Territorio de los Pueblos Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee (Toronto, Canadá) – viernes, 26 de septiembre de 2014 – Decenas de personas asistieron a la conmemoración del 5to aniversario del asesinato de Adolfo Ich Chamán supuestamente perpetrado por las fuerzas de seguridad de Hudbay Minerals. La conmemoración planteó el apoyo a las comunidades indígenas maya q’eqchi’ de la región de Izabal, Guatemala en su demanda contra Hudbay y se realizó paralelamente con una conmemoración en El Estor, donde ultimaron a Ich Chamán.
El ajq’iij Tata Bartolo, guía espiritual maya quiche, llevó a cabo la ceremonia organizada por la Red de Solidaridad Contra la Minería Injusta (MISN por sus siglas en inglés) y la red Rompiendo el Silencio provincias marítimas-Guatemala (RES). Asistieron más que 40 personas a la conmemoración, vestidas de negro, con candelas y fotos de Ich Chamán.
La actividad se inició en la sede principal de Hudbay Minerals (25 York Street, Toronto, Ontario) a las 18h del viernes y tuvo una fuerte carga emotiva y un componente político provocador. “Pensamos que es importante tener ceremonias mayas para honrar la vida de Adolfo Ich Chamán y pedir justicia no solamente en el territorio q’eqchi’ en Guatemala, pero también aquí en Toronto frente a la sede de Hudbay,” indica Caren Weisbart, miembro de RES. Tras la conmemoración, que duró una hora, se realizó una procesión por el centro de la ciudad de Toronto, durante la cual se distribuyeron panfletos denunciando a Hudbay.
Angélica Choc, esposa de Ich Chamán, indicó: “Si mi esposo estuviera aquí hoy día, diría que las comunidades q’eqchi’ son un pueblo milenario. Diría que rechazamos la forma en que la minera ha operado en nuestra comunidad. Que debemos exigir justicia por los daños que nos ha causado. Diría que debemos continuar en la lucha.
Antecedentes: Desde 1960, las comunidades maya q’eqchi’ de la región de Izabal han sufrido a manos de las mineras canadienses propietarias del proyecto de níquel Fénix – asesinatos, desalojos violentos, violaciones, tiroteos, y la criminalización del disentimiento son sólo algunos ejemplos del abuso. El 27 de septiembre del 2009 Ich Chamán, respetado poblador que se pronunciaba abiertamente en contra de la minería, fue violentamente ultimado por las fuerzas de seguridad contratadas en el proyecto minero Fénix de Hudbay Minerals. Residentes de El Estor han presentado tres demandas en Ontario en contra de Hudbay por el asesinato de Ich Chamán, la violación colectiva de once mujeres de la comunidad Lote Ocho, y la parálisis de Germán Chub, causada por arma de fuego.
MISN es un grupo de voluntarios/as basado en Toronto que colabora estrechamente con comunidades afectadas por la industria extractiva con objeto de apoyar la autodeterminación de las comunidades, educar a la población canadiense, y responsabilizar a las empresas.
RES es una red de solidaridad fundada en 1988 para apoyar al pueblo guatemalteco en su lucha por la justicia política, social y económica.
Toronto, Ontario – GUILTY. That was the verdict rendered by jurors this morning in a people’s trial against the Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals outside the building where their shareholders were meeting behind closed doors. The testimonies delivered in the people’s trial were verbatim statements from claimants in ongoing lawsuits against HudBay brought by Guatemalans in Ontario courts and an eviction notice issued to the company by the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Manitoba. The mock trial convened by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network involved a 15-foot tall puppet representing HudBay’s CEO David Garofalo along with other larger than life props, including a 4-foot judge’s gavel.
The charges against HudBay concerning its former Fenix mine in Guatemala included the murder of community leader and school teacher Adolfo Ich, the gang rape of 11 women in Lote 8 during a forced eviction, and the shooting of German Chub Choc who was left paralyzed. One testimony the jury heard was from Angelica Choc, the widow of Adolfo Ich. Part of her statement read: “It is very painful to remember such shocking tragedy. The days since my husband was killed have been very hard. There has been no justice. The man who killed Adolfo still has not faced the courts. And the mining company, Hudbay, has not been held accountable. My five children have lost a father; I have lost my husband; and our community has lost a leader. We need justice for these losses.”
