“La Puyita” -‘Sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the water of this and future generations – no to mining…’
The Comunidades en Resistencia at La Puya, have recently opened up a second point of resistance by taking their struggle to the door of the Ministerío de Energia y Minas (MEM) – the Ministry of Energy and Mines. In this case, literally to the door as they have set up a camp at the gates of the Ministry building, in Zone 11 of the capital. It has acquired the name La Puyita – the little La Puya.
La Puya, by means of CALAS, took a case to the Guatemala Supreme Court (SC) in relation to the ILO ruling 169, the binding international convention concerning indigenous peoples, and a forerunner of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The key clause states that, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous Peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources”.
The SC, rather than taking on the responsibility, sent the case to the Guatemala Constitutional Court, who duly returned it to the competent body, ie the Supreme Court. The SC, with a different set of judges sitting on the bench, resolved the matter in favour of La Puya and ordered a provisional suspension of the mining license until a full hearing can finally resolve the issue.
Not unique to Guatemala is the lack of any formal enforcement mechanism to carry out the wishes of the courts – these matters tend to depend on the ruling and who is to benefit. Clearly, this ruling is not to the benefit of industry or of powerful vested interests. The Guatemala Chamber of Industry (CIG), have weighed in, calling the decision of the Supreme Court illegal and supporting the Ministry in its struggle against the courts and the people.
Meanwhile, the enforcement of the SC’s decision remains an issue. One local judge refused to act when the mining company tried to bring in a large shipping container, as well as other heavy machinery, while a second judge ordered the company to stop based on the SC ruling. While this was happening, a troop of riot police were sent to La Puya, though not, of course, to enforce the Court’s ruling. The police are the responsibility of the Ministerío de Gobernación who, when not seeking to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision, seek to act in the interests of big business and international capital against the rights of Guatemalan citizens.
This was all in the lead up to the 4th anniversary of the setting up of the Comunidad and the celebrations that accompanied it.
Enjoying the late evening sunshine at the 4th Anniversary celebrations at La Puya
It appears that the MEM are competent to carry out the enforcement of the Court’s wishes and so, after receiving a rebuff from the Ministry, members of La Puya immediately decided to create a second Comunidad en Resistencia outside the offices of MEM until this is resolved. The location of the Ministry is on a four-lane road and La Puya blocked off three of those lanes on the first day, and then opening up a second for traffic. CIG, for its part, has called on the Ministry not to cede to the demonstrators and has called on the Constitutional Court to resolve this issue in favour of the mining company.
Interestingly, this has served to bring the issue of La Puya to a much wider audience than has been the case so far due to national media indifference to the plight of poor farmers. While the camp receives much noisy support from passing traffic, over the past several days the Minister has been unwilling to meet with representatives of La Puya, only sending functionaries to advise them that he is too busy.
When a meeting did take place last week between representatives of La Puya, the Minister and Ministry functionaries, the spurious claim that a license could not be revoked was met with incredulity by La Puya, stating that the Government had the power, and the enforcement capabilities, to enforce the revocation of the license if it deemed to contravene any prior legal obligations.
Sandra Moran, a representative of the Guatemala Congress, sought to summon the Minister to a hearing to discuss the issues of La Puya but rather than attend himself, he sent his vice-Minister, explaining that he could not attend due to his inability to get past the demonstrators. He has two further opportunities to put forward his case to Congress.
Meanwhile the Comunidades en Resistencia continues its struggle, while at the same time, increasing its visibility in the public consciousness.