On April 20th, the delegation met with a number of community members in the area around El Estor. Rodrigo Tot, Reginaldo Tek Quip, and Raúl Caal spoke of a violent attack some of them had suffered on September 28th 2008, the day after the confrontation and roadblock around the attempted eviction in Las Nubes (see a brief discussion of this event in my last blog entry). While the roadblock was taking place, Raúl Caal, a local leader, told us he had been urged to come down and bring supporters. He explained he had been unable to do so as he’d had longstanding plans to bring 16 local leaders from a number of towns out in the opposite direction to Cobán for a workshop just a few hours later. They left in a minibus they’d rented at 1am, planning to reach Cobán by morning. By 2am they’d picked up the last of the participants and continued on their way.
The four men we met with: a community member; Rodrigo Tot, the leader of the community of Lote 9; Raúl Caal, former leader of Chichipate who now works on mining resistance with Rights Action; and Reginaldo Tek Quip.
Around 4am, 10 minutes after a pickup truck had passed them on the otherwise empty road, they turned a corner to find a chopped tree blocking the road and a few men standing in the middle of it. The driver woke everyone up as he came to a stop, warning that he thought they were about to be robbed. One of the men standing in the road opened fire on the van with an M16 (a large assault rifle). Suddenly the van was being fired upon from all sides. This lasted for roughly 15 minutes, with everyone inside the van taking cover and shouting. Eventually they decided to leave the van. Those that were not yet injured did so, at which point they were kicked to the ground.
Reginaldo showed our group the hole in his hat where a bullet had entered it during the attack. (photo credit: Pei-Ju Wang)
Pablo Bac, one of the members of the group, had been hit by a bullet in the eye. He yelled out to the attackers, asking them what they wanted, and tried to give them his cellphone. They responded that they didn’t want anything and had everyone lie down on the ground. At this point, nine of the men had been injured. The attackers asked for their money, keys, and the vehicle’s documents. They remained on the ground for 20 minutes, after which they were told,
“You have 5 minutes to leave. Anyone still here after that is dead.”
Raúl was uninjured and could leave faster but went back after hearing others shouting for help. He described feeling responsible and guilty for what had taken place as he had facilitated the meeting and supplied the funding for the trip. Just as Raúl had reached Alfredo, and was helping him move away, the attackers opened fire once again. Raúl didn’t initially realize that he’d been hit in the neck, but found he couldn’t raise his head. Miraculously, him and Alfredo managed to stumble down the road to safety.
It is difficult to assert with any certainty whether this was a random attack, or whether it was linked with the company and the protests that had occurred just a few hours earlier. Those who were attacked point out that company employees knew about their plans to drive that morning, and generally feel that they coordinated the attack.
Tragically, but also unsurprisingly, no investigation was conducted into the attack. This remains true even following the death of Pablo Bac just a few months ago, likely as a result of complications suffered following the bullet wound in his eye.
Raúl putting a wreath on the grave of the second Pablo Bac, who died only last month.
The wife of the second Pablo Bac, and their daughter.
Tragically, Pablo Bac’s father, also named Pablo Bac, was disappeared and killed while engaged in mining struggles 29 years ago. In his case, the 1999 United Nations “Truth Commission” concluded definitively that his assassination was committed by Guatemalan soldiers in collusion with Inco, Hudbay/CGN’s predecessor.
The wife of the first Pablo Bac, with her granddaughter. Both her husband and son have now been killed.
Community members in the cemetery where both Pablo Bac’s are buried. The trees mark graves when either there wasn’t enough money or it was too politically dangerous to erect a gravestone.
I found it impossible to even begin to understand the enormity of the loss this family, and the whole community, has suffered in the years since the nickel mine was first established. Their courage and determination to continue with la lucha (the struggle) in the face of it all, and especially Pablo Bac’s death just a month ago, was staggering.