Another piece of testimony in the people’s trial was an eviction notice from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) rejecting extractive activities on their traditional, treaty, and reserve territory. The MCCN has issued several stop work and eviction notices to HudBay, most recently this past February, and has offered to work together with the government of Manitoba in good faith to resolve the conflict. That offer continues to be ignored.
Jennifer Mills from the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network said, “HudBay Minerals has done everything it can to avoid its day in court here and in Guatemala. While we continue to support the communities pushing forward these processes, we felt we had to bring the charges to light here in front of their AGM where they can’t ignore us.”
Back in March, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and Breaking the Silence launched a call for solidarity with Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala who have been resisting violence from Canadian mining companies (most recently Hudbay Minerals) for over 50 years. The signed solidarity statement was to be delivered to claimants as the trial against Mynor Padilla was set to begin, representing an important step towards justice for the the communities who have been actively defending their territory, their lives and their communities through their resistance against the mining project.
On April 3rd, we announced that the criminal trial against Mynor Padilla, former head of security for the mining project, for the murder of Aldofo Ich Chamán and the shooting of seven others was being postponed. Victims and family members pointed out that the legal process to bring Padilla to justice has already been prolonged and impeded extensively. “They are misleading us and trying to exhaust us in our pursuit of justice,” stated Angelica Choc, the wife of Adolfo Ich.
Two weeks ago, the criminal trial against former head of security for Hudbay Minerals was delayed once again – this time until September. This trial represents one way community members are seeking justice for the countless acts of violence that Q’eqchi’ communities have faced – and continue to face – at the hands of Canadian mining companies. We decided that it was important to bring this powerful act of international solidarity to the claimants now, to support them through this drawn-out process.
And so, we delivered this petition with over 1500 signatures from 27 different countries, alongside hundreds of messages of support from around the world (all translated into Spanish) to German Chub and Angelica Choc in her home, steps away from where her husband was murdered by Hudbay’s former head of security. Both were deeply touched and wished to extend their gratitude to everyone who supported this action, who have spoken out against human rights abuses committed by Canada’s Hudbay Minerals, and who continue to stand in solidarity with them in this struggle.
However, international solidarity in this case is far from over. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we work to hold Hudbay accountable!
Tomorrow, May 8th, many of us will be gathering outside Hudbay’s headquarters in Toronto while Hudbay shareholders meet for the company’s Annual General Meeting. While the closed-door meetings take place inside, CEO David Garofalo – represented by a 15-foot puppet! – will stand accused in a people’s trial of crimes committed against Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi communities in Guatemala, and for violating the inherent land rights of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Manitoba, Canada. For those who are in Toronto, we invite you to please join us in solidarity with these affected communities, and help us serve justice to these corporate criminals.
More info on the event here: http://mininginjusticesn.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/may-8th-hudbay-agm/
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/757394004304839/
And to stay in touch with this and other struggles and solidarity efforts from around the world, please sign up for our email newsletters:
– Breaking the Silence – http://www.breakingthesilenceblog.com/
– Mining Injustice Solidarity Network – http://www.solidarityresponse.net/
We’ve launched a call for solidarity with Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala who have been resisting violence from Canadian mining companies (most recently Hudbay Minerals) for over 50 years. On April 4th they’ll be bringing a landmark criminal case to court in Guatemala and I will be showing up on behalf of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and Breaking the Silence to bring the statement of solidarity as well as all signatures and endorsements we’ve gathered to the courthouse!
Murders. Violent forced evictions. Rapes. Land thefts. Shootings. Criminalization of dissent.
Q’eqchi’ communities in the Izabal region of Guatemala have faced an onslaught of these and other abuses over the past five decades at the hands of a series of Canadian mining companies who have owned the Fenix Nickel Project.
