Public Memorial Held in Toronto After Assassination of Teenage Activist Resisting Goldcorp/Tahoe Resources Mine in Guatemala
On May 1st, as Goldcorp announced the year’s profits at their annual shareholder meeting in Vancouver, more somber events were happening in Toronto and in Guatemala to hold the same company accountable for the murder of 16-year-old mining resistance activist, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco.
In Toronto, over 60 people gathered on Adelaide Street in front of Goldcorp’s offices for a memorial to honour Topacio’s life and to denounce the violent and cowardly act that killed her. At the same time, Topacio’s family, friends and community members were gathering in Guatemala to commemorate her activism and leadership, and to demand justice for her death.
Topacio was assassinated by unknown gunmen on April 13th in Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Guatemala. Her father, Edwin Alexander Reynoso who accompanied her at the time, was also shot and remains in critical condition. Both Topacio and her father were active in the resistance against Canadian company Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, in San Rafael las Flores, Santa Rosa. Topacio, along with her work as the Youth Coordinator of the Resistance in Mataquescuintla, was also a poet and musician.
Canadian company Goldcorp owns a 40% share in the Escobal mining project which Topacio and her father have been resisting in defense of their community’s right to prior consultation, self-determination and human rights. At her funeral, Topacio’s mother promised: “The resistance doesn’t end here, my love.”
“One of the ways we can honour Topacio’s life and her mother’s promise is to stand here today and denounce Goldcorp for their responsibility in this act of violence, as well as in all of the violations of human rights and environmental rights that community members have faced since the mine opened in their region,” said Rachel Small, a member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN).
Attendees heard some of Topacio’s poetry, her favourite music, and speakers who shared messages of solidarity and a commitment to continue to support this struggle. Candles, flowers, and a large painted banner that said “Rest in Power, Topacio” filled the busy downtown corner as people expressed their collective sadness, anger, and determination, as well as a moment of silence.
As the memorial was taking place, 36 international human rights, environmental justice, and solidarity organizations delivered a letter to Guatemala’s Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, demanding justice for the attacks against Alex and Topacio Reynoso. “We condemn this violent attack and call on your office to conduct a full and impartial investigation to ensure that that those responsible are brought to justice,” the letter states.
The document also identifies other incidents of violence and injustice that have occurred in communities surrounding the mine, including two occasions when police violently evicted a peaceful, legitimate, and legally located encampment outside the mine. The former head of security for the mine is currently facing charges for shooting peaceful protestors during one of these instances.After the memorial, participants joined in the annual May Day march through Toronto streets, sharing with hundreds of people the message that Canadian mining companies must be held accountable for their actions. In solidarity with the international M4 movement, many dipped their hands in red paint symbolizing the destruction of health and the environment brought about by Goldcorp’s mines.
More images by Allan Lissner:
After having been away from Guatemala for two years, I am fortunate to have been able to return for two months! During this – albeit short – trip, I aim to visit with, and publish articles, videos, and updates, from communities in resistance to at least three different Canadian-connected mines (as pictured below): the Fenix Mine in Izabal (formerly owned by Hudbay), the Marlin Mine in San Marcos (owned by Goldcorp), and the Escobal mine in Jalapa (owned by Tahoe Resources, and partially by Goldcorp).
In addition to working to disseminate info on the struggles surrounding these mines, I hope that the meetings I have with communities in resistance will help to inform the solidarity work that the group I organize with, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN), will carry out in shareholder season. During that time, in April and May, these and other mining companies will hold their AGMs in Canada, many of which will take place in Toronto. See here for a peek into what we got up to during last year’s shareholder season!
I’ll be posting both quick updates and longer articles/videos on this blog, and look forward to any feedback, as always!
I organize with a group called the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, and we’re really excited to present Mining Resistance: Spring Into Action! This season-long series of events is taking place in Toronto throughout April and May.
As part of Spring Into Action, we’ve planned out A TON of ways to get involved in resisting the destructive actions of Canadian mining companies in Canada and abroad, with events ranging from panel discussions, film screenings, and art exhibits to direct actions, creative protests, and outdoor teach-ins.
