On March 2nd, I had the pleasure of celebrating an amazing milestone in La Puya alongside at least one thousand others. The day marked two years of fierce peaceful resistance against a mining project by U.S.-owned company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (formerly owned by Canadian Radius Gold).
Communities have maintained a blockade at the entrance to the mine at the spot named La Puya, located between the municipalities of San Pedro Ayampuc and San José Del Golfo, on the road between the latter town and the village of El Carrizal. This area is situated about 25km from Guatemala City. Nearby communities are concerned that the mining project will cause severe harm to the environment and affect the health and livelihoods of many while providing little local benefit.
[The entrance to the mine, obstructed by a blockade that has been maintained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for two years.]
The blockade began two years ago, when one woman decided that she had had enough and proceeded to park her car near the entrance to the mine, preventing trucks and mining equipment from entering the site. Other community members quickly joined her protest, transforming the roadblock into a peaceful, community-based resistance movement that became known as La Puya.
[The entrance to the blockade site.]
Over the past two years residents from nearby communities have organized themselves into shifts, ensuring that a peaceful human blockade is maintained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In May 2012, 25 trucks with machinery guarded by 40 police patrol cars tried to get into the mine. Families on site at La Puya spread the word and 2000 people from surrounding communities united at the blockade, stopping the entry of all vehicles.
[The blockade is enclosed by banners highlighting community positions regarding the mine and the solidarity of supporting groups from around the world.]
As per the UK-based Guatemala Solidarity Network: “It should be noted here that the water requirements alone in this ‘dry corridor’, some 40,000 gallons per day, will affect a far wider area as the water table is exploited, as indeed will the water contamination leaching back into the soil from tailings etc. The extraction licenses were approved by the then Government’s National Director of Mines shortly before the change of Government at the end of 2011. This person is now the General Manager of KCA’s Guatemala subsidiary, EXMINGUA. This is how politics and business function all over.”
[A large map at the site showcases the numerous mega-projects in operation or development in the region.]
[Early on March 2nd, a resident prepares a giant vat of soup to feed the thousand guests who will come to the blockade to celebrate its second anniversary].
[“The right to defend Mother Earth is our freedom.”]
[A team prepares thousands of tortillas for the visitors who will arrive in the afternoon.]
Around 1,000 people joined a march to commemorate the anniversary and protest future mining plans.
In addition to celebrating two years of resistance, La Puya is celebrating the fact that, just a few days earlier, the contracting company supplying the mining equipment to KCA broke their relationship with the American company which owns the mine and pulled out all machinery permanently.
[A banner carried by a local group of high school students reads: “The life of all living beings is more important than mining. Let us all unite and say NO MORE MINES”]
[Angelica Choc and Anamaria Bac Seb, Q’eqchi women from El Estor and La Revolucion in the department of Izabal, show their solidarity with La Puya as members of allied communities resisting mining incursions on their land.]
[The march moves from the town of San José del Golfo towards the blockade.]
[A welcoming banner quotes from the Guatemalan Constitution: “The resistance of the people is legitimate for the protection and defense of the rights and guarantees designated in the Constitution.”]
[A banner posted reads: “Solidarity from Turtle Island!”]
I was honoured and immensely touched to have been able to participate in the day’s celebration. While leaving I was handed a sheet of paper with the following poem by Otto René Castillo, a Guatemalan poet and revolutionary who was ultimately, in 1967, captured by government forces, tortured, and killed:Nada podrá contra la vida
contra esta avalancha
Contra este rearme del hombre
en sus más nobles estructuras.
contra la fe del pueblo
en la sola potencia de sus manos.
contra la vida.
contra la vida,
contra la vida.
– Otto René Castillo
For more information on the past two years of resistance at La Puya, see this excellent timeline published by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission.