By Cesar Gomez (CS STAFF)
Indigenous leaders and authorities from the community of Lelá Obraje and Lelá Chaco, Chiquimula, Guatemala, recently denounced threats by the mining company Cantera el Porvenir and the Municipal Corporation of Camotán Chiquimula, headed by Noé Guerra, for resisting the installation of a new mining project.
"The megaprojects do not leave us anything good, what they leave us is more poverty. We are defending our rights to water, forests, and life," said an anonymous member of the community, a human rights and land defender.
The Cantera el Porvenir mining project was installed without the consultation and consent of the communities, as required by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The project has destroyed a large part of the Zompopero ancestral forest, which for generations has been protected.
“Two sources of water have already dried up, as a result of the logging that project requires,” commented Jeremías Hernández from the Asociación Campesina Indígena Maya Ch'orti' Nuevo Día, an Indigenous organization in Jocotan, Chiquimula, Guatemala, “affecting the residents of Lelá Obraje and the communities of Jocotán, who no longer can access the vital water of these springs.”
“Now that we are defending the watersheds that give strength to our neighbors in our community, we are receiving threats. People who work at the megaproject, people close to the municipal mayor and his council were saying at the last end of the year 2020 festivities that we had to be buried,” one of the community members shared.
Hernández conveyed that on January 5, 2021, a member of Los Consejos Comunitarios de Desarrollo Urbano y Rural (Cocode), an agency of community councils for urban and rural development, recognized by the Indigenous assembly, was threatened when two people intercepted him at the bus stop and told him to “Stop getting into bullshit! Don’t get together with the resistance leaders because we're going to kill them and you too are going to die." The community leader replied, "I'm just defending my rights. " One of the men then approached him with a pistol, saying, "Here the only valid right is this," showing him the firearm.
These threats have already been denounced at the Municipal Prosecutor's Office of the Public Ministry (MP), of Jocotán, Chiquimula, which they plan to transfer soon to the Public Prosecutor's Office for Human Rights Defenders of the Public Ministry (Police). “We have also informed our family, friends, and the international community. You don't know if today if you go out, you will not return home tomorrow," community members pointed out.
Hernández adds, ”Eight days ago we filed the complaint and the Public Ministry has not reacted, possibly authorities are acting under the orders of the companies and the mayors. We ask that international community to put pressure on the authorities of our country so that we are protected. We are not fighting with anyone, we are defending rights in the Guatemalan Constitution, which guarantees the protection of life, as well as the Municipal Code Decree 12-2002, which establishes that consultation with Indigenous communities or municipality authorities is observed."
According to the license found on this website, in 2008, the Ministry of Energy and Mines authorized the El Porvenir to extract graphite and iron oxide. Hernández recalls that at the beginning, he consulted with the institutions of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Mines and the Municipality about the mining license, they denied knowing about the project, however, in a second request for information he made through Deputy Aldo Dávila, a deputy in the Guatemalan Congress, the documents showing licenses granted began to appear.
“There are two mining companies that are already extracting minerals with impunity, El Porvenir and El Pato, however, we are aware that there are between 17 and 20 pending requests at the Department, in the municipalities of San Jacinto Esquipulas, Olopa, Chiquimula, San José la Arada Concepción las Minas. This means that they are going to sink Chiquimula though mines,” stated Hernández.
Nuevo Día is fighting together with the communities, so that the State recognizes the rights of the Maya Ch'orti' people to manage their natural resources. In Guatemala the lands belong to the Indigenous Peoples, but there have been moments in history where their lands have been taken from them and then returned to them. There have been times where they have recovered them and again, taken from them by the State or by State institutions such as the municipality. With all this considered, the community has been managing and defending their lands from extraction, exploitation and theft for the past 100 years, including protecting the largest forest in the region. Now, the mining company is destroying it, violating their rights, including their rights to life, consultation, and consent.