Peace Brigades International has recently published a report, “I Think, Therefore I Resist”, which describes grassroots experiences of alternative protection and promotion of human rights in the context of large-scale economic investment.
The report provides recommendations to the international community on how to prevent violence and respond to threats so that human rights can be enjoyed and the security of human rights defenders is guaranteed.
The following is the case study from the report relating to the Comunidad en Resistencia at La Puya. I thought to provide it in full.
You can read the full report on the PBI website here.
Together we move forward – Integral strategy for the defence of rights in the face of an extractive mining project: La Puya case study
In Guatemala, as in other countries in Latin America, there are an increasing number of conflicts between companies (national and/or international) that exploit natural resources and local communities. These communities have often lived for generations in certain territories and feel that their fundamental rights, their culture and way of life are under threat. Often these conflicts turn violent, and a constant feature is the threats, intimidations and attacks from state and non-state actors, against people and organizations who are defending their land and territory.
Referring to attacks carried out against human rights defenders in Guatemala, the people most affected are precisely the people who defend land and territory. Of the 337 attacks registered by the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) in the first semester of 2015, 239 were directed against defenders of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, all of these are linked to the general conflictive nature of projects that exploit natural resources.
One of these projects is the El Tambor Progreso II Deriva, a gold mine located a few kilometres from the capital, Guatemala City. The mine is actually owned by the North American company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates, who operate through their local subsidiaries Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala S.A. and Servicios Mineros de Centro América.
Since 2010, residents of the affected municipalities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have carried out a range of peaceful resistance activities to show their disagreement with the project. Since then the resistance movement has been demanding a free and informed consultation process before the construction begins. They are also demanding an independent environmental impact study as the study carried out by the company itself has been heavily questioned. These vindications are due to the concerns about the impact that the mine could have on access to water, the contamination of water sources, the death of local fauna, and general damage to the local ecosystem.
“Some of the rights violated are the right to life, the right to water and the right to health, because the water already has high levels of arsenic. What’s more the right to a consultation before the project has not been respected, nor has the right to defend rights, which has been criminalised and strongly violated. The public servants involved don’t look well upon the people who are organising themselves, we are categorised as troublemakers. The response of the state has been to avoid responsibility and justify the actions of the mining company”1.
The communities have pointed out the lack of public information about the project, as well as the mining company’s strategy of disinformation and division within the community.
“The companies have this habit of not telling the truth when they arrive in the territory, but the municipal authorities are very weak when it comes to enforcing what they have to in able to guarantee the rights of the people. When the company arrives, it generates new divisions amongst the people living in the territory, and it fortifies the divisions that already exist. The company strategically contracts people from families who are against the mine; this generates division within the family and within the community. There is also the co-optation of municipalities on behalf of the company, because the company isn’t going to do these things directly. Instead, it uses the local authorities or local people to generate confrontations with people who do not agree with the mine, and when they do not achieve this they use much more aggressive methods”2.
Since the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya initiated its work, it has suffered death threats and acts of aggression, as well as an assassination attempt against one the group’s members in June 2012. Other members have been the subjects of defamation processes and false legal accusations due to their commitment to the Peaceful Resistance. On the 23rd of May 2014, the occupation camp of the Peaceful Resistance, which had been blocking the entrance of the mining installations since 2012, was evicted violently. One year later, at the commemoration of this eviction, the Resistance blocked the vehicle entrance to the mine for not receiving an answer to the petition made in 2014 soliciting a negotiating table with the President of the Republic. According to information provided by members of the Peaceful Resistance, close to 200 riot police arrived to clear the entrance in an aggressive way and using excessive force on the morning of the 26th of May 2015.
On the 15th of July 2015, The Third Tribunal of The First Instance Civil Law of Guatemala upheld a legal appeal in favour of members of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, the verdict ordered the Municipal Council of San Pedro Ayampuc to suspend the construction of the mine within 15 days of the sentence being passed3. This suspension was ordered because the consultation process had not been carried out and because the company lacked the necessary licence for construction. On the 23rd of July, the Municipal Council of San Pedro agreed to stop the construction work on the mining project until the legal appeal is resolved indefinitely in the form of a municipal agreement.
Despite this, from August until December 2015, arguing that the verdict was not final, the mining company disobeyed the municipal agreement and moved trucks loaded with construction materials into the mine. Riot police from the National Civil Police (PNC) protected the trucks4. The director of Kappes, Cassiday and Associates in the United States argued that the construction was already finished and the mine was operational, and because of this the suspension of the construction work was not applicable5.
“We have had a dialogue with the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and the Political Secretary of the Presidency about the issue of the PNC accompanying the workers and the mining machinery when at the same time there is a court sentence and a municipal order to suspend the construction, and they replied that it doesn’t have anything to do with them. That it has to do with other ministries, that it is a different jurisdiction, and it is not their responsibility. When we spoke to the municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc, they responded that they gave, via a municipal agreement, the order to suspend construction because the company did not have the relevant licence”.