On April 4th 2014 a criminal trial will begin in Guatemala to seek justice for some of the countless acts of violence communities have faced – and continue to face – at the hands of these mining companies. On this day, Mynor Padilla, the former Head of Security for the mine, under the ownership of Canadian company Hudbay Minerals and local subsidiary CGN, will be tried for the murder of Aldofo Ich Chamán. Ich Chamán was a respected Maya Q’eqchi’ community leader, father of six, and an open critic of human rights violations and environmental damage caused by corporate mining activities. Padilla will also be tried for the shooting of seven others on the same date, September 27, 2009 near El Estor, Izabal: Haroldo Cucul Cucul, German Chub Coc, Alejandro Chuc, Ricardo Acte Coc, Samuel Coc Chub, Alfredo Tzi Ich, and Luciano Choc. One man, German Chub, lives with a number of grave medical conditions as a result of this shooting, including a collapsed lung and a spinal cord injury that has left him paraplegic.
In a series of separate civil cases being heard in Canada, Hudbay Minerals and CGN are being tried for these shootings and the murder of Ich Chamán, while Hudbay Minerals is additionally being tried for gang-rapes committed in a nearby community during an eviction.
Despite grave and ongoing violence, Indigenous communities in the region have been resisting encroachment on their territory by a series of mining companies for over 50 years. The commencement of the criminal case against former head of mine security, Mynor Padilla, is an important step towards justice for the the communities who have been actively defending their territory, their lives and their communities through their resistance against the mining project.
In the four and a half years since the violent events of September 2009 took place, victims, witnesses, and family members have struggled through a long and frustrating series of legal processes in order to have justice served. They are calling upon allies to join them in solidarity as the criminal trial begins on April 4th. Angelica Choc, the wife of Adolfo Ich, makes the request clear: “Let all of us who are fighting in defense of our territories unite to demand that justice be served.”
We want to make sure everyone involved in this struggle knows that they are not alone.Please sign and endorse this letter as a statement of your solidarity and concern with those harmed during the events of September 27, 2009, and with all other victims of violence carried out by mining companies in the region, the Maya Q’eqchi’ community of El Estor, and all those who defend their land, communities, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Solidarity Statement:
We also stand in solidarity alongside all other victims of violence carried out by mining companies in the region, the Maya Q’eqchi’ community of El Estor, and all those who defend their land, communities, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We know that today is but one step in the long journey towards justice, towards the reclaiming of your territory, towards safety, peace and self-determination for your communities.
Know that we stand with you today, tomorrow, and in the struggles to come.
In remembrance of all of those who have fallen, and with admiration for the strength and dignity of all of the women and men who have participated in this struggle.
I will be bringing the statement of solidarity as well as all signatures and endorsements to the courthouse as the trial begins on April 4th, 2014.
On April 4, 2014, the criminal trial of Mynor Padilla will begin in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. Padilla is charged with the murder of Aldofo Ich Chamán, and the wounding of at least ten others on September 27, 2009 near El Estor, Izabal. The victims of these violent crimes and their families are calling upon allies to join them in solidarity in Puerto Barrios as the trial begins.
Witnesses allege that Mynor Padilla, the head of security at the time for Hudbay Minerals/Compañía Guatemalteca de Niquel (CGN) opened fire on a group of villagers in El Estor who opposed forced evictions and other human rights violations in relation to Hudbay/CGN’s Fenix mining project.
At the time that these violent incidents took place, CGN was the wholly-owned Guatemalan subsidiary of HudBay Minerals, a Canadian mining company. HudBay and CGN are also currently facing civil lawsuits in Canadian courts for their role in the killing of Adolfo Ich, the shooting-paralyzing of German Chub and the gang-rapes of 11 women from the nearby community of Lote 8 during a forced eviction.
On September 27, 2009, a series of community protests took place in response to fears that further illegal evictions of Q’eqchi’ communities in the El Estor region would be carried out by HudBay Minerals/CGN. Mine company security personnel reacted to the protests with violence. Individuals who were wounded in the attack include: Haroldo Cucul, Santos Caal Beb, and German Chub Choc, from barrio La Union; Alejandro Acte, Ricardo Acte, and Samuel Coc, from the community of Las Nubes; and Alfredo Tzi and Luciano Ical, from barrio El Chupon.
