Rights under siege: the remilitarisation of Guatemala

“There were around 2,500 police and army in the region,” Francisco tells me. “With tanks and trucks and everything it seemed as if they were coming to war.”

Since the construction of the Escobal silver mine in the neighbouring village of San Rafael las Flores, Francisco Enrique López and Eddy Zuleta Hernández, leaders of the Organised Civil Society of Mataquescuintla (SCOM), have seen their once-peaceful agricultural community in the Xinka indigenous zone of southern Guatemala transformed. Water sources have dried up, prices for their produce have dropped for fears of contamination and violent confrontations have flared between between local people and mine workers.

Cat Rainsford talks about the community struggles in San Rafael Las Flores, wherein lies the Escobal mine of the Canadian Tahoe Resources company, currently responding to a lawsuit in British Columbia by members of this same community. The lawsuit stems from an attack carried out by private security acting on orders from the head of mine security.

“The response of the government was unequivocal. Within days, four municipalities surrounding the mine were placed under a State of Siege, Guatemala’s highest state of military alert prior to war”.

What this means is that freedoms of movement, association, protest and expression were all suspended and dozens of community members were arrested and this State mechanism (Estados de Sitio) have been used indiscriminately in the last number of years (14 between 2008-14) – truly the State of Guatemala considers itself on the brink of war with its poorest peoples and that the very Constitution is under threat because of community resistance to forces destroying them.

“The Peace Accords were intended to heal a country once riven by civil war, but have enabled the government to put indigenous communities under military occupation. Resistance is growing, however.”

You can read Cat’s article here courtesy of the independent journalism community, Contributoria.

For another angle on the struggle at in San Rafael Las Flores and how the State is using this to create its own quasi-military project for future resistance, you can read Luis Solano’s article here. More on the Tahoe lawsuit, you can visit the Tahoe on Trial website here.

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Categories: Environment, Indigenous peoples, Land, Mining

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