“In tribunals it was shown that the company falsified their construction licence and because of this the judge opened a criminal investigation, he asked the public prosecutor’s office to investigate illegal actions. The memorandum that the company makes reference to is completely different to the municipal memorandum, where supposedly the licence was authorised”6.
There are at least thirty community members that have different legal accusations against them, three of them have been condemned to nine years in prison.
“Actually this a good example of the criminalisation of human rights defenders. There were nine people suspected of four crimes, where one crime, a wounding charge, had already been dismissed. So the nine accused all started their trials in different moments. The first three went to public debate and were sentenced to nine years in prison for death threats, coercion and illegal detention. This despite the fact that in the public and oral hearings no evidence could incriminate any of the accused, and with all the irregularities that occurred in the trial, the judge still handed out prison sentences. Curiously, this is the same case that other members of the Peaceful Resistance are involved in, and their trials continue. It is the same dossier, the crimes are the same, the claimants are the same, the incidents are the same, and they happened at four individual moments. After these three accused, there were another five who were included in the proceedings. Amongst these five there was a woman, she was dismissed as it was argued that because she was a woman, she could not take a machete and hit a man. For the other four the trial continued. However, they were eventually acquitted from the criminal process, because there did not exist any type of effective evidence against them. In the same criminal process it was shown that the Public Ministry of Palencia had falsified proceedings in order to incriminate the individuals. Because of this, the sentence was absolved and an investigation was opened against the Public Ministry of Palencia. This is a clear example of how people are unjustly criminalised. Another of the individuals accused was not even linked to the criminal process”7.
Ways of non-violent resistance and protection mechanisms
The rural communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have in the last few years developed creative and diverse activities with the objective of promoting their rights and protecting themselves in the face of attacks and intimidations to which they repeatedly suffer. They initiated a permanent occupation camp that has, with a lot of willpower on behalf of the occupants, remained in place for the last four years. The local communities have organised themselves in a rotation system to keep the camp in place. Furthermore, they have always highlighted the peaceful nature of their resistance.
Miriam Pixtun, member of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, talks first-hand about the goals and achievements of the Peaceful Resistance. Specifically in the promoting of their rights and the search for a peaceful resolution to the situation that they are living:
The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya has been resisting the gold mine for years and is demanding the fulfilment of their rights. Because of this work the security of the organisation and the people who belong to it is at risk. What strategies have been used to achieve your objectives and minimise the impacts that this struggle is having on the lives of the people involved?
- Peaceful resistance
Our resistance is diverse and peaceful. However, those who perpetrate violence in La Puya are the mining company and the Guatemalan State through it’s the security forces. So, one of our measures to safeguard our lives and defend our integrity is, just that, the non-violent struggle for the protection of life.
- Communication between communities
Another important thing is the ongoing communication within the affected communities, and the confidence we can generate amongst ourselves; this has allowed us to look out for one another.
- Alliances and accompaniment
The accompaniment and support that we have received from international organisations like PBI and Protection International (PI) has been very important. The fact that there are external organisations that are monitoring our situation has been fundamental. It has given us a certain amount of security facing this alliance of companies and public institutions, as well as against other actions that could occur.
On a more general level, we have high expectations in creating more alliances with other organisations in the international community that fight for life and for human rights. We have the political advocacy that allows us to have meetings with individuals in the international community who are dedicated to human rights, so that they can become witnesses to the dialogue we have with the Guatemalan government. This is important because when we hold dialogues with public servants there is always a risk that they distort the information and create a defamation campaign against us, and others who are defending the rights of the population.
This makes people scared to talk to the government. What we want is that the international community can observe these things.
- The judicial route
We have also been thinking about, and analysing the Guatemalan legal system. We try to understand the judicial framework better, and the mechanisms that exist within it, but this sometimes can be frustrating. For example, when looking at what they contemplate as protection measures, in practice it just doesn’t happen. It is very complicated. For example, in the case of the Guatemalan National Civil Police, their function according to the judicial framework is protecting the life and security of Guatemalan citizens. However, when we analyse the behaviour of the national police force in La Puya, we see that their function is simply to be the private security of the mining company and not so much the preservation of the security and integrity of the population.
We have also documented, through legal actions, the falsification of the construction license that the mining company uses. However, due to the levels of corruption and impunity that exist, the police lends its services to the mining company. This way, the company can keep accessing the mine and carry on with the construction, and not in compliance of the judicial and administrative orders.
It is very difficult to demand that the law be respected when in practice not even the public servants who are supposed to be in charge of implementing these laws respect them.
