BTS Delegation to Guatemala – Day 9

November 18, 2019

By Somadina Muojeke

Learning about the Rio Negro massacre which was linked to a hydroelectric project, exploring resistance coffee farms and honouring activist Topacio Reynoso, spending time with communities facing evictions by large plantation owners and communities demanding the right to free, prior and informed consent who are faced with criminalization charges, can leave the mind unsettled until you meet with those engaged in the struggle to protect the environment and their communities. 

The Xinca Parliament is a 500+ year ancestral authority of the people in lands affected by Pan-American Silver’s Escobal mine. Over 70% of people in the area are also adherents to the catholic faith, which led the local archbishop to create a special commission for social justice, CODIDENA. 

The Xinca Parliament’s steadfast resolve to protect their territory demands a transparent consultation process. International Labour Organization (ILO) 169 convention and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people (UNDRIP) calls for the consultation process to align with Indigenous Peoples’ worldview, spirituality and governance. For the Xinca Parliament that means calling for two representatives of each constituent community. 

Unfortunately, there appears to be systematic moves to not respect Xinca institutions, including creating  parallel Xinca authorities to weaken the struggle and acquire Indigenous lands (ie. Saying they’ll be used for schools, but using them for other purposes). The Xinka resistance – though severely battered by criminalization, assassination and poor political representation at the national level – have grown and recorded successes in peaceful direct community actions and obtaining a constitutional court ruling to suspend operations of the Escobal mine. 

CODIDENA has stepped up to accompany mining resistances in the area, including 154 criminalized individuals. They provide capacity building and training to affected communities on human rights, non-violent action, and navigating the justice system. They are also active in the struggle against deforestation, discharge of toxic environmental wastes, clandestine dumps and river diversion. More recently, they’ve been engaged in water testing to investigate lead, arsenic, cadmium, conductivity, pH, seepage, speed and turbidity levels to quickly expose abnormal conditions within the territory.

Recent years have seen pro-struggle church leaders attacked, including an archbishop pulled out of the country, giving rise to concerns about the church bureaucracy and diplomatic missions. 

The Xinca Parliament and CODIDENA collaborate in the struggle and continue to ask us to join the struggle by sharing their story. 

We were told: “The companies made it clear that they have resources to wait 25 years to resume operations for this project, but we have a lifetime of struggle and we are not relenting.” We also heard: “We want to develop our territory but mining is not how we want to achieve that development.” Lest we forget, mining contributes 1.65% to GDP compared to agriculture which accounts for 13%.

Maybe the unsettled mind can begin to heave a sigh of relief because we will share the story and continue to stand by these criminalized and assassinated members of the resistance who are fighting to protect Indigenous rights and the environment.

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