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:
Late on Sunday night, Alex Reynoso and Merilyn Topacio Reynoso, father and daughter activists involved in the resistance against Canadian company Tahoe Resources’ Escobal Mine in Guatemala, were attacked by unknown suspects. Alex and Topacio were on their way home to Matequescuintla after attending an activity in a nearby community. Topacio, who was sixteen years old, was shot and killed; Alex was severely wounded and remains in intensive care.
When I spent time in communities around this mining project in February and March I heard countless stories of activists who had received death threats, who had been attacked, and who have been forced to live in a constant state of fear in their own homes and communities (I’ll be sharing these as videos and articles in the coming weeks). While details of the attack against Alex and Topacio remain unclear, this incident clearly forms part of this larger pattern of recent violent acts and intimidation.
The acts of violence that took place on Sunday are the worst and most heartbreaking types of reminders of what the impacts of these mining projects truly look like, and of why solidarity work with communities who are resisting Canadian mining companies, and with all those who defend their right to life and territory is vital.
Rest in power, Topacio.
Below is a statement shared via NISGUA from a number of Guatemalan Communities in Resistance.
Out of the ongoing repression and criminalization of peaceful communities, resistances across Guatemala have united to denounce the reality in which they live and demand respect for their human rights..Communities in Resistance from San Juan Sacatepéquez, San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, San Rafael Las Flores and Mataquescuintala, the Xinca Parliament, Communities of Monte Olivo, the Coordination and National Convergence Maya Waqib’Kej and the Indigenous, Peasant and Popular March express that:.The current government headed by President of the Republic Otto Pérez Molina has increased violence in order to comply with commitments made with the oligarchy and transnational companies. The acts of terror, repression and criminalization during his administration can only be compared to the military violence enacted during the counterinsurgency war against our people. Said repression is directed toward pacific social struggles that indigenous peoples and social organizations maintain in defense of territory..This policy serves the diverse interests of transnational companies behind the mining extractive industry, hydroelectric dams and monoculture crops. This past year, community leaders, women, men, youth, small children, and social leaders have been subject to many human rights violations, including states of siege, provocations, intimidations, threats, legal persecutions, illegal detentions, abductions and even assassinations of community leaders..In order to carry out this repression, the government has made available all state agencies to protect the interests of transnational companies, ignoring the first principle of its mandate which is to protect and guarantee life to the people of Guatemala, with the common good being its supreme goal..Communities like Monte Olivo in Cobán, Alta Verapaz; Sierra de las Minas in El Estor, Izabal; San José del Golfo; San Pedro Ayampuc; San Rafael las Flores; Mataquescuintla; San Juan Sacatepéquez; San Miguel Ixtahuacán; Sipacapa, San Marcos; Santa Cruz Quiché; and Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango represent some of the communities that are persecuted and attacked..The 12 communities of San Juan Sacatepéquez, since 2006, continue their strong struggle in defense of territory against the arrival of the cement company in their communities without their consent, as indicated by law. The company, [Cementos Progresos], threatens to construct a highway to connect the cement factory to the InterAmerican Highway…..The Xinca People have been subject to all human rights violations described above. In 2013, a state of siege was established in the department of Jalapa, affecting the indigenous communities of Santa María Xalapan and Mataquescuintla, and the municipalities of Casillas and San Rafael las Flores in the department of Santa Rosa. This type of measure, similar to those in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango and San Juan Sacatepéquez, demonstrates diverse human rights violations to men, women and children…..San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, last March 2, commemorated the second anniversary of the “La Puya” peaceful opposition, an example of resistance, struggle and love in search of the defense of water, life and territory..Recently, the La Puya peaceful resistance was subject to new attacks and confrontations by the mining company, with intimidations and under the protective arm of the National Civil Police (PNC). The community members, who have exercised their legitimate right to pacific social protest in defense of territory, continue to fear eviction by the PNC…..The community “Ninth of February” in the region of Monte Olivo in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, this past April 8, was witness to a new attack on community leaders by large-scale farmer Sandino Ponce and his armed security guard, who wounded five men, one boy and a pregnant woman…..The Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) has suffered a series of attacks that total 44 assassinations amongst members of its organization between 2000 and 2014. Since 2011, assassinations, threats, forced evictions, criminalization, detentions and imprisonment have increased. Smear campaigns, defamation and slander join these techniques that try to delegitimize 36 years of struggle…..Before this reality of repression in which each of the above-mentioned communities lives, we DEMAND:.
- That the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, the High Commissioner’s Human Rights Office, CICIG, including the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, speak out and demand of the Guatemalan state that it fulfill its obligation to guarantee the right to life, physical integrity and other fundamental rights to the Guatemalan people, before this new repressive attack by clandestine groups and private security companies that generate abductions, death threats, assassinations, threats and intimidations against our communities.
- That the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office monitor, accompany and protect the physical integrity and life of the families that find themselves threatened and persecuted, and also protect human rights defenders and those who defend Mother Earth.
- That the government of Guatemala immediately withdraw National Army forces from the communities in resistance, we especially demand withdrawal from Santa Maria Xalapan and San Juan Sacatepéquez.
- The closure of extractive industry companies and the termination of turning over national territory to the hands of transnational companies.
- That international human rights organizations, indigenous organizations, peasant organizations, women’s organizations, unions and solidarity groups not be surprised by defamation campaigns and slander. These campaign principally aim to criminalize communities and organizations in order to delegitimize them and facilitate their criminal prosecution..In these moments, in which we are once again living massacres, abductions, assassinations, states of prevention and states of siege, similar to wartime but with elements of criminalization and criminal prosecution, we demand launching a visibilization campaign of what happens in our country and more importantly, a campaign of permanent solidarity..12 Communities in Resistance from San Juan SacatepéquezCommunities in Resistance from San José del Golfo and San Pedro AyampucXinca ParliamentIndigenous, Peasant and Popular MarchCoordination and National Convergence Maya Waqib’Kej
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!