April 16: Peter Munk, Barrick Gold, and the U of T: a teach-in
April 18: Presentation (Challenging the Neoliberal Development Paradigm: Women’s
Experiences and Narratives in Guyana and Guatemala) Facebook event
April 19: Transnational Mining and the Repression of Human Rights in Peru (film
screening with special guest Roxana Olivera) Facebook event
April 23: Digging Up the Dirt: How Canadian Foreign Aid Supports the Mining
Industry (panel discussion with special guests)
April 24: Confront Barrick Gold! AGM protest Facebook event
April 27: Council of Canadians Toronto Water Forum
April 28th: Art Build! 1-5pm at the Whippersnapper Gallery
May 1: May Day! We’ll be marching as part of an Environmental Justice
May 2: Goldcorp Annual General Meeting protest
May 10: HudBay Annual General meeting protest
May 11: Allies in Mining Resistance: Gathering and Strategic Planning
We hope to see you out! In solidarity,
UPDATE: more recent information has been posted here.
I received the following letter from Rights Action today concerning an attack on peaceful campesinos protesting the lack of compliance with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, in Guatemala.
Below it, I have included 2 letters I drafted quickly in response. Feel free to copy-paste the first, and send it to Goldcorp (addresses included). Then forward it to the government and, if you like, include the second letter I include below.
URGENT CONCERN FOR SAFETY OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS OF SAN MIGUEL IXTAHUACÁN FOLLOWING PEACEFUL PROTESTS We denounce the human rights violations and abuses committed today against peaceful protesters in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala. The protest, demanding compliance with precautionary measures ordered by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights regarding the Marlin mine, took place without incident during the day. In late afternoon, participants returning from the peaceful roadblocks were reportedly confronted and attacked by community development council (COCODE) members and mine workers in San José Ixcaniche. According to participants in the protest, Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; one bus including approximately 40 men and women have been illegally detained and some beaten in the community of San José Ixcaniche. As this alert is being written, they remain detained. We are deeply concerned that the lives of human rights defenders are at risk. Contact has been established with the local Human Rights Procurator’s (PDH) office, the local Presidential Commission for Defense of Human Rights (COPREDEH) and police, as well as national and international organizations to report these acts. We ask you to stay alert and be ready to respond when more information and action requests are available from local organizations supporting communities resisting unjust mining in Guatemala. In solidarity, Francois Guindon – email@example.com – +502 4014 7804 The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, USA Cynthia Benoist – firstname.lastname@example.org Collectif Guatemala, France Jackie McVicar – email@example.com Breaking the Silence, Canada Grahame Russell – firstname.lastname@example.org – +502 4955 3634 Rights Action, Canada/USA
Here are two letters I drafted quickly in response. Feel free to copy-paste the first, and send it to Goldcorp (addresses included). Then forward your sent message to the government and, if you like, include the second letter I include below.
Send to Goldcorp CEO: Chuck.Jeannes@goldcorp.com
Dear Mr. Jeannes,
I am very concerned with the events I’ve just heard of, that occurred today near the site of your Marlin Mine, in Guatemala.
I understand that an outbreak of violence occurred this afternoon against a group of primarily Mayan-Man campesinos, peacefully protesting the fact that neither your company nor the government of Guatemala has yet complied with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s mining operation.
Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; one bus including approximately 40 men and women have been illegally detained and some beaten in the community of San José Ixcaniche. I am deeply concerned that the lives of these individuals who remain detained are at enormous risk.
Whether or not your mining operation is directly linked to this latest bout of violence, the indirect link is clear, and I await your response on how you are mitigating this violent situation. Further, I am joining the chorus of voices within Guatemala and international who are calling for a suspension of the Marlin Mine.
Once you’ve sent the letter above, forward it to Leeann McKechnie, Canada’s ambassador to Guatemala, who can be reached at:
Dear Ambassador Leeann McKechnie,
Please find below the email I have sent to Goldcorp, expressing my concern over the violence a number of peaceful protesters near the Marlin Mine faced this afternoon. They were protesting the fact that neither the company nor the government of Guatemala has yet complied with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s mining operation.
Immediately following their peaceful protest, Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; and one bus including approximately 40 men and women was illegally detained in the community of San José Ixcaniche. I am deeply concerned that the lives of these individuals who remain detained are at enormous risk.
