Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Political Statement in Mark of Oxlajuj B'ak'tun

"In defense of LIFE and territory"

(Original in Spanish here)
Authorities of the Maya People of Western Guatemala, joined together as the Council, declare:

Oxlajuj B'ak'tun is the time to strengthen ancestral wisdom and the practice and never-ending search for balance; it's a moment in which we must transcend, raise the consciousness of human beings and recognize ourselves as such in order to reach a collective understanding. This means we must ensure that human beings be "truly human in balance with the cosmos and Mother Earth", through interweaving and respect between cultures and the valuing of identity in every community. Lacking this, the link between the individual and their own reality is already impossible.

It is offensive for the Maya people to see the economic power and government institutions promote the FOLKLORIZATION of Oxlajuj B'ak'tun, commodifying this important event, creating a political image out of tourist promotion and the presentation of spectacles, in a way that does not appropriately interpret the Maya cosmovision.

It is shameful on the part of the Guatemalan government to make the international community believe it is promoting the Maya culture, when it continues to develop an aggressive policy of appropriation of our natural resources. This manifests itself in hundreds of concessions and imposed mining projects, hydroelectric dams, oil extraction, monoculture crops for transnational companies, all in the name of false development as a method of domination and racism in Guatemala.

In exercising of our collective rights as regulated by the ILO Convention 169 and the Declaration by the United Nations on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, the response of the state has been the criminalization of social struggles and repression against our communities and leaders. 

The attacks against our communities includes May 1st in Santa Cruz Barillas, the massacre on October 4th in Totonicapán, which obligate us to continue our process of reforming and strengthening our own authorities and institutions. We will continue to promote the correct application of the norms and principals regulated by the ILO Convention 169 and the Declaration by the United Nations on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples. At the start of this new era, native peoples should move from submission to effective participation as historic political actors. 

The Presidential reform to the Constitution of the Republic and reforms to the mining law and laws governing teacher education, are initiatives by the government that do not favor our communities. Instead, they represent setbacks to the victories of social struggles because they are meant to consolidate the economic model of accumulation based on agro-business; mining, oil, and hydroelectric exploitation and the privatization of public services, only benefiting a limited number of families who have historically exploited and repressed our communities.
Therefore, we resort to our principals and ancestral ways of making decisions, and, in Council we agree upon the following:

To call on all Maya nations and peoples that coexist in Guatemala, to exercise our right to free determination, through the reconstruction and strengthening of our nationalities and Peoples, to construct a political and social order based on relationships of understanding and mutual respect; and, an economic model based on the principals, values, and practices of our cosmovision.

To no longer permit the use of our symbols to name military and police operations, much less to name projects that attack our harmony and communities' life; we commit to restore our ancestral political centers in order to develop the next generation's political thought.

1. To articulately promote political and legal processes which demand of the Government the effective implementation of the ILO Convention 169 and the Declaration by the United Nations on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, in all national legislation.

2. Our acknowledgement of the world's ancestral civilizations that have left their mark on history and the chronology of time and should be part of our inspiration and aspirations to transform political and social relations.

3. To the scientists of the world, who should look to the past and to the present because the ancestral legacies continue to be relevant. We call on all to not use the cycles of time marked by our calendar in a subjective, or apocalyptic way.

Western Guatemala, November 30, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Across Guatemala: Communities Continue to Defend Their Right to Life

In September of this year NISGUA reported on the series of violent attacks against community members in San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa and Mataquescuintla, Jalapa who were peacefully resisting the advancement of the Escobal silver mine project. The Escobal mine is operated by Minería San Rafael S.A. a Guatemalan subsidiary of Canada’s Tahoe Resources. Tahoe Resources acquired the Escobal project from Goldcorp in 2010. The founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Tahoe Resources, Kevin McArthur, was CEO of Glamis Gold and Goldcorp until 2008. The attacks, carried out by the National Police, military and private security, were in response to the communities’ ongoing defense of two popular referendums carried out in July of 2011, during which an overwhelming majority of residents voted NO to chemical mineral mining on their territories and YES to life.   

In a third popular referendum carried out on November 11th, 96% of residents of the municipality of Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, voted against mining exploration and exploitation on their territories. The community, with the support from the mayor, moved forward with the vote despite the November 8th decision by the Constitutional Court suspending the municipal authority to carry out the referendum.  

Just eight days after the referendum a group of community members blocked vehicles transporting powerful explosives to the mine to denounce the lack of respect for the consultation process. As a result of the action, five vehicles, including one truck owned by the Minería San Rafael, caught fire and a number of explosives went missing. In actions on par with President Molina’s previous responses to matters of social conflict, the government responded in force to the alleged robbery of the explosives, mobilizing 35 units of the National Police and dozens of soldiers. Indigenous and feminist organizations denounced the excessive use of force, as well as the lack of respect for the popular referendums and the inability of the government to effectively address the social conflict caused by the mining operations.  