Adolfo Ich Chamán, a widely known and respected local teacher, community leader, and father of four was specifically targeted and killed. Witnesses state that armed security used their shotguns to push him away from the gathered crowd before a security guard hacked him with a machete and Mynor Padilla shot him in the head.
On the same day, German Chub, a young local man and father of one, was watching a soccer game near the fence that separates the community of La Union from mining company buildings, when security personnel arrived. German alleges that he was shot by Mynor Padilla in another unprovoked attack.
German lives with a number of grave medical conditions as a result of this incident. “I have suffered devastating and permanent injuries because of the shooting. The bullet badly damaged my spinal cord, so I am now a paraplegic. The bullet also punctured and collapsed my left lung. My left lung no longer works.”
In the four and a half years since these events, victims, witnesses, and family members have struggled through a long and frustrating series of legal processes in order to have justice served for these violence crimes.
Despite an order issued for Padilla’s arrest shortly after events in September 2009, he remained at large. Company officials confirmed that he continued to be on paid leave from his work as head of security and remained on the CGN payroll for at least the following year. In response to the perceived unwillingness of the Public Prosecutor’s office to enact the arrest warrant, community members went before the Human Rights Section of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in December 2010 to demand that the Ministry of the Interior take immediate action. They likewise demanded that investigations be conducted impartially, in response to concerns that the Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN) was corrupting community leaders and proposing witnesses who were not present at the moment of Chamán’s murder.
Padilla was arrested on September 25, 2012, after having remained a fugitive from justice for almost three years. The trial is scheduled to begin on April 4, 2014, eighteen months after the arrest.
Angelica Choc, the widow of Adolfo Ich, speaking of her thoughts leading up to the trial, said, “I only hope that everything will go well on the 4th of April. That the laws are followed, that the authorities conduct their work appropriately and without being manipulated.”
[Activists in Toronto, the city where HudBay Minerals is based, march in support of the communities harmed by Canadian mining projects around the world. Photo: Allan Lissner]
Throughout this process, supporters both in Guatemala and internationally have expressed solidarity and concern for the safety of the family of Adolfo Ich Chamán, while denouncing his murder as a targeted act of violence against a respected Maya Q’eqchi’ community leader and an open critic of human rights violations and environmental damage caused by corporate mining activities. They have also stood in solidarity alongside the other victims of violence carried out by CGN, the Maya Q’eqchi’ community of El Estor, and all human rights defenders who defend their land, land rights, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
When the trial opens in April, those who will be serving as witnesses, as well as the families of victims – all of whom have faced significant risk throughout this process – call upon allies to join them at the courtroom to demonstrate their solidarity.
Angelica Choc makes the request clear: “Let all of us who are fighting in defense of our territories unite to demand that justice be served.”
Those unable to attend the trial in person should stay tuned for information on opportunities to stand in solidarity from afar.
This evening we received the news of an amazing victory in the long and ongoing struggle of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities that have suffered at the hands of Canadian company Hudbay. The Superior Court of Ontario ruling, which allows for the claims of 13 Mayan Guatemalans to continue to trial in Canadian courts, sets a new precedent for holding Canadian companies accountable here for crimes committed overseas. While this struggle for justice is far from over, today represents a significant victory in the larger work of chipping away at mining impunity at the Canadian and global scale.
To quote Rights Action:
“We are grateful to and in awe of the Mayan Qeqchi people who – despite on-going poverty, despite already having suffered great repression, despite on-going threats – took the decision to seek justice and remedy in Canadian courts. We are deeply grateful to Klippensteins for taking on these now precedent setting legal cases, on a ‘pro bono’ basis, and demonstrating both the legal brilliance and heart-felt commitment to stay with this much needed legal struggle in Canadian courts. Thank-you to all who have donated funds in support of the health and humanitarian needs, and the justice and reparations struggles of the mining harmed people and communities in El Estor. This struggle for justice and remedy is far from over; more support is needed.”
