Report Back: Franklin Valenzuela’s Speaking Tour and the 2016 BTS AGM

Summer got off to a great start with the BTS AGM in late June. This year our invited guest was Franklin Valenzuela from the Mataquescuintla, Jalapa youth organization JODVID (Youth Organized in Defense of Life). From June 18- 26, Franklin traveled and met with numerous solidarity, university and civil society groups to inform Canadians about the work of JODVID, as well as the impacts of living only 6 km away from Mina San Rafael, a mine owned by Canadian-US company Tahoe Resources.

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The speaking tour began in Toronto where Franklin attended an event held by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN). Many members of the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN) came to show their solidarity and interview Franklin. Franklin then traveled to Fredericton, where he attended Aboriginal Day celebrations and spoke at a gathering a BTS Fredericton members. He was then off to Charlottetown and participated in an event at the University of Prince Edward Island along side a member of the divestment group at the university. This visit was followed by a stop in Antigonish where Franklin met with the local group Responsible Energy Action (REA) and later spoke at a larger public event organized by the BTS Antigonish Committee. On route to the BTS AGM in Tatamagouche, Franklin met with MP Sean Fraser to share concerns regarding the presence of Canadian mining companies in Guatemala.

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Franklin’s messages during his presentations were clear. The presence of Tahoe Resources in San Rafael las Flores has negatively affected their community. The company has ignored community consultations which have expressed a rejection of these projects and has used tactics such as criminalization and militerization to repress strong civil society movements in communities. However, Franklin also showed audiences that the resistance still exists. JODVID was born out of the friends and family of Topacio Reynos Pacheco, a 16 year old activist and artist murdered in 2014, while in a car with her father who was also seriously injured. The organization uses art to educate youth and the wider community about the environment and the threat of mega-projects on the environment. At each stop, Franklin stated, “Youth are not just the future. We are the present.”

 

Throughout t the speaking tour, a number of direct advocacy actions were organized in support of JODVID and the family of Topacio Reynoso Pacheco. Attendees at events signed a letter to the Public Prosecutor and the President of Guatemala demanding the provision of necessary resources to carry out a full investigation into who was responsible for the attack and murder of Topacio Reynoso, as well as a second attack against her father and five others in October 2015. To this day, no one has been charged for their attack. In addition, the letter asked the government to respect the community consultation in Mataquescuintla where over 98% of people voted “no” to mining in their community. A second action included attendees sending messages of support to the members of JODIVD. All the messages will be translated and sent to the group.

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The final event of Franklin’s time in Canada was the BTS Annual General Meeting which is held every year in Tatamgouche, NS. Members from all the local committees were in attendance for the event. The meeting kicked off on Friday night with a panel of youth speaking about their experience in social struggles: Franklin Valenzuela spoke about the work of JODVID, Eliza MacLaughen spoke about her experience as a human rights accompanier in Guatemala, and Gitpu Augustine spoke about the challenges and success of the resistance at Elsiepogtog. The panel drew many similarities between the struggle to resist mega-projects both in Canada and Guatemala.

The second day of the BTS AGM was an opportunity to hear from local committees about their work over the past year: fundraisers, documentaries, urgent actions and speaking tours. We also heard reports from Guatemala; Lisa Rankin, the Co-Coordinator for Breaking the Silence gave updates on the number of cases going forward in Guatemalan courts, the work of BTS’ Guatemalan partners, and the coalitions BTS participates in. Franklin Valenzuela also gave a more in-depth presentation on the work of JODVID and his community’s struggles in resistance to Tahoe Resources. Those in attendance also heard a presentation from BTS member Kathryn Anderson on the Open for Justice campaign and a lesson in how to write a successful Urgent Action from Amnesty International. The attendees then wrote an urgent action to the President of Guatemala demanding action for the murder of Daniel Choc Pop, a member of the CCDA from Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.

One of the highlights of the weekend was the evening of the second day of the AGM, also Franklin’s final day in Canada. There was an informal session with Lisa Rankin and Franklin to speak about the more personal aspect of the work and the challenges and successes of BTS’ work in Guatemala. BTS then presented the first annual Topacio Reynoso Youth Award to JODVID. The award was supported by BTS, the Mining the Connections Committee of the Maritimes Conference of the United Church, the Steelworkers Union, MiningWatch Canada and the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network. The award, which includes a $1000 USD contribution to the organization, will be awarded each year to a youth organization in Guatemala which exemplifies the life and values of it’s namesake, Topacio Reynoso, a young woman who worked for the well-being of her community. As representative of JODVID, Franklin Valenzuela accepted the award, presented by Yvette Michaud,  a representative of the BTS Coordinating Committee.

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The BTS AGM was once again a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the network and BTS’ work in Guatemala. Franklin Valenzuela and his commitment and dedication to his community and the environment inspired all those present for the AGM and his speaking tour. With the Topacio Reynoso Youth Award, we hope to deepen our relationship with JODVID and the amazing youth from Mataquescuintla.

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