The Escobal project, however, is just one of a number of Canadian-owned mines recently denounced by community, human rights and environmental organizations.

In late November five people from communities near El Estor, Izabal traveled to Canada to file three separate, but related lawsuits against HudBay Minerals Inc., which include the murder of Adolfo Ich Chamán, the shooting of German Chub, and the rape of 11 women from the community of Lote Ocho. Hudbay sold the Fenix Mining Project in 2011; however, mine security personnel committed the alleged crimes in 2007 and 2009, well before the project was sold. For more information on the lawsuits against Hudbay visit: or see the previous NISGUA blog post on the case.

Watch this powerful video about why the group traveled to Canada to file their cases.

On December 5th legal representatives of the communities impacted by the Marlin Mine, presented a report to the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s Office, which documents 100 accusations of crimes against the environment. The report includes testimonies and photographic evidence documenting the symptoms of environmental contamination including discoloration of hair, skin rashes and animal deaths as a result of the contamination of water sources. Leaders and representatives from affected communities demand that the Public Prosecutor’s Office hold Montana Exploradora, S.A., GoldCorp Inc.’s Guatemalan subsidiary, responsible for the crimes, which include the seizure of water sources and property, industrial contamination of water sources, and the propagation of disease in plants and animals.  

In a demonstration of cross-departmental solidarity, community members from San Marcos, Santa Rosa and Jalapa joined together to collectively denounce the damaging impacts of Canadian owned mines on their respective territories. The protest was organized around the visit to Guatemala of Canada’s Governor General, David Johnston on December 6th, during which he pledged support for the mining operations and promised continued bilateral cooperation and economic investment. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tensions Continue at La Puya: Community Members in Resistance Threatened with Eviction

Following over nine months of non-violent peaceful resistance to the El Tambor mining project and increased intimidation and threats during the past month, the situation at La Puya escalated last Friday, December 7th, when over 300 National Civil Police (PNC) agents and 50 patrol trucks arrived, threatening to evict the pacific encampment. The El Tambor project is operated by EXMIGUA, the Guatemalan subsidiary of the US Company, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates, who acquired the project from Vancouver-based Radius Gold in August of 2012. Friday morning national and international human rights organizations, including NISGUA, were initially blocked by the PNC from entering the site. With only the press and community members present, anti-riot police fired tear gas bombs and advanced within inches of the population in resistance, consisting mostly of women who had lain down on the ground in protest. Eventually human rights organizations, including the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) were allowed to enter the site, effectively halting the advancement of the PNC. 

As the day wore on, the resistance movement learned that the police did not have a legal eviction order, but were instead mobilized under the pretext of ensuring the right to freedom of movement on public roads. The Vice-Minister of Security of the Ministry of the Interior made it clear, however, that the agents were acting exclusively to allow access to the entrance of the El Tambor mine, as the encampment was not blocking traffic on the main road. After tense dialogue between representatives of the resistance, police agents and the Ministry of the Interior, the community members agreed to occupy the opposite side of the road and to allow 15 PNC agents to remain outside the entrance to the mine. Spokespeople for the movement also agreed to move forward with the dialog set to begin on December 20th, in order to encounter a peaceful solution to the conflict. 

Participate in this action to express your concern for the peaceful protesters and demand their protection from eviction. Read the MadreSelva Collective's account of the events here.

The Northern Front of the Metropolitan Area (FRENAM), the movement of community members from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, released the following statement in response to the events of the 7th at La Puya:

From the historic communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc

In response to the events that took place at “La Puya” on Friday, December 7th of the current year against the population in Pacific Resistance who are opposing the more than 12 mineral exploitation projects, which have been imposed on us without free, prior and informed consent.

Before national and international public opinion, we inform:
  • That the Pacific Resistance of the communities CONTINUES given that article 45 of the second paragraph of our Constitution states that: PEOPLE’S RESTISTANCE IS LEGITIMATE WHEN DEFENDING AND PROTECTING CONSTITUIONAL RIGHTS AND GUARANTEES.
  • That the imposition of mineral exploitation projects violates the rights consigned in the articles 1, 2, 3, 44, 97, 127 and 128 of our Constitution.  In addition to violating other national laws such as the Municipal Code, as well as International Treaties like Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization.  Additionally, they are contemplating the displacement of our communities.  
  • That the National Police have NOT taken control as some written media outlets reported on December 8, 2012. 
  • We demand a logical, reasonable, technical, and economic explanation of the use of approximately 120 police units, as well as hundreds of agents of the National Police, which were mobilized from various departments of the Republic of Guatemala in order to penetrate and repress our communities who are acting in pacific and legitimate resistance.  
  • We clarify that there was an attack against the population with dozens of tear gas bombs.  This contradicts declarations by officials of the Ministry of the Interior. 
  • That the Population in Pacific Resistance has never obstructed the free movement of the population as declared by officials of the Ministry of the Interior.  What has been “impeded” is the development of mineral exploitation, which would affect our communities, impacts that have been verified by national and international observers.    
  • As a population, we have always and will always be open to dialog in order to find a pacific and definitive solution.  We have demonstrated this during the Indigenous and Campesino March, and with briefs presented on January 17th, 2012 to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and to the Human Rights Ombudsmen.  Likewise, we have initiated contact with the Congressional Commission for Energy and Mines, among other efforts.
  • That the Pacific Resistance is based on the Conviction of the Historic Communities, not the imposition of national or international organizations as the authorities and the mining company have accused.
  • That we will NOT renounce the Right to Life, Justice and our Peace. 
  • That we hold the State of Guatemala, the government of Otto Perez Molina, EXMINGUA, Radius Gold, and KCA (Kappes, Cassiday and Associates) responsible for the direct and indirect consequences triggered by the forced imposition of projects rejected by the historic communities. 

