Guatemala News Update: December 7-13

Court endorses community referendums on mining

The Constitutional Court ruled that municipal governments must respect the results of consultas comunitarias (community referendums) on whether mining projects can be developed in their towns. The court also affirmed that the results of community referendums should be submitted to the national authorities who grant mining licenses.

The court’s ruling rejected the appeal of unconstitutionality regarding a November 2012 community referendum concerning Tahoe Resource’s San Rafael Mine in the municipality of La Villa de Mataquescuintla, Jalapa. The results of this vote revealed that 10,000 people opposed the mine, while only 100 people supported it. The court based its ruling on the ILO Convention 169, which guarantees indigenous communities the right to consultation. In response to the court’s decision, the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry (CIG) and the Union of Extractive Industries (GEE) maintained that community referendums should be used as an indicator to inform decision makers, but not a binding determinant in approving mining projects.

Communities protest Marlin Mine

Beginning last Friday, members from various communities demonstrated against Goldcorp’s mining in Sipacapa, San Marcos by blocking the highway at two different points. This protest came in response to the granting of new licenses for exploration in San Carlos Sija. According to the company, protesters held 35 workers from the Marlin Mine to demand that company authorities provide them a new water source, as mining in the area has contaminated and dried up their water source. Community member Basilio Bámaca assured that no person was being held; rather, the community was just warning miners that from now on they would take action. Representatives of the Marlin Mine said they will help the community access safe water, but added that the disturbances were provoked by outsiders and accused residents of violating the right to free movement and commerce.

Community of Monte Olivo attacked

On Sunday, individuals connected to the Israeli company Energía Limpia de Guatemala (ELG) attacked residents of the Maya Q’eachi’ community Monte Olivo with machetes. Four community members were gravely wounded. The community has been in opposition to the company’s construction of the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam.

Remains of Dos Erres massacre victims returned

The skeletal remains of 163 victims of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre were returned to surviving relatives on Saturday, December 7. The massacre killed a total of 201 people. The exhumation of these bodies also provided evidence in the trial of five soldiers involved in the massacre who were sentenced to 6,000 years in prison, the first conviction against soldiers in Guatemala’s history. The victims were buried at the municipal cemetery in Las Cruces, Petén.

Xinca communities say no to mining

The Xinca Parliament asked authorities to call off the operations of San Rafael mining, the subsidiary of Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources, because of the environmental harm caused as well as the local communities’ opposition to the mine. The Parliament represents the municipalities of San Rafael Las Flores, Santa María Xalapán, and Mataquescuintla, Jalapa. The Parliament’s demand is based on a community referendum in which 23,000 residents opposed mining and 399 supported it. The Parliament also presented an action against government officials, including Interior Minister Mauricio López, Judge Carol Flores, and police officers, for the arrest of community leaders without warrants during the state of siege last May.

Indigenous communities unite against mining and hydroelectric dams

On December 8, 14 indigenous groups from 75 municipalities in western Guatemala announced their decision to unite against the authorization of mining and hydroelectric dam licenses, with the goal of defending their natural resources and territory. The decision came after the Council of Western Peoples held their general assembly.

Increase in attacks against human rights defenders

Aggression against human rights defenders has increased by 126% this year as compared to 2012. UDEFEGUA reported that the most harassed human rights defenders are those fighting for truth and justice, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, campesinos, and unions. Iduvina Hernández stated that the state authorities have been complicit in attacks against defenders by failing to investigate these attacks or guarantee respect for human rights.

Increase in repression reported at La Puya

After two years since the EXMINGUA gold mine was established in the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, an investigation conducted by the Foundation for Community Development (FUNDESCO) found an increase in repression against the members of the organized resistance of “La Puya.” The organization released a report on Thursday, which stated that a climate of fear and terror prevails for the nearly 800 families involved in the resistance. According to the activists cited in the report, the government continues criminalizing peaceful resistance and favoring the transnational company.

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