An anti-mining banner at the roadblock reads: “Defend our Mother Earth from the rats.”
Guatemala sits atop a wealth of natural resources—nickel, gold, silver, and titanium—that lie beneath the country’s rich volcanic soil. In 1960, the Canadian-owned and -operated International Nickel Company (INCO) became the first transnational mining company to arrive in Guatemala. That year also marked the beginning of a 36-year civil war between the government and a slew of leftist guerrilla groups fighting over land distribution, indigenous rights, and economic equality. The conflict ended in 1996, after sweeping neoliberal economic changes were enacted and many regions of the country previously controlled by rebels were opened up to the mineral-extraction industry.
Since then, the government has granted more than 400 licenses to multinational corporations, and the terms for these companies are exceptionally favorable. The government rarely receives more than 5 percent of a company’s earnings, and under the leadership of President Pérez Molina, corporations pay the government only 1 percent of the value of the minerals they extract. They also get to use local water at no cost. Mineral exploitation is a technical term for the process of mining, and in a very literal sense, communities like those near La Puya are being exploited for their gold, their water, and their wealth, with mining often leaving behind a thoroughly pillaged landscape that is utterly bereft and toxic.
Giles Clarke visited La Puya in 2013 and writes about his visits in Vice. You can see some more photographs and read the full article here.