As multinational companies continue to seek licences for mineral exploitation in Guatemala, time and again local communities reject these initiatives in popular consultas comunitarias. Not only do they site the environmental damage that will be done to their lands, and the lack of any real economic benefit to the local community (with subsistence level wages paid, while profits are taken straight out the country, with minimal tax paid on them), but more fundamentally, they reject the very idea that the government can sell off what they deem as their land.
The most recent rejection of multinational mining took place in the municipality of Cunén, in the department of Quiché. For more, please see the press bulletin below:
CUNEN REJECTS MINING IN LOCAL TERRITORY
29 October 2009
Seventy-one communities [out of seventy-two] in the municipality of Cunén, department of Quiché, gathered in the center of each community to define the immediate future of the population now facing mineral exploration and exploitation licenses granted within their territory.
Both urban and rural communities were summoned for October 27 to define their official position regarding four mining exploration and exploitation licenses granted within the municipality. Projects approved for the area include “La Abundante” mine, as well as mineral extraction projects Yexub, ADD Minera and Chepenal.
The referendum was organized by the Cunén Community Council, the Community Development Councils, community and religious leaders, and local mayors, acting with the backing of a municipal agreement issued on September 23, 2009.
Community members started gathering in the center of each town early on [October 27] to declare their position before local authorities… national and international observers, social organizations and representatives of various indigenous communities in the country.
After the vote in rural areas, the urban population gathered in the central park for the announcement: 18,924 people [57.5% of the population] voted ‘No’ to the presence of national and transnational companies seeking to appropriate and extract the natural resources of the communities of Cunén.
Diego Us, president of the Community Development Council of Llano Largo, a community located 13 km from the urban center, described the community vote as an excellent affirmation that the people, not governments, own the territory. Us also said that the referendum was a blessing in providing protection for the communities resisting the government and congressional representatives that, when they assume power, sell off the people and all human beings, using the population as a political toy.
Osmundo Oxlaj, member of the Cunén Community Council, announced the results and pointed out that, “the number of participants [in the referendum] has surpassed the number of voters in the last municipal elections…”
Domingo Hernández, of the Board of the National Maya Waqib’ Kej Coordinating Committee and Convergence, said, “The referendum is the first phase of organizing communities in defense of Mother Earth, the woods, water, fields; everything in danger due to the presence of transnational companies.” Hernández emphasized, “The communities are the direct actors in a positive exercise of their rights as citizens to show that the population rejects the presence of transnational companies, the destruction of Mother Earth and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few who own indigenous territories”…
Pablo Zeto, of FUNDAMAYA, participated, along with the indigenous authorities of the Ixil region, as an observer…[he] mentioned that the process in Cunén and other communities throughout the country represents the application of their rights under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “This exercise is to recuperate and protect natural resources, for the good of all humanity, so that policies are not applied by the political parties that have become workers for the transnational companies.”
Members of the Xinka communities from Santa María Xalapán, Jalapa also observed the referendum process. Juan Antonio Jiménez, one of the spokespersons, underlined the unity demonstrated during the referendum, the wide participation, and the resounding ‘No’ emitted by the population facing mining activity in the municipality.
…the Cunén Community Council also announced that the next step is to hand the results in to the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, including each political party, the Energy and Mines Commission. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Ministry of Energy and Mines will also receive official copies of the results…
Spokesperson Pedro Sica also mentioned that community referenda will be held in the neighboring municipalities of Sacapulas and Uspantán, in the department of Quiché, where there are also megaprojects and mining licenses under way that pose risks for the life and security of the population of Quiché…