Another mechanism that has been very important for resistance at La Puya has been the intention to create dialogue.
La Puya has passed through various moments of dialogue. The first just after the first period of repression in December 2012. We requested that the National System of Dialogue (SND) participate at the negotiating table. However, we were surprised that they did not listen to us, nor did they try to mediate the situation in any way. Actually, it seemed as if the SND was the spokesperson for the mining company. They arrived at the negotiating table with a pre-planned agenda, and with an arrogant attitude; they were only there to justify the actions of the mining company. You could not distinguish the rhetoric of the public servants from that of the mining company. It was precisely because of this situation of inequality and the lack of respect for us on behalf of the public servants that we could not continue this dialogue.
Later, in June-July 2013, there was another phase of dialogue. The president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, called us to a meeting in the presidential palace. However, when we arrived at the meeting the president of the mining company, Daniel Caps, was present. We explained that our position was that we wanted to initiate a dialogue with the government and not the mining company. It is one of our criteria to have a dialogue not with the mining company but with the government, which has the responsibility to guarantee our rights, and if there are problems at the moment, it is because the Guatemalan state did not do its work, as it should have done.
For this reason, we asked the president if he could attend to us separately. In other words, one meeting for the government and Peaceful Resistance of La Puya and another, separate meeting for the government and the mining company. He complied, and in this meeting the OHCHR, the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the Centre for Independent Media were also present as witnesses of honour. Despite all the witnesses, the government still twisted the information and justified the repression that occurred in May 2014 with the argument that the communities involved did not want a dialogue.
Unfortunately, in several of the meetings we have had throughout this whole process, the people that have arrived to represent the government have been public servants that cannot independently take decisions. Therefore, on the third attempt to establish a dialogue, at the end of 2015, when we brought up the issue of the legal appeal and the environmental impact study, the response from the public servants was that they did not have any information. Facing this situation, we formally handed over the documentation. In the next meeting, when asking them their opinion on the legal and administrative issue that were outlined in the documentation, it turned out that they had not even read it.
In the last meeting we reported that in the rainy season, water contaminated by the waste material caused by the mining process was spilling into the nearby communities. We came to an agreement that the authorities would carry out a visit to monitor and verify the area on behalf of the Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM), the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH). In the next meeting we found out that in the visit there was only participation of delegates from the MEM and neither the MARN nor the PDH were told of the visit. The argument was that it was only a routine visit. We were told that if we wanted them to do the verification of the contaminated water, we should stop the resistance, get rid of the occupation camp. We thought this was disgraceful, because they were violating our constitutional right for them to do their work, which should be an obligation.
We continue our disposition to dialogue with the government, despite the repression that we have suffered and the frustration that all this has caused. We continue with a broad mind in relation to a dialogue, because it is the only way to achieve solutions, but it should be a dialogue that actually satisfies the necessities of each party involved. It is important that there are public servants that can take decisions, because if not, is disheartening for the communities involved in these types of conflicts to have so many meetings and not achieve anything. For the moment, we have seen that the Guatemalan government has no capacity for dialogue. It knows how to repress and how to criminalise. Unfortunately, the capacity for dialogue that involves listening and finding solutions in an impartial way, conforming to its commitments to the international standards of human rights, is beyond it.
- In this process we supported each other.
One important question that we have learnt in the experience of La Puya is how all these mechanisms of oppression they forced upon us and we have internalised; like machismo, patriarchal, racism, class struggle and other oppression, can be combated in these spaces. The Peaceful Resistance has been, and is, an opportunity to create a rupture in this oppression. It doesn’t matter if I am a woman or Maya, or if I am an academic or if I have money; here we are all at risk, and we are seeing that we can provide something that comes from diversity to achieve a common objective, that is life. The experience of La Puya is a very interesting one, to see how we have transcended these negative practices that we have internalised in order to work towards a common goal. We start to see, perhaps by force, from a more complementary perspective, from our diverse actions. If from within we start to see ourselves as complementary, with the diversity of knowledge, skills, and experience; this creates strength. The Peaceful Resistance of La P uya has achieved exchanges with diverse organisational, personal and community expressions, and for me this is something of historical importance because from this we construct everything around us.
1 Interview with Miriam Pixtun, member of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, carried out by PBI Guatemala in December 2015, Guatemala.
3 La Puya in Resistance, Facing up to the exploitation of land PBI Guatemala No. 28, 2012; La Puya: They have made them suspend the mining licence of the North-American business, Prensa Comunitaria 15/07/2015; Violent eviction of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya Retrieved 13/08/2015
4 El Periodico, Guatemala. Conflict persists in La Puya due to the mining project.
5 Vice News Tension in Guatemala for the immediate closure of goldmine exploited by US 05/08/2015
6 Interview with Miriam Pixtun, Cit.