Guatemala, December 11, 2012

Northern Front of the Metropolitan Area (FRENAM)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Indigenous and Farmworker Organizations Urge Guatemalan Congress to Approve Initiative 4084

Since this Tuesday, November 27th, indigenous and rural farmworker organizations were present in the Guatemalan Congress calling for the approval of Initiative 4048, a Comprehensive Rural Development Law. The Initiative, first introduced in Congress in February 2009, is the product of over twelve years of work by indigenous and campesino organizations. While hundreds of representatives from groups throughout the country spent four consecutive days at Congress, actions were also coordinated outside the capital to bring the country's attention to the Comprehensive Rural Development Law as a matter of national urgency. Since the Congressional session has come to an end for this year, the Initiative will not be revisited until the new year.

Approval of the Comprehensive Rural Development Law is Urgently Needed
(Original in Spanish here)

Guatemala, despite being a country whose principal economic activity depends in large part on family farming, does not have legislation in place that addresses the historic needs of rural and campesino populations.

During the last 22 years, programs that give incentives to the agro-export model have been prioritized. This includes the relaxation of import tariffs on grains and food products and the promotion of agricultural technologies and fertilizers that have had a negative impact on the Guatemalan countryside.

Furthermore, the agrarian institutional structure was weakened substantially as a result of the implementation of structural adjustment economic policies that dismantled the agencies created to strengthen the Guatemalan agricultural sector.

Given the context of institutional abandonment of the countryside, rural farmworker organizations, over the course of 9 years, have discussed, analyzed, and come to agreement on a proposal for a Comprehensive Rural Development law, the same law that upon arriving in Congress was converted into Initiative 4084. In March 2012, as one achievement of the Indigenous Campesino March, Congress committed to approve the Initiative as a matter of national urgency.

The law, which is considered to be a priority for the economy of family farmers, provides conditions that promote diversification of crops, sustainable use of land, democratization of access to and possession of land, promotion of family farming, prioritization of production for the satisfaction of basic needs, strengthening and improvement of the mechanisms for access to land, search for food sovereignty, promotion of campesino markets, promotion of agro-ecology, and attainment of buen vivir (good living) as a philosophy and practice of our ancestral wisdom that takes on strategic traits in today's world.

The principal benefits of the approval of the Initiative 4084 are:

  •  to have substantive standards that convert the topic of comprehensive rural development into a State policy, which guarantees continuity independent of changes in government;
  • the guarantee of the implementation of general guidelines for the Policy for Rural Development;
  • the establishment of a new agrarian institutional structure in Guatemala that promotes the implementation of policies, programs, and projects that contribute to the achievement of comprehensive rural development and reduction of inequality and poverty;
  • a timeless character of support to the projects that are implemented in favor of family farming and policies that give incentive to production: credit, land, education, health, and work;
  • to establish the practice of food sovereignty and the right to food;
  • the approval of the law of comprehensive rural development will represent the first step toward the definition of public policy around rural, agricultural and agrarian development, as an important part in the true fight against poverty and hunger in Guatemala.

For the above reasons
We request of the Honorable Congress of the Republic




Guatemala, November 27, 2012

Coordination of NGOs and Cooperatives (CONGCOOP)
Institute of Rural and Agrarian Studies
Sa Qa Chol Nimla K’aleb’aal (SANK)
Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA)

NISGUA has provided international human rights accompaniment through the ACOGUATE project to the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). We are proud to continue our partnership with the CCDA in bringing their fair trade coffee from Guatemala to the US. Buy their coffee online to support NISGUA and the CCDA!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Protect pacific resistance in San José del Golfo

For the past nine months, men, women and children from San José del Golfo, San Pedro Ayampuc and their surrounding communities have maintained a constant, non-violent presence in protest of the onset of mining activities in their territories.  Beginning on Tuesday, November 13, an estimated 70 people claiming to be mine employees arrived at the site of the blockade, demanding the right to work.  The group attempted to provoke the population, and thus open the door for intervention from public and private security forces.  

