, killings and – now – gang rapes.

For the Canadian companies, supported by the Canadian and Guatemalan governments, it has been an unbroken chain of impunity and denials.

And, for the Mayan-Qeqchi communities, it has also been an unbroken chain of dignity, courage and community struggle in defense of their communities, their watersheds and livelihoods, and their rights.

 

RE-FILLING THE EMPTY SPACES

alt
In the empty space, we asked Amelia what she and her husband wanted to do now. The answer was simple – they want to come back and re-build their homes and reclaim their plot of land that had been in her family for over 50 years.

From the home of Amelia, we filed through the brush to four more clearings, where women and men had begun to clear away the brush, to re-occupy the empty spaces. In each clearing, we saw burnt and chain-sawed remains of the huts destroyed in 2007. In each clearing, women told us of their homes and property that had been burned or stolen, of their families and community that had been scattered, and of the rapes.

One by one, the families told us they wanted to move back, come what may (venga lo que venga), to rebuild their homes and reclaim their lands.

 

COME WHAT MAY

Are you not afraid, we asked, that you may suffer further repression and evictions on behalf of the mining company? Yes, they answered. Why are you doing this? What options to we have? Where can we go?

Most importantly, they repeated: this is our land. Our parents settled here over 50 years ago. We were born and raised here. It is our right to be here. The company, with its security guards, police and soldiers, committed crimes against us, thinking we would just go away. But where would we go? Where will our children live?

 

DENIAL & IMPUNITY

In El Estor, there are signs that HudBay/CGN is proceeding with preparations to re-start mining for nickel, that was suspended by INCO back in 1981.

The community of Lote 8 is right to be afraid of more repression and evictions. 50 years of nickel mining history in the region show that illegal and forced evictions, property destruction and human rights violations are a constant, covered up by denials and impunity.

Given the almost complete lack of legal accountability mechanisms in Guatemala and Canada, and internationally, and the lack of political and moral will to properly address and remedy these issues and allegations, it is easy for HudBay Minerals (like Skye Resources and INCO before them) to deny responsibility for the evictions, destruction of homes, property and communities, killings, rapes, etc.

(The 1999 United Nations Truth Commission report (investigating the worst years of Guatemala’s State repression and genocide that killed and disappeared at least 250,000 mainly Mayan people in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s) documents 6 cases of human rights violations (including killings and disappearances) committed by INCO’s subsidiary, EXMIBAL, in collusion with the Guatemalan military. Though the Canadian government supported the work of the UN Truth Commission, and endorsed its final report, it has given no attention to the explicit references to these violations committed by INCO and the Guatemalan army.)

No justice has been done for any of these evictions and violations, past and present, neither in Guatemala, nor in the Inter-American Human Rights system, nor in Canada.

[As a possible exception to the rule of impunity, at http://www.chocversushudbay.com/, you can find information about a precedent setting civil case filed in December 2010 in Canada, against HudBay Minerals, for the September 2009 killing of Adolfo Ich, a Mayan-Qeqchi teacher, father of 4 and community leader.]

 

WHAT TO DO

What is needed is to strengthen the struggle for justice and for the defense of indigenous communities, rights and justice. This struggle must increase in Guatemala and in Canada.

In the measure that this issue does not get more critical attention in Canada and pressure on the company and on the Canadian government, the odds of more evictions, property destruction and violations increase significantly.

Firstly, funds are needed for the communities who have long suffered the abuses and who are leading the work and struggle in defense of their own community development, environment and rights.

Secondly, more international presence is needed in the mining affected communities – short term visiting delegations and journalists, and longer term human rights accompaniment and activists.

 

INVESTIGATORY COMMISSION

Thirdly, more work is needed in Canada to expose what is happening and bring pressure to bear on the Canadian government to establish a high-level, impartial, investigatory commission to carry out a full inquiry into the long history of Canadian mining interests in the El Estor region and into the history of illegal and forced evictions, destruction of property and human rights violations.

 

 

On October 19, 2010, Rights Action and the UNBC (University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George) re-submitted a Human Rights Complaint to the Canadian Government Concerning Nickel Mining in Guatemala: http://rightsaction.org/articles/Complaint_HR_&Guate_Mining.html. To date, the Canadian government continues to ignore its responsibility to investigate. The demands remain the same.

(Grahame Russell is co-director of Rights Action)

 

*SOURCE: http://bit.ly/dLzuoE Indigenous Peoples: Issues and Resources.