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.
April 3, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Puerto Barrios, Guatemala – Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ victims of a September 2009 violent attack outside a then-Canadian owned nickel mine were once again disheartened when it was announced today that the criminal trial of Mynor Padilla, former head of security for the Compañía Guatemalteco de Níquel (CGN), was postponed. Padilla’s trial for the murder of Aldofo Ich Chamán and the shooting of seven others on September 27, 2009 was set to open on April 4th but has been postponed until April 24th. An administrative error was cited as the reason for postponing the opening of the trial. Victims and family members point 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.
“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,” said Jackie McVicar, of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network (BTS). “We are deeply concerned by this delay as it represents one further act of impunity in this case. At the same time, we see primarily Canadian mining companies swiftly accessing the justice system when it is convenient for them, as we have seen in Santa Rosa and Jalapa near Tahoe Resources Escobal silver mine, where there have been over 100 trumped up complaints against community members – none of which lead to criminal convictions due to lack of evidence,” she continues. “We call upon the court to prevent further delays and ensure that this important trial can begin,” urges McVicar.
“The crimes that will be considered in this case comprise just a small number of the countless acts of violence Indigenous Q’eqchi’ communities have faced at the hands of Canadian mining companies operating on their territory over the past five decades,” said Rachel Small of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN). MISN and the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network initiated a campaign to support those working for justice in these cases. The solidarity statement, which was signed by over 1300 people from 25 countries supports the victims of these violent crimes and their families. It reads: “We stand in solidarity alongside all 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. Know that we stand with you today, tomorrow, and in the struggles to come.”
At the time of the attack in 2009, Mynor Padilla was the head of security for the mine, under the ownership of Canadian company Hudbay Minerals and its local subsidiary CGN. He has been accused of the murder of Aldofo Ich Chamán, 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 the same day that Ich Chaman was murdered, near El Estor, Izabal. Haroldo Cucul Cucul, German Chub Coc, Alejandro Chuc, Ricardo Acte Coc, Samuel Coc Chub, Alfredo Tzi Ich, and Luciano Choc all were victims of gunshot wounds. One man, German Chub, lives with a number of serious medical conditions as a result of the 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. In addition, the company is being tried for the gang-rape of 11 women in 2007 in a nearby community during a violent land eviction.
Representatives from communities across Guatemala that have faced violence at the hands of Canadian mining companies have committed to traveling to Puerto Barrios when the trial opens in order to be present to show their solidarity for those seeking justice. “People from across Guatemala are speaking out against the violence in their community since the arrival of mining companies that have started working without consent. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only place where violent attacks have happened, but is part of a trend of violence and repression surrounding Canadian mines, at the hands of private security hired by the companies,” laments McVicar. In April 2013, six unarmed men who were peacefully protesting outside Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine were shot. Two of the men suffered serious injuries and this incident lead to the arrest of Alberto Rotondo, also the then-head of security of the company.
Despite grave and ongoing violence, Indigenous communities near the nickel mine in Izabal have been resisting encroachment on their territory by a series of Canadian mining companies for over 50 years. The commencement of the criminal trial against former head of mine security, Mynor Padilla, is an important step towards justice for the communities who have been actively defending their territory, their lives and their communities through their resistance against the mining project. Angelica Choc, the wife of Adolfo Ich, issues a call for unity: “Let all of us who are fighting in defense of our territories unite to demand that justice be served.
Please distribute widely.
For more information, please contact:
In Guatemala: Jackie McVicar, Breaking the Silence: (502) 4824-0637 or firstname.lastname@example.org
In Canada: Monica Gutierrez of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network: (416)788-1767 or email@example.com
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
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.
(I have edited this post to reflect the changing nature of this blog)
I originally created this blog to share the stories others shared with me, as well as my thoughts, while traveling around and living in Guatemala.
I am no longer living in Guatemala, but hope to continue to stay connected with movements based there, and remain dedicated to continue to support resistance to the Canadian extractive industry over here in Canada.
I began my first trip to Guatemala on a Human Rights Delegation with Rights Action.We traveled to various parts of the country investigating environmental and health harms as well as human rights violations caused by large-scale development projects, particularly in the extractive industry. This served as a lens through which to look at broader issues of impunity, colonialism, exploitation, and development in Guatemala and, more broadly, the Americas.
Following the delegation, I remained in Guatemala for a month to further explore these issues. At the time, I wrote: “I am not here to help anyone, but to listen, learn and attempt to understand. Above all, I am recording people’s stories and testimonies. These highlight particular ways in which the actions of my government and Canadian companies (especially mining companies) are negatively impacting people in Guatemala. They will not amount to a systematic overview of the social and environmental harms inflicted by Canadian entities, but will instead offer a small glimpse of a complicated bigger picture. Some of these stories will already have been told, often by Canadian NGOs, but I think all bear repeating until real change happens.”
I was fortunate to be able to return to Guatemala the following year, to work for much of a year with Ceiba, an amazing Guatemalan organization engaged in land struggles at local, municipal, national, and international scales. They have been a strong part of the mining resistance (and other mega-project resistance) movement that has become a major force in Guatemala.
For an overview of some of the negative impacts the Canadian extractive industry has had around the world, and some of the recent resistance efforts see this article.
Knowingly or not, we are all complicit in these harms, whether through our or our pension plans’ investments; the actions of our elected politicians; the jewelry or electronics we buy; or our tacit acceptance of systematic racism, colonialism and other oppressive, violent forces. This is our problem as much as it is that of Guatemalans, though, while we reap the benefits, it is they of course who are suffering the harms.
I hope that this blog can continue to be a place for sharing stories, information, and urgent actions, and that it will support people in joining with others in denouncing the role we and our country(ies) have played and continue to play in exploiting and harming individuals and communities beyond our borders.