Community members join arms at "La Puya", San José del Golfo. (Photo via C.P.R. Urbana)

On the afternoon on November 22, 2012, mine personnel at the front of the counter blockade in San José del Golfo began launching death threats against independent media representing the Comite de Unidad Campesina (CUC), Waqib' Kej and CPR-Urbana.  Guatemala Indymedia Collective reported that a group of aggressive mine personnel began using threatening language, moving into the designated neutral zone in order to personally yell death threats. 

The mine personnel, known locally as the "blue helmets," reportedly threatened to lynch members of the independent media and social organizations.  The aggressors stated that if aforementioned individuals and organizations continued to take photos, they would use violence against the peaceful blockade in order to enter the mine.  There are reports that the threats moved beyond immediate violence, with mine personnel warning that they would use their own recordings to identify and retaliate against those participating in the peaceful resistance.  

Testimonies from community members state there is strong evidence to suggest that those involved in the workers’ protest are being paid for their participation by Exmingua S.A., the Guatemalan subsidiary of the US company, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA).   The communities in resistance, social organizations and the independent media denounce the participation of the company in these acts of provocation, violence and intimidation.

Press conference at which 25 social organizations pledge support for pacific resistance at "La Puya" (Video via C.P.R. Urbana)

At the time of this writing, hundreds of mine personnel, including at least one ex-military officer, continue to violently threaten the blockade in their attempts to forcefully enter the mine site.  More than 200 people continue to maintain the pacific resistance, arms linked, often singing songs and saying prayers, as the company’s strategy of intimidation and provocation moves into its eighth day.  

Please take a moment to join in demanding protection for the communities in resistance in San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. 

For more information on repression against peaceful resistance in San José del Golfo see previous NISGUA blog post, URGENT ACTION: Activist Yolanda Oquelí attacked on her way home

With information from:

Two Political Prisoners Liberated in Santa Cruz de Barillas Case

On November 15th, the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) announced that two more of the 11 political prisoners illegally detained during the 18-day state of siege imposed in Santa Cruz de Barillas, have been liberated due to a lack of evidence linking them to the crimes of which they were accused.  The state of siege was put in place in response to rioting following the murder of a local leader, Andrés Francisco Miguel, well known for his resistance to the Qanbalam hydroelectric dam project. While Pascual de Pascual Pedro and Esteban Bernabé Gaspar, have returned home to their families, eight political prisoners in the Barillas case remain in prison. 

Esteban Bernabé Gaspar

Pascual de Pascual Pedro

Guatemalan social movements and human rights groups have long denounced the detention of the 11 community leaders as illegal, and have maintained that their imprisonment is a direct result of the men’s opposition to the hydroelectric project.  Indeed, this recent ruling reflects the fact that the Public Prosecutor (MP) assigned to the case has never provided evidence individually linking the men to the specific crimes for which they were accused.  Notwithstanding, the proceeding judge ruled that the prosecutor has three months to present new evidence in the case.

Social and human rights organizations, family members of the accused and the political prisoners themselves continue to denounce the illegality and irregularity of the detention.  Despite ongoing persecution, including an armed attack against two of the detained while being transported to a court hearing and 33 outstanding arrest warrants for community leaders, social organizations and individuals in Barillas are encouraged by this victory and are cautiously confident in the capacity of the legal system to see that justice is done.

“The result of this hearing is of great joy for the liberated and their families.  It gives hope to all of the Barillenses who continue to suffer unjust persecution and stimulates them to fight for the dignity of people and pueblos.  We believe in the Justice System and call on the authorities to rectify their actions and commit completely to legal objectivity and the laws of the country in order to guaranty that all citizens live in peace, and that the interests of the companies do not come before the interest of the people and the country” (ADH, 2012). 

With information from:
Cascadia Solidaria

Monday, October 29, 2012

Communities denounce Xalalá dam and oil exploitation

The following press releases have been translated by NISGUA as part of its ongoing human rights accompaniment of communities threatened by the Xalalá dam project.

Press Release 1
25 October 2012

Imposition of Development Projects Threatens the Life of Communities in Ixcán

Considering that the Ministry of Energy and Mines recently announced a new bidding process for the construction of the Xalalá dam and oil exploration in the municipality of Ixcán, social organizations and community members from this region publicly state our concern and our rejection of the implementation of these megaprojects that threaten the well-being of our communities.

The expropriation and extraction of natural resources by the oligarchy, businessmen, and the army in territories inhabited by indigenous peoples (pueblos originarios), has historically generated displacement, poverty, repression and serious human rights abuses, including genocide.

We reiterate our concern and call for the support of other organizations, considering the risk that the imposition of these large-scale development projects (megaproyectos) could lead to further violations of community rights, as seen in Polochic, San Juan Sacatepéquez, San Raymundo, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Barillas and Totonicapán.

