Women community leaders and human rights defenders spoke out on March 5 during a conference to mark international women’s day. The women, who have all be persecuted for their work to defend the land, environment and community in face of transnational mining companies, spoke fiercely and honestly about the many years of struggles they have faced. Six women participated in the event:
- Angelica Choc from El Estor, whose husband Adolfo Ich was murdered in 2009 allegedly by Hudbay Minerals Private Security, just outside her home in front of children and other community members. Mynor Padilla, the former military colonel who was contracted as private security for the company is now facing criminal charges in Guatemala. Choc’s case has also been presented in Canada, along with 11 other women who were gang raped during a violent and eviction in 2007 by public and private security forces acting on behalf of the mine (see www.chocversushudbay.com).
- Crisanta Perez from Agel, San Miguel Ixtahuacan where Goldcorp’s Marlin mine has been operating for the past 10 years, spoke about the criminalization she has faced for being a strong opponent to the largest open pit gold mine in the country. She also spoke about the case that was filed at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) about the Guatemalan State’s lack to consult with indigenous peoples before building the mine. In 2010, the IACHR recommended that the mine be shut down as part of a set of precautionary measures to ensure the safety and livelihoods of the affected communities, which was not taken into consideration. Goldcorp has dozens of exploratory licenses throughout the country.
- Teresita Munoz, community activist from Jalapa who has been criminalized for her part in the resistance against Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Santa Rosa. In May 2013, during the State of Siege in four municipalities surrounding the mine, Munoz went into hiding for months to escape being thrown into jail for her role in the resistance movements. The State of Siege was introduced just a few weeks after the mining license was granted in early April 2013, and just days after 7 men who were peacefully protesting outside of the mine were shot by mine security. A civil case in Canada has been filed against Tahoe for the shooting. See more at www.tahoeontrial.net
- Celeste Gutierrez has been a strong and determined voice behind CODIDENA – the Committee in Defense of Nature of the Diocese of Nueva Santa Rosa. CODIDENA actively works to inform fellow community members about the potential impacts of mining, something neither the company nor the State has done. CODIDENA also worked hard to organize a community referendum where more than 98% of the turnout voted against the expansion of Tahoe Resources’ mine in their community.
- Yolando Oqueli has been at the forefront of the resistance against a gold mine operated by Kappes, Cassiday & Associates in San Jose del Golfo, just north of Guatemala City. In 2012, after coming home from a protest against the mine, Yolanda was shot by two men traveling on a motorcycle. Since then, her determination to rally her community against the mining operation, which has used extreme violence and tremendous support from the Guatemalan state security forces to move forward. Yolanda and the community, which set up a permanent peaceful protest outside the mining entrance has been the victims of harassment, vandalism and death threats.
- Shenny Lemus is from San Juan Bosco, in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, where Tahoe Resources operates it Escobal silver mine. The mine, which has been under scrutiny for serious human rights violations committed around the site, is also facing criminal charges for industrial water contamination. For Shenny, the water contamination that she and her community have already faced is reason for her to continue the struggle despite the threats she and her daughter and mother have faced.
The women talked about the challenges of being a woman human rights defender, who not only are part of the struggle, but most often bear the weight of having to care for children and their homes. Often, they have to leave children behind with family members while they are away at protests, speaking tours and meetings. They also talked about the sexual aggression they have faced even by friends in the resistance. In addition, the women spoke about the difficulties of being part of a patriarchal movement and society which does not usually value or validate the voice and opinions of women. The event brought the reality of women human rights defenders to the surface, past the heroics which it takes, but also the personal sacrifice that they have to make to fight for justice and a dignified life.