“For us, nature is a central part of life. The plants, the corn, the trees, the animals, everything that humans needs to live. The earth, the mountains, the rivers, all that is life. Humanity cannot exist without nature.”
This is what Pedro Sicá, a visiting Maya K’iche’ human rights and environmental defender from Guatemala, told GSN during an interview in London on 13 March.
Having travelled thousands of miles from his small rural village of Chuil, located in the high Cuchumatanes mountain range in the northern Guatemalan department of El Quiché, Pedro visited Europe earlier this month to raise awareness about the impact of megaprojects in Quiché.
The K’iche’ leader told GSN that the region’s rich natural resources are under threat from a series of proposed projects, commissioned by the government and financed through international investment.
In response to this threat, the communities have formed a grassroots organisation, Cunén Community Council (CCC), to defend their land, natural resources and human rights.
CCC was created in 2009 after community members obtained public information from the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) confirming that the government is intending to commission numerous megaprojects in the region, including hydroelectric dams and mines.
CCC disseminated information about the projects to the Quiché communities, holding consultations and assemblies in which more than 19,000 people from 71 communities rejected the development of megaprojects.
The government, however, has ignored the outcome of these consultations and the communities’ request to suspend licenses. Instead, they have reacted by criminalising and stigmatising them. Pedro said the government has accused the communities of being “terrorists” and accused them of being “anti-development”.
“We are not enemies of development, we are friends of development. But we are environmentalists, and human life is more important than money…the Maya have lived in the Cuchumatanes for thousands of years, and they have system, a way of living, a way of development which they have developed without going against nature, so what we want is a model of development which comes from the communities and is for the community,” he told GSN.
The government claims, however, that large scale investment projects are in the communities’ interest, and has stated that the way to fight the county’s poverty is to push mining forward.
In February this year, the MEM announced that the government, under the new administration of President Jimmy Morales, rejected the possibility of introducing a mining moratorium. Instead, it will be forging ahead with mining and accelerating its review of 611 license applications. The Deputy Minister of Sustainable Development, Robert Velasquez, told the Guatemalan press there is “no sense having a mining moratorium because the country is at a critical juncture, and the poverty rates are alarming”.
Visiting Europe the same week that Honduran environmental defender Berta Caceres was murdered, Pedro also spoke of the violence and repression affecting human rights and environmental defenders in Guatemala, neighbouring Honduras and other countries in the region.
“I have come to warn people about the violations that they are committing in Guatemala and because they do not speak about other neighbouring countries, such as what is happening in Honduras with a woman [Berta Cáceres] who defended her rights and was murdered last week. In which one can clearly see how the attitudes of the governments have been up until now. All that I ask from the national and international community is that this information is disclosed so that everything that is happening does not stay in silence, but that it is published,” Pedro said.
Categories: Human Rights