We hope to strengthen alliances with different groups also participating in the struggle to defend land and territory, respect for community rights and referendums, and our rejection of the repression we currently face as indigenous peoples for engaging in this struggle.

We denounce the National Electrification Institute (INDE) for withholding information about the impacts of the construction of the Xalalá dam and for minimizing the negative effects it could have on the community.

For these reasons, we demand:
  • That the State respect the results of the good faith community referendums held in Ixcán (April 20, 2007) and Uspantán (October 29, 2010), in which participants voted against the large-scale development projects planned for our regions.
  • That the government and the Ministry of Energy and Mines, as a matter of urgency, cancel the Ministerial Agreement number 321-2,012, published in the official government paper (Diario Oficial) on October 15 of this year on the construction of the Xacbal Delta Dam in the municipality of Ixcan. We also ask for the cancellation of the Government Agreement 172-2, 012, published on September 4 on oil exploration and drilling in the Xalbal area in the municipalities of Ixcán, El Quiché and Barillas, Huehuetenango.
  • That the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources comply with its function to protect the environment and people’s lives, and refuse to allow dams and oil exploration and drilling in our communities.
  • That all governmental entities provide truthful information to the communities and engage in a dialogue that respects agreements and decisions reached with the communities.
  • That the President and other governmental entities respect that the communities defending their territory and demanding better living conditions for their people have the right to protest, and refuse to allow the army, the national police, or private agents to endanger peoples’ lives.

To defend our land and our territory is to defend the life and dignity of our people!

Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Land and Natural Resources (ACODET)
Commission to Follow-up on the Ixcán Community Referendum
Movement of People’s Resistance for Life in Ixcán (MOPREVI)

A mural on a church in a community threatened by the Xalalá hydroelectric dam project reads, "The Maya people deserve respect for life, land, and natural resources."
Press Release 2
October 2012

On October 25, a delegation of community and organizational representatives from the municipalities of Ixcán, Cobán and Uspantán met with government officials in charge of implementing the Xalalá hydroelectric dam project. The delegates presented a document signed by authorities and representatives from 53 communities in Ixcán, Cobán and Uspantán that are threatened by the construction of the dam.

Juan Carlos Morataya, Project Development Manager for INDE (the National Electrification Institute), Edwin Rodas, Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, José Fernando Carrera, head of the SEGEPLAN (Secretary General of Planning and Programming for the Presidency), and the Vice Minister of the Environment all participated in the meeting. Congressional representatives Amilcar Pop and Carlos Mejía, presidents of the Transparency Commission and the Indigenous People’s Commission respectively, organized the meeting.

During the meeting, community representatives reiterated the decision made during the good faith community referendums held in Ixcán (April 20, 2007) and Uspantán (October 29, 2010). In the referendums, participants rejected the construction of the Xalalá dam, because it would flood the best land in 58 communities, affecting their rights to land, food, health, consultation, and participation in deciding development priorities. The representatives also expressed concern regarding potential human rights violations, pointing out that INDE has still not paid compensation for damages to the Achí communities affected by the Chixoy dam that was constructed over 30 years ago.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines affirmed that it has not received requests for, nor has it authorized, geological studies for the Xalalá area. The representative from INDE stated that the institution does plan to carry out geological, economic, and social studies to confirm the viability of the Xalalá dam. One of the officials explained that SEGEPLAN is conducting social work in order to raise consciousness among the COCODES [local development committees] and community members, so that they will accept the dam. INDE has determined that most communities in the region have no electricity and the institution plans to promote electricity projects in rural areas so that the communities will value the importance of electricity and will approve the construction of the dam.

José Fernando Carrera, head of SEGEPLAN and Vice President of the Executive Council of INDE, confirmed that SEGEPLAN and INDE signed an agreement in July to design plans, within the framework of the national electricity plan, for land use and regulation (ordenamiento territorial) in the municipalities affected by the Xalalá dam. INDE contracted and financed 8 people that earn between 12,000 and 14,000 quetzales [approximately USD $1,500 - $1,800]. Carrera said he recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples as established in the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169. He said not one employee of SEGEPLAN should try to convince the communities, much less pressure them or place conditions, such as approval for the dam, on development projects. He asked people to report the names of employees that try to manipulate the communities.

The representative of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources said that he is unaware of the Xalalá project. The law, however, requires that his ministry verify the environmental impacts and consent of the affected communities.


After the meeting, a group of Ixil Indigenous Authorities from the municipalities of Cotzal, Chajul and Nebaj asked for the immediate suspension of Ministerial Agreement 321-2,012, authorizing the construction of the Xacbal Delta Dam, because the affected communities and indigenous authorities were not consulted about it. The representatives from the Ixcán joined those from the Ixil in this request, due to the fact that the construction of this new dam will only intensify the environmental impacts on the Xalbal River.

