Thursday, January 11, 2007

Canadian Mining Company Orders Eviction of Indigenous Communities

Izabal and Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.
January 8 and 9, 2007. Part I of III.
Issue: Land / Mining / Corporate Responsibility

With the new year barely under way, a combined Police and Army force of roughly 800 members evicted five indigenous communities in the Departments of Izabal and Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Although the procedures were carried out in a relatively peaceful manner, the actions ordered by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), local subsidiary of Canadian-run mining company Skye Resources, have dangerously raised tension levels in an already volatile region.

The EXMIBAL mine, predecessor to the current Fenix Project run by CGN, was a highly controversial venture which caused much divergence in the region during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war from 1960-1996. During the first half of the internal conflict, thousands of Maya Q’eqchi’ indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in order to make way for the mega-project. The violent evictions claimed hundreds of victims at the time. Many of those who survived are now being evicted once again.

The current government of President Berger has adhered to a strict neo-liberal agenda attempting to restart mega projects such as the Nickel mining one in El Estor, Izabal. Therefore, entering an electoral year where a new government could potentially stall the process, CGN and the current government have accelerated the pace so as to get the Fenix Project up and running before the end of this calendar year - which will coincide with a new presidential figure at the helm.

The eviction process carried on this week holds a stark resemblance to historical events still fresh in the minds of many Guatemalans. Similar to the evictions of the 1960’s and 1970’s, federal agents and the armed forces have been turned against the local residents at the orders of a foreign-run company in order to remove subsistence farmers from what many of them claim to be ancestral lands.

La Union Community. El Estor, Izabal.

First community in line for eviction was La Union, situated within the town of El Estor and home to some 100 families living in extreme poverty who survive off subsistence farming.

Confusion and ambiguity seemed to fill the air from the beginning, as the documents presented by public prosecutor Rafael Andrade Escobar did not match the geographic location of the lot. Alfredo Cocoa (left), member of the Defensoria Q’eqchi’, a non-government organization (NGO) focused on providing legal advice to Maya Q’eqchi’ peoples in the area, argued in favor of a two-week postponement in order to clarify whether this indeed was the correct lot.

Unfortunately for the community members, Mr. Andrade Escobar rejected the plea and ordered the eviction of those who CGN perceives as squatters in these highly contested territories whose real owners are not clearly known.

A practice highly criticized has been the hiring of peoples from neighboring towns by CGN so as to do the so-called dirty work. Bus loads filled with residents of the also lakeside town of Mariscos were brought in by CGN in order to take apart the shacks and living quarters. These actions, also similar to those carried on during the civil war, can potentially pose a serious threat to the already shaky stability of the region, as growing resentment can develop among neighboring communities.

Community leader Don Rene watches as his home is taken apart by employees of CGN who are also Maya Q’eqchi’ indigenous peoples, but from a different community. “The company promised us jobs” he states, “but instead they kick us out of our homes.”

Meanwhile, Jesusa Ixtecoc Juarez pleaded for her home as it was taken apart: “I am alone. If I die tonight, it will be because they took my home made from sticks which cost me 25 Quetzales [roughly 3 US dollars].”

Don Marcelino, an elderly resident, attempts to drag out one of his few possessions: his bed.

Don Rene’s wife could not help her frustration and declared: “Our children need a roof over their head! Where are we going to sleep tonight? Up in the hills? We are indigenous… we are Q’eqchi’! This is our land! …They think we’re dumb, but we’ll see. Just like the company kicked us out of our homes, we’re going to kick the company out of our land.”

La Pista Community. El Estor, Izabal

After dismantling all the homes in La Union, the large caravan moved to the outskirts of town towards the community known as La Pista (runway in Spanish). It is within the limits of this small airport built by EXMIBAL where a small group of indigenous peoples settled by the side of the highway.

By the time the authorities arrived, however, the residents of La Pista had departed. Employees of CGN quickly destroyed the small shacks and burned any left-over materials.

Versión en Español aquí.
In Japanese: 日本語で


Tata said...

Very nice article and pictures.
I am always surprised how the multinational companies act.

chéggy said...

Really a piece of well done press work. I guess rarely anyone would notice what's going on if you had not written this.

Jenn said...

thanks for keeping us informed...its important that things like this are made aware. very sad to see.

FriedToast said...

I would never had known anything of the sort was going on like this had you not posted this information (found via the photos via Flickr).

Thank you for informing the world of these terrible actions.

peggybud said...

This makes me SICK!!!!! What can we do?????? These people have suffered too much because of North American GREED and selfishness. Going back the distance, becoming extreme in the late 50's, into the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's....I though PERHAPS we were beginning to have a conscience. HA!! I was kidding myself. I am american, from the US and I am ashamed, disheartened, disgusted!!!!!

Courtenay said...

I'm really glad you covered this, and I'm impressed by your courage to photograph in the face of the police and company officials...I spent 8 months in Solola in the year 2000...I'll never forget the indigineous people, their kindness and dignity.

I wonder if the Zapatista movement in Chiapas has plans to address these issues across the border in Guatemala? I know there are strong connections there, but it seems the people you photographed need even stronger allies than lawyers...

Curious about that, and also want to know if there's any thing I can do here in CA...I'm a photog also, but have no plans to travel to Guatemala soon, but of course, would love to return someday sooner than later.

neshika said...

I see I am quite delayed reading this article but nevertheless i feel so annoyed. How come this multinational is not able to work with this people? How can this skye resources put police men against their own people, people that they should be defending. I wish I could do something. I will spread around this website through my wordpress. I dont know if I should thank you for the info.. because indeed this really makes me sad. Well good report.

neshika said...

How did this situation evolve? I would like to have some more information and also see photos of the place nowadays.