July 22, 2013, Toronto, Canada: In a precedent-setting ruling with national and international implications, Superior Court of Ontario Justice Carole Brown has ruled that Canadian company Hudbay Minerals can potentially be held legally responsible in Canada for rapes and murder at a mining project formerly owned by Hudbay’s subsidiary in Guatemala. As a result of Justice Brown’s ruling, the claims of 13 Mayan Guatemalans will proceed to trial in Canadian courts.
“As a result of this ruling, Canadian mining corporations can no longer hide behind their legal corporate structure to abdicate responsibility for human rights abuses that take place at foreign mines under their control at various locations throughout the world,” said Murray Klippenstein, lawyer for the 13 indigenous Mayans. “There will now be a trial regarding the abuses that were committed in Guatemala, and this trial will be in a courtroom in Canada, a few blocks from Hudbay’s headquarters, exactly where it belongs. We would never tolerate these abuses in Canada, and Canadian companies should not be able to take advantage of broken-down or extremely weak legal systems in other countries to get away with them there.”
Hudbay argued in court that corporate head offices could never be held responsible for harms at their subsidiaries, no matter how involved they were in on-the-ground operations. Justice Brown disagreed and concluded that “the actions as against Hudbay and HMI should not be dismissed.”
“Today is a great day for me and all others who brought this lawsuit,” said Angelica Choc, a plaintiff and widow of Adolfo Ich. “It means everything to us that we can now stand up to Hudbay in Canadian courts to seek justice for what happened to us.”
“This judgment should be a wake-up call for Canadian mining companies,” said Cory Wanless, co-counsel for the Mayans along with Mr. Klippenstein. “It is the first time that a Canadian court has ruled that a claim can be made against a Canadian parent corporation for negligently failing to prevent human rights abuses at its foreign mining project. We fully expect that more claims like this one will be brought against Canadian mining companies until these kinds of abuses stop.”
This is the second significant legal victory for the Mayan plaintiffs this year. In February, Hudbay abruptly dropped its argument that the lawsuit against it should be heard in Guatemala, not Canada, after fighting tooth and nail over this issue for over a year, forcing survivors of rape to travel to Toronto to endure extensive cross-examination and the legal team to spend countless hours compiling stacks of evidence, expert reports, and witness testimony.
For more information about the claims, see www.chocversusHudbay.com.
- Watch a short video filmed during the hearing in March 2013 when an Ontario judge heard pre-trial motions to dismiss the HudBay lawsuits (for which the ruling was issued today).
- Coverage on the demonstration outside of Hudbay’s Annual General Meeting, in support of indigenous communities in Guatemala and Manitoba in May 2013.
- An op-ed I wrote in October 2010, shortly after visiting the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community that has brought Hudbay to court, in which I share some of the stories that the women of Lote 8 (who were attacked and raped by Hudbay security) shared with me.
- See this post from May 2010 for a bit of background information on nickel mining and Hudbay’s involvement in the area
Last spring, I spent a number of days visiting and meeting with the community of Lot 8. I wrote and performed a spoken word piece sharing some of the stories that the community had shared with me, especially concerning their eviction and the violent assaults on a number of women in the community. A number of the women I spoke with (and whose stories I also detailed in this op ed) have now announced a lawsuit against HudBay here in Canada, with the support of Rights Action and Toronto lawfirm Klippensteins. Hopefully this marks the beginning of a long process of obtaining some degree of justice and accountability for the horrible abuses this community has suffered.
(For a bit of background information on nickel mining in the area see this post)
PRESS RELEASE – Monday, March 28, 2011
MAYAN WOMEN VICTIMS OF GANG RAPES ANNOUNCE LAWSUIT AGAINST CANADIAN MINING COMPANY HUDBAY MINERALS
(For immediate release: March 28, 2011 Toronto, Canada and Guatemala City, Guatemala)
Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, and ten other indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ women, announced today a lawsuit brought against Canadian mining company HMI Nickel, and its corporate owner, HudBay Minerals, relating to rapes suffered by them near the town of El Estor, Guatemala.