The indigenous mayor of Cotzal also asked for further follow-up and compliance with the agreements previously signed in the case of the Palo Viejo dam. The congressional representatives asked the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to share a copy of the approved environmental impact studies for dams in the Ixil area, so that the representatives can review them and analyze their legality. The Vice Minister of the Environment agreed to share and analyze the studies within 20 business days, and in the case of manipulation, he promised to suspend operations of the corresponding dams.

Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Land and Natural Resources (ACODET)
Commission to Follow-up on the Ixcán Community Referendum
Movement of People’s Resistance for Life in Ixcán (MOPREVI)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Totonicapán rising: Guatemalan military massacres K’iche protesters

The deceased, all wounded by firearm, according to Dr. Jorge Destarac, regional head of the National Forensic Science Institute, were eight in total: Rafael Batz (Pasajoc), Santos Nicolás Menchú (Pasajoc), Jesús Baltazar Caxaj Puac (Chipuac), Francisco Ordoñez (Chipuac), José Eusebio Puac Ordoñez (Chipuac), Arturo Félix Sapón Yax (Panquix), Domingo Caniz (Chipuac), and one more from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán whose family members did not permit INACIF to open the body because in their cosmovision this would not allow him to arrive complete to "Ajaw" (Heaven).

- "Totonicapán, todos los ausentes" by Oswaldo J. Hernández in Plaza Pública

Statue of K'iche leader Atanasio Tzul in Totonicapán, with black mourning cape. (Via Guatemala Indymedia Center)

The death toll of last week's massacre of Maya K'iche protesters in Totonicapán continues to increase, with reports of up to 8 or 9 killed; at least 6 of the 34 people injured in the attack remain hospitalized. Initial evidence, as well as eye-witness testimony, confirms the denunciation of the 48 communities of Totonicapán that military and police forces fired on the unarmed protesters. In addition to now iconic photos showing a bloodied protester surrounded by security forces and Guatemalan military personnel with weapons aimed at crowd level, the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman's office reported that shell casings from the Israeli Galil machineguns used by the Guatemalan army were found at the scene of the massacre. The government continues to claim that a private security guard initiated the violence and that soldiers sent to the scene of the protest fired in the air in self defense.

In video and witness testimony published by the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) and Plaza Pública, survivors relate relate that the National Civil Police did not negotiate with peaceful protesters but used tear gas indiscriminately, and that soldiers fired immediately upon arrival at the scene of the protest, while a Cementos Progresos armed guard attacked other protesters in a separate incident. Guatemala Indymedia Center continues to cover breaking news in Spanish regarding the government and social movement responses to the massacre.

(Trauma warning: video depicting severe injuries and testimony of violence)

Yesterday a Solidarity Caravan from across the country converged on kilometer 170 of the Inter-American Highway at the mountain pass known as "Alaska," the scene of last week's violence. Social movements and civil society in Guatemala have expressed deep outrage following the massacre, denouncing the government's heavy-handed security policy as a continuation of the genocidal violence of the armed conflict and expressing a fundamental rejection of the use of the military for internal security. The incident in Totonicapán poses a serious domestic and international challenge for the Guatemalan government of Otto Pérez Molina. At the global level, it may demolish the adminstration's democratic and reformist image, jeapordizing government priorities such as the reinstatement of direct U.S. military aid. The government has already faced calls for investigation from the OAS and U.N., and recently met with the international diplomatic corps to face criticism of the military's role in citizen security and inadequate mechanisms for dialog with civil society. Diplomatic Chancellor Harold Caballeros took the opportunity to minimize the deaths, with El Periódico offering the following quote: "It pains me to admit that at some latitudes eight deaths is a big deal, and though it may sound bad to say it, our country has twice that many deaths every day. Because of this, I don't think it is such an urgent matter."

Nationally, the violence against civilian protesters is the most serious crisis yet for the Patriot Party's security regime, with calls for the destitution of Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto and Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, Anzueto for his command responsibility over the soldiers presumed responsible for the killings and López Bonilla for his role as overseer of the National Civil Police and his denials and justification of the repression. As GuateSec noted earlier this year, both Anzueto and López Bonilla form part of the military hard-core of Pérez Molina's adminstration, where shake-ups could prove to have much wider repercussions for the government. The quasi-populist opposition party LIDER has called for the deaths to be investigated as extrajudicial executions.

Totonicapán unites many threads of resistance--indigenous self-determination, the assertion of civil and human rights against the imposition of state terror, opposition to the exploitation of the dominant economic model--and highlights a trend of increasingly authoritarian responses to social conflict that will harshly test Guatemalan social movements. Guatemalan writer Carlos Figueroa Ibarra characterizes this as a combination of the "habits of counterinsurgency and neoliberal dogma," with the government's militarized approach to security following a counterinsurgent logic through the demonization and use of violence against internal enemies, ultimately criminalizing and repressing dissent:
"However, in addition to the habits of counterinsurgency, what sustains the repressive project of this government is neoliberal dogma. Anti-communist paranoia undoutably persists, but today the energy of state terrorism is maintained by the need for savage accumulation created by neoliberalism. The 48 communities of Totonicapán were protesting against the infamously abusive electricity fees which have been imposed by a private company, now nown as Energuate. They were also protesting against an education reform which makes teaching careers inaccessible for the poor, and finally against constitutional reforms which have been made to deepen the implantation of neoliberalism. The objective of this unrestrained violence is not just to put a stop to discontent in Totonicapán, but to spread the terror that is needed to disarticulate growing popular protest against open-pit mining, hydroelectric dams, cement factories, highways, crops like african palm. The manager of a business lobby has said that what is happening is that there are groups interested in boycotting hardworking Guatemalans. It sounds like the old saw of the lazy poor and the industrious rich. What is happening is that all of these business projects require the displacement of campesino and indigenous communities, poisoning them with pollution and destroying their community fabric and way of living in order to achieve the highest profits."

- "Habits of counterinsurgency and neoliberal dogma" by Carlos Figueroa Ibarra in Rebelión
The violent repression of indigenous protestors may also entrench reactionary elements in Guatemala. In an essay titled "Estamos en guerra, mi amor," Julio Roberto Prado explores the deep fractures of Guatemalan society. While suggesting that questions of tactics (the use of roadblocks, unpopular with a middle class that imagines affinity with the economic oligarchy) have exacerbated political divisions, Prado is more horrified at the urban middle class and its response to the massacre, a "petri dish of the deepest and most wounding prejudices which circulate in our imagination. About the incident in Totonicapan, I have been able to find all kinds of phrases which justify, legitimize, and demand the application of violent measures against the protesters. Which disregard life, in sum. ...That is to say that our educated fellow citizens contemplate extermination. And this opinion finds enormous backing from the most conservative sectors of the country. It is enough to read the statements of [the business association] CACIF. They have stated that the actions of the government are justified and that they would be speaking with the Attorney General about the subject." CACIF has called for protest leaders to be prosecuted for violating the right to freedom of movement in their roadblock.

In the decade and half since the signing of the Peace Accords, Guatemala's social movements have found important points of unity around long-standing issues such as the struggle of campesino communities for land, and against the racism and exploitation to which indigenous people have continually been subjected. Urban and rural activists are united in campaigns for memory and justice, and new fronts have opened for the self-determination of indigenous communities through resistance to mining and other mega-development projects. While the repression in Totonicapán can hardly be claimed to be Guatemala's "first peace-time massacre"9 campesinos and 3 police died in the violent eviction at Nueva Linda in 2004, and 3 were killed and dozens wounded in evictions in the Polochíc valley last yearthe militarized character of the Patriot Party government and the specter of soldiers firing on civilian protesters is likely to sharpen already deep conflict between indigenous and social movements and the government and elite economic sectors.

K'iche leader Atanasio Tzul rejected taxation by the Spanish empire and won rights of autonomy for the 48 communities of Totonicapán, invested in indigenous authorities which have persisted for more than 500 years. (Photo via Guatemala Indymedia Center)

Blog post written by Phil Neff, member of NISGUA's grassroots network, former staff member and author of the Cascadia Solidaria blog. Original post here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Indigenous protesters killed in Totonicapan, Guatemala

At least six protesters were killed and dozens wounded this afternoon in repression of a protest organized by the representatives of 48 indigenous K'iche communities of Totonicapan, Guatemala. According to Guatemala Indymedia Center and social movement organizations, the protesters were shot by Guatemalan military personnel. The autonomous indigenous government of the 48 cantones (communities) of Totonicapan had announced earlier this week its call for the blocking of the Inter-American highway near the key highlands interchange known as Cuatro Caminos in protest of the rising price of electricity, which the communities argue is being manipulated illegally in benefit of private corporations, and against top-down proposals for constitutional and educational reform about which indigenous communities have not been consulted.
Carmen Tacám, President of the 48 cantones of Totonicapán, affirmed that military personnel had fired on the unarmed blockade. Guatemalan central government representatives offered conflicting information about the violence. In a press conference, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla blamed the protesters for causing the violence, claiming that police and military forces at the demonstration were unarmed, despite eyewitness reports (and photographic evidence) to the contrary. El Periódico cited President Otto Pérez Molina's explanation that a shots were fired by the driver of a private vehicle travelling in front of two military troop transport trucks, while a military spokesperson said that the military trucks were attacked with rocks and seven soldiers were injured. As a Guate Twitter user commented, "Following repression like this, a THICK smokescreen is sure to come."

The autonomous government of Totonicapán is an ancestral structure of the K'iche Maya that has endured for hundreds of years, coordinating the indigenous mayorships of 48 communities, exercising self-governance in matters including environmental management and security, and mediating local conflicts. Protest leader Carmen Tacám, at 27 years old, is its first woman President. The economic importance of the highlands roads which wind through the mountain passes of Totonicapán, and the political unity of the communities, has led its prior representatives to proclaim, "When Totonicapán rises, the country shakes."

