Two maps hang in the Nebaj, Quiché office of the Asociación para la Justicia y Reconciliación (AJR). The first details the scores of massacres that occurred in the Ixil region during Guatemala’s genocidal civil war. On the opposite wall, hangs another map: “Mining and Hydroelectric Projects”. Numerous dots cover the map, providing a striking visual representation of the dramatic increase in such projects over the last decade.
AJR was a plaintiff in the Rios Montt trial year, having fought for many years to see justice for the genocidal violence conducted against their Mayan Ixil communities. In a meeting with the School of Americas Watch (SOAW) delegation to Guatemala last month, AJR members shared their reaction to the annulment of the trial. “They want to silence us because we oppose mining and hydroelectric projects on our lands”, one member expressed. Again, the Mayan people are facing racism, repression, and violence, and international actors, again in the form of transnational corporations, are involved.
Insights from Bishop Ramazzini
To learn more about the impact of extractive industries, the delegation met with Bishop Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini, well-known for his years of work in human rights. He has been the Bishop of Huehuetenango diocese since 2012. Previously, he was Bishop of the San Marcos diocese, where he was an outspoken critic of the Marlin Mine operated by transnational Goldcorp. The bishop has stated in multiple outlets that the Marlin Mine is illegal and poses a direct threat to the environment, including the local community’s water supply. For more on this, read this interview.
Per Bishop Ramazzini, the current Guatemalan mining law is weak on regulation, oversight, and environmental protections, but highly favorable to transnational corporations. Mining companies are required to pay a scant 1% in royalties to the state, cyanide is permitted for use in mining operations, and the community’s right to reject the exploitation of their lands is not respected. Community divisions have occurred as as result of the entrance of transnational projects into local areas.
Despite the seriousness of the human rights and environmental justice issues related to these projects – including criminalization of activists who oppose them – the bishop cited the impressive growth of indigenous community organizing as a positive development. Communities in Huhuetenango have conducted 28 consultations to date, and nearly all have resulted in a “no” vote to mining and hydroelectric projects. He also highlighted the central role of women in these activist efforts.
ILO 169 – International protections for indigenous rights
How are these mining and hydroelectric projects “illegal”, when the Guatemalan constitution gives the government legal authority for the “rational exploitation” of the “subsoil”? The answer lies in an international treaty to which Guatemala is a signatory, International Labor Organization (ILO) 169, the Indigenous and Tribal Convention. ILO 169 requires that indigenous peoples be consulted, as well as allowed participation in decision-making, regarding policies and projects which affect them.
A large portion – if not an outright majority – of past and proposed projects are in rural, Mayan communities. More than 62 consultations have been conducted throughout Guatemala yet, to date, the government has not respected IL0 169, imposing the projects against communities’ wishes. This issue, as well as the criminalization of activists, has led to the perception that the Guatemalan government has sided with transnational corporations over the rights of its citizens.
Indigenous groups, solidarity and human rights organizations, have mobilized to pressure the Guatemalan government to ensure that indigenous rights via ILO 169 are respected. For more information, read this article in Americas Quarterly.
In a follow-up post, I’ll talk about the SOA Watch delegation’s visit to the Asamblea de Pueblos de Huhuetenango por La Defensa del Territorio in Huehuetenango (ADH). ADH has been active in the struggle of residents of Barillas, Huehuetenango against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in their community. Barillas has faced violence, arrests on unfounded charges, and a state of siege as a result of opposition to the dam.