On January 17, 2007, the eleven women were gang-raped by mining company security personnel, police and military during the forceful expulsion of Mayan Q’eqchi’ families from their farms and homes in the community of “Lote Ocho”. These armed evictions were sought by HMI Nickel in relation to its Fenix mining project, located on the north shores of Lake Izabal, which it operates, in part, through its Guatemalan subsidiary Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN). The communities believe these evictions were illegal.
The lawsuit, filed in HudBay and HMI Nickel’s home jurisdiction of Ontario, Canada, claims $11 million in general damages and $44 million in punitive damages.
HMI Nickel was previously known as Skye Resources. All shares of HMI Nickel were purchased by HudBay Minerals in 2008. HMI is currently a wholly-owned and controlled subsidiary of HudBay Minerals. HudBay Minerals did not own HMI Nickel at the time of the rapes.
“Nine men came into my house and raped me,” said Rosa Coc. “They were police, soldiers and private security of the company. They left me just completely battered and bruised.” Rosa and others have said that, at the time of the attacks, some of their assailants wore uniforms bearing the initials and logo of HMI Nickel’s Guatemalan subsidiary, CGN.
At the time of the rapes, HMI Nickel maintained close control of operations at the Fenix Project from its head offices in Canada. In public relations statements made in Canada, HMI Nickel promised that security forces at the Fenix mine would abide by specific international standards regarding the screening, conduct, training, and supervision of their security personnel. Ian Austin, the then-President and CEO of HMI Nickel, stated to Canadian investors that all activities related to the evictions would be carried out by personnel specially trained to avoid violence.
Despite HMI’s public promises, HMI Nickel and CGN took aggressive action against Mayan Q’qechi’ communities living on land related to the mining project by seeking the forced expulsion of these communities. The Plaintiffs are not aware of any evidence that indicates that HMI Nickel took reasonable steps to implement the promised international security standards or to protect the community against the violence that was the predictable result.
The gap between what was happening on the ground and what was being said by company executives is shocking. On the very day that men wearing uniforms bearing CGN logos were committing gang-rape during the eviction of a community as requested by his company, Ian Austin, the then-CEO of HMI Nickel, released a public letter in Canada that stated: “[t]he company did everything in its power to ensure that the evictions were carried out in the best possible manner while respecting human rights.”
No investigation or prosecution for these crimes has been initiated in Guatemala.
Rosa and the others are seeking justice in Canada in part because of the poor track record of Guatemala’s justice system. Human Rights Watch noted in January 2011 that “there was 99.75 percent impunity for violent crime as of 2009,” meaning that virtually all violent crime goes unpunished. The report goes on to say that “[v]iolence against women is a chronic problem in Guatemala, and most perpetrators are never brought to trial.”
“We remain traumatized by the attack,” said Rosa. “Not just myself but the entire community.”
The claim represents assertions that have not yet been proven in court. All defendants will have the opportunity to respond in these proceedings.
QUESTIONS & MORE INFORMATION: http://www.caalversushudbay.com
CONTACT: KLIPPENSTEINS Barristers & Solicitors 160 John Street, Suite 300 Toronto, ON, M5V0in5, Canada 416-598-0288 (Office)
Murray Klippenstein, 416-937-8634 (Cell), email@example.com
Cory Wanless, 647-886-1914 (Cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
(In Guatemala) Grahame Russell, Rights Action, who is visiting the community of Lote 8. 011  4955-3634 email@example.com
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 very night I got back to Kitchener after spending a month and a half in Guatemala, I was given the opportunity to perform at “G20 Poets: When Words Resist,” an event organized by my friend Janice Lee, and put on at the Kitchener Waterloo Community Centre for Social Justice (KWCCSJ).
I performed a rough piece I’d only just written about a community I’d recently visited, Lote 8 (Lot 8), and the upcoming G8/20 summits. I hope to rework (and polish, and memorize) the piece soon, as well as to post the testimonies I gathered while visiting Lote 8, but thought I’d post this recording for now.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
A few other videos from the event are posted at the new KW Spoken Word youtube site.
