Over the last week, we have listened with growing horror as news reached us from Monte Olivo, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Since 2010, residents of the region who oppose the construction of the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam have been victim to various attacks, including one in August 2013 that left two young boys dead.
Then, last week, according to the Prensa Comunitaria, the government deployed over 1,000 police to Monte Olivo to evict 160 families of the community 9 de Febrero. As helicopters flew overhead, police and day laborers destroyed homes and assaulted residents, leaving several people injured. Five people were also arrested in Monte Olivo, as well as two others in nearby Raxruhá. In response, hundreds of people blocked the highway to prevent the passage of the police. In an ensuing conflict between protesters and police, three men were killed in the community of Semacoch, allegedly by police gunfire, and several people were injured, including six police. Eight police were also detained by protesters, but have since been released.
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.
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.
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.