In addition to my concern for these individuals’ personal safety, I am shocked and dismayed by the failure of your embassy, and of the Canadian government at large to urge this Canadian company to comply with the May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
I await your response on how you are working to ensure the safety of these peaceful campesinos. Further, I ask that you join the chorus of voices both within Guatemala and internationally who are calling for a suspension of the Marlin Mine.
Note: Federal members of Parliament will be voting on Bill C-300 this Wednesday, October 27. The Op-Ed below describes a few of the unfortunate situations that make this bill necessary.
If you make one phone call to your MP this year, do it today and ask them to vote “yes” to Bill C-300. Find your MP and their contact info here.
For more information on the bill, see my earlier post on the subject.
It takes over 2 hours of trekking up the side of a lush, forested mountain to get to Lot 8, an indigenous community of 100 families in Eastern Guatemala.
This is not a part of the world where one should traipse about with a Canadian flag patch sewn onto one’s backpack. Being mistaken for an employee of a Canadian mining company here could result in one being attacked or kidnapped, a fate Steven Schnoor, a Canadian student, only narrowly escaped a few years ago.
Lot 8 is one of far too many communities around the world that has been scarred by Canadian companies acting violently and with complete impunity. They, and their Canadian allies, are determined to prevent it from happening again.
Few Canadians know that over 60% of mines worldwide are owned by companies headquartered in Canada. They produce gold, copper, silver, and, in Eastern Guatemala, nickel.
Back in the 1960s, Inco was the first Canadian company to establish nickel mines in Eastern Guatemala. Although mining in the region stopped in the 80s, in line with a drop in nickel prices, Canadian companies recommenced exploration activities ten years ago. HudBay is the most recent in a series of Canadian companies to own the mining concessions and mineral rights in the area.
When I spoke with the people who live on the land that has been delineated as Lot 8, they shared a very different perception of Canadian mining companies than that which our government would have us hear. They spoke not of opportunities for community development or of companies on the “leading edge in applying best practices of corporate social responsibility,” as Federal Cabinet Minister Peter Kent boasted, but of violent evictions and fearing for their lives.
On January 9, 2007, hundreds of heavily armed soldiers, police, and company security guards entered the isolated community. All of the community’s homes were burned to the ground; all personal property, livestock and crops were either destroyed or stolen.
“This was my grandparents’ land. I never thought I’d get evicted from here,” said Daniel, the elected President of Pro-Tierra, a committee that has been established to try to negotiate with the company. “They were shooting bullets, real bullets. Tear gas was everywhere. We had no idea what it was; we’d never experienced it before.”
With nowhere else to go, and no contact with the outside world, the community of Lot 8 set about rebuilding their huts and salvaging any remaining crops. Just eight days later, the armed soldiers, police and security guards returned, and once again destroyed all that the community had.
“We had heard about the other evictions of nearby communities that the company was doing, but we almost couldn’t believe another one was happening here,” said Elena Choc Quib, a mother of seven.
When I met with a few of the women from the community, separate from the larger group gathered, I learned that, during this second eviction, company security guards, the soldiers and police had also gang-raped and beaten at least six women. Three of those women, who were pregnant at the time, lost their babies.
Elena was one of these women. “I couldn’t get up after the eight men who attacked me had left. I was eight months pregnant at the time and I kept yelling at them ‘why are you doing this? I’m pregnant!’”
Irma Yolanda Choc Cac says she will always be haunted by the faces of the twelve men who raped and beat her. Some were police officers and soldiers, and others were employees of the Canadian mining company. “Despite my fear and the danger, I remain strong and I am telling this story because we are still waiting for justice to be done.”
Given the involvement of the army and the police in the violent crimes perpetrated on the community of Lot 8, it is of little surprise that no arrests or investigations have yet occurred in Guatemala. Canada, for its part, has no regulations in place concerning the actions of its companies overseas. This legal void stands in sharp contrast to the US and many European countries who have a variety of measures in place to assure that their companies are not fundamentally abusing the human rights of citizens in other countries.
HudBay is not the only Canadian mining company taking advantage of this state of impunity. Goldcorp, also operating in Guatemala, has recently had their gold mine suspended for a year so that independent investigations of environmental damage and human rights abuses can be carried out. Barrick Gold, the largest gold mining company in the world – also Canadian – has itself admitted that its own security forces have killed at least eight villagers around its Porgera Mine in Papua New Guinea. A number of investors, as well as Norway’s national pension plan, have divested in the company as a result of this and the environmental degradation caused by the mine.