On April 19th, we arrived in El Estor, a town on the shore of Lake Izabal. The municipality of El Estor has been entangled in mining struggles for almost 60 years. Dan Voigt, a local priest, shared much of the history of mining in the region with us. He explained that in the mid 1950s, immediately following the second US-sponsored coup in Guatemala (which put an end to the country’s “10 años de democracia” from 1944 to 1954) the US Geological Service mapped out the country and its mineral deposits. American companies were given exploration rights and discovered large nickel deposits in El Estor.
The visible traces of INCO’s exploratory activities.
Inco, a Canadian company, was invited to be a partner in the project, and ultimately took over operations after 1960. In 1965, Inco obtained the license allowing it to mine nickel in El Estor. (Unknowingly, a few other members of the delegation and I had swam earlier that afternoon off of an old Inco dock, the first industrial dock built in the region.) It took until 1977 to get the mine up and running, at which point it covered only a small fraction of the concession actually granted to Inco.
The old processing plant
At the same time, Inco attempted to evict the indigenous village of Chichipate, where a strong resistance movement emerged. A number of those who spoke critically of the mine were disappeared, and Dan noted that it was well-documented that Inco participated actively in this.
Ultimately, during the 1980s the mine was closed, ostensibly because of a drop in nickel prices. Inco nonetheless retained control of the land and, in fact, entered into an agreement with the Guatemalan government asserting that they would be responsible for its protection.
To the distress of a number of communities around El Estor, the Guatemelan government renewed Inco’s license, which had been set to expire, in the early 2000s. The mine was quickly sold to Skye resources, a company formed by former Inco employees. They proceeded to set up CGN (la Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel) a local, wholly owned, subsidiary. Hudbay later acquired the subsidiary (and the mine) when it combined with Skye Resources in late 2008.
CGN is the Guatemalan subsidiary of Hudbay. This sign announces that they practice “RESPONSIBLE MINING”
In 2005, the first meetings in communities were held by the company, during which they sang the praises of the mine and all the benefits it would bring. Dan remembers telling the company at the time that, before even beginning to plan for the mine, they’d need to ensure that local indigenous communities had land title, and had received reparations.
“Everything here that is not Q’eqchi’ is because someone took it from them.”
He explained that this includes protected areas as well as cattle ranches and mining-affected land. Indeed, much of the land used for cattle around Lake Izabal was formerly land seized from indigenous groups to be used for banana plantations. The whole question of land title is incredibly complicated in this region. While some indigenous groups do have land title, many do not, and it is not always clear exactly what area these titles cover. The borders of the land conceded to Hudbay are equally in question.
The past ten years have been marked by periods of building tension, in which communities were evicted and much attention was paid to the mine, after which the tension would die back down for a few years. In late 2008, in line with a drop in nickel prices, the company announced it was suspending the mine. Nonetheless, exploration has continued and there have been a number of clashes with local villages.
One such clash occurred last year, on the 27th of September. Company officials and security guards, accompanied by the Governor of the region, entered the town of Las Nubes around 3:30pm to exhort a number of families living just outside the town to do as the company wanted and to move elsewhere. Dan explained that the community was frightened by the arrival of this convoy and weren’t sure they understood what was being asked of them. Community members phoned friends in nearby villages, letting them know that the Governor was trying to evict them. They quickly organized and succeeded at blocking the road by 4pm, such that the convoy, upon leaving Las Nubes, was met by activists. They intended to peacefully protest the eviction and to have a discussion with the Governor. She had already found out about the road block, however, and had left by boat, while the rest of the convoy reached the road block. The whole situation quickly degraded into a direct and violent confrontation, ultimately resulting in the death of one activist, Adolfo Ich. While it is hard to determine exactly who killed him, many assert that, regardless, the company holds ultimate responsibility for its attempt to convince the community to move when they had no legal obligation to do so. For more information on Adolfo Ich and the circumstances surrounding his death see this article published by Rights Action, and this photoessay by James Rodriguez.
Dan explained that, over the past few decades, the towns around El Estor have become very well organized and represent a united resistance movement. Accordingly, he believes that the project could only go forward if accompanied by extreme repression. Unfortunately, Guatemala’s history reveals a strong pattern of such violence. One can only hope that this history will not repeat itself in El Estor.