The strategic use of roadblocks by indigenous and campesino organizations as form of political pressure and re-vindication is harshly contested by the state and powerful economic actors, especially the business lobby CACIF*, which has campaigned for the prohibition and repression of blockades as violations of the right to freedom of movement. The Pérez Molina administration has previously used violence to break up roadblocks and occupations by students, teachers, and parents protesting exclusionary education reforms; if today's deaths are confirmed to be the responsibility of security forces, it will mark the first clear instance of mortal government repression against civilian protest under Mano Dura. While community leaders have called for investigation of the deaths, if the administration follows the blueprint established by its response to social conflict and protest in Barillas, Huehuetenango, repressive measures such as arrests of protest leaders or declaration of a state of exception could be implemented instead.

*A recent study by Plaza Pública found that the CACIF commands more loyalty from many Guatemalan congresspeople than their own parties.
Blog post written by Phil Neff, member of NISGUA's grassroots network, former staff member and author of the Cascadia Solidaria blog. Original post here.

"Otro golpe al pueblo maya, al estilo mano dura"

"Pobladores de Totonicapán velan a los seis campesinos muertos durante enfrentamiento." Foto: AFP

 Otro golpe al pueblo maya, al estilo mano dura

Por la Asamblea de pueblos de Huehuetenango por la Defensa del Territorio, ADH - Huehuetenango, 4 de octubre de 2012

La asamblea de pueblos de Huehuetenango –ADH-; a la opinan pública nacional e internacional; MANIFIESTA.

Nuestra profunda indignación por los actos violentos sucedidos y lamentamos el fallecimiento de 3 hermanos y 32 heridos [Ojo: Información actualizada indica que hubo por lo menos siete muertes y 34 heridos.] y condenamos una vez más la respuesta represiva del gobierno de Guatemala hacia la manifestación pacífica y legitima de los pueblos. El ataque del gobierno militar de Otto Pérez Molina hacia la lucha de los pueblos es sistemático. Hoy fue el pueblo maya Kiche de Totonicapán, los que sufren la represión del Estado.

La concentración pacífica convocada por las autoridades de Totonicapán desde un principio fue descalificada y amenazada de ser desalojada por el gobierno de Guatemala y efectivamente así sucedió; los gases lacrimógenos, la presencia policial y militar no se hicieron esperar, fue planificada.

Hacemos un llamado a los lideres y lideresas comunitarios de todo el país; mantenernos en vigilancia permanente; hoy más que nunca debemos unir nuestras voces y nuestras fuerzas. Estos ataques son dirigidos a los pueblos organizados; que luchan por la vida, ayer fue el pueblo Qanjobal de Barillas, ahora el pueblo Kiche de Totonicapan. Llamamos a la solidaridad internacional que se pronuncie para que el gobierno ponga fin a la imposición y represión a las justas demandas de los pueblos; porque la historia de opresión se repite y se profundiza.


La Asamblea de pueblos de Huehuetenango por la Defensa del Territorio (ADH) promueve la auto-determinación de los pueblos y para una visión alternativa del desarrollo en el Altiplano Occidental de Huehuetenango. La ADH recibe acompañamiento internacional por NISGUA en coordinación con el proyecto de ACOGUATE. La Asamblea participó en la gira de NISGUA del 2010, véase aquí para más información sobre su trabajo.

"Another blow to the Maya people, in the style of Mano Dura"

"Population of Totonicapán holds a wake for 6 campesinos killed during confrontation yesterday" Source: AFP
Another blow to the Maya people, in the style of Mano Dura
Statement by the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango
October 4, 2012

The Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango -ADH- before national and international public opinion, DECLARES:

Our profound outrage for the violent acts committed and mourning of the death of 3 brothers and 32 wounded. [Note: Updated reports indicate at least 7 people were killed and 34 wounded.] We condemn the repressive response of the Guatemalan government toward the peaceful and legitimate protest of the people. The attack on the people's struggle by the military government of Otto Pérez Molina is systematic. Today it was the Maya Kiche people of Totonicapán who suffered the state's repression.

From the beginning, the peaceful gathering called for by the authorities of Totonicapán was discredited and threatened with eviction by the Guatemalan government. This is exactly what happened; tear gas, police and military presence were immediate and planned.

We call upon community leaders throughout Guatemala to remain vigilant.Today more than ever we must unite our voices and our strength. These attacks are directed toward organized communities who defend our right to life; yesterday it was the Q'anjobal people in Barillas, today it is the Kiche people in Totonicapán. We call upon international solidarity to demand the government puts an end to imposing upon and repressing the  just demands of the people, because the history of oppression repeats itself and deepens.


The Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) works to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA's 2010 tour; you can find more information about their work here.