Knowingly or not, Canadians are complicit in the actions of our mining companies overseas. Both the Canadian Pension Plan and the Caisse are major investors in the extractive industry, and specifically in HudBay. And the same applies to virtually every investment portfolio and bank. And the government invests our tax dollars in the extractive industry through government bodies like Export Development Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Encouragingly, more and more Canadians are taking notice. The issue was recently highlighted in an hour-long special on W5. And in just a few days, Bill C300 will come to a final vote in the House of Commons. The bill aims to increase the accountability of the Canadian extractive industry by regulating government investment in Canadian mining companies overseas. It will establish eligibility criteria and a complaints mechanism to ensure that government funds do not go to companies in gross violation of international human rights standards.
Mining company representatives are calling the bill “a threat to Canada’s status as a world leader in global financing,” and warning that it will “damage the image and reputation of Canadian mining companies with governments around the world.” In contrast, some nonprofits working to assure the human rights of those impacted by Canadian mining companies argue that it will actually “perpetuate effective immunity from legal recourse in Canada.” Such company reactions seem curiously overblown given that the Bill will only impact companies that are found to be violating international human rights and environmental standards. If their own Corporate Social Responsibility measures are truly as strong and robust as they insist, then surely they have nothing to worry about.
And in response to nonprofits’ claims that this bill doesn’t go far enough, I have to agree with Michael Savage, a Liberal MP, who said:
“We have to keep in mind that we have to present a bill that can actually pass the House. We want to make a difference; we do not just want to make a point. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of better. This bill will make things better.”
It is simply unacceptable that violence and impunity is becoming the status quo for Canadian companies’ operations overseas. As Canadian citizens, we share the burden of responsibility for what has happened to Elena, Irma, and countless individuals whose stories have not yet been told in Canada. It is time for us to begin the long process of making things better.
The following was reposted from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
On June 25, Colom declared suspension of Marlin Mine operations, in compliance with a recent Inter-American Commission ruling. Two weeks later, Teodora Hernandez was shot in the head, and others were physically intimidated.
On Wednesday July 7, at 7:00pm, Teodora Antonia Hernández Cinto was shot in San José Nueva Esperanza, a neighborhood of Ágel, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, San Marcos. Two unknown young men entered her house, asking for a cup of coffee. While she was handing them the cup, they shot her in the head, near her right eye. They then ran towards the village of San José Ixcaniche. She was taken to the health clinic and has since been transferred to the hospital; her current condition is unknown.
Doña Teodora Antonia Hernández Cinto is part of the resistance movement in defense of indigenous rights, including land and water rights, against the Marlin mine and the violent aggressions committed by the Montana subsidiary of Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company. She has been threatened several times for her participation in this movement. In June 2009, she was part of the group in Saqmuj that fought for the right to water, when the Goldcorp Company tried to take over the land and water sources from the community.
On July 2, at 4:30pm, on the road from San Antonio to the Marlin mine, Juan Méndez was walking along the street when a truck, labeled “Special,” from Perez Transports, approached him. The truck is owned by Fernando Pérez from San José Nueva Esperanza. When the truck was 50 feet from Juan, the driver crossed over to the other side of the road and tried to hit him. Juan escaped by climbing up an embankment. Juan is well known for his opposition to the Marlin mine.
On July 5, at 6:30pm, the two daughters of Gregoria Crisanta Pérez, a well-known organizer and activist, were walking home from school in the village of Agel. A car crossed over to their side of the road, with the intent of hitting the girls. It was identified as a Montana/Goldcorp company car.
On July 7 at 11:30pm in Agel, shots rang out near the houses of a group of community members in solidarity with Teodora.
We urge the Guatemalan government to:
1. Guarantee the safety of community members in opposition to the Marlin mine
2. Comply with the precautionary measures provided by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect communities defending their rights
3. Hold the Montana/Goldcorp Company responsible for any acts of intimidation and threats, the great majority of which have been made by company workers.
4. Carry out a thorough and timely investigation of the above stated incidents and bringing those responsible to justice.
Amanda and Kelsey
P.S. You can read more about this issues on our website: