Violence endemic in Guatemala as mining protests continue

Friday, 16 January, 2015

An interesting Article came up in our feeds today, published over on the nation yesterday and entitled Poor Guatemalans Are Taking On North American Mining Companies—and Have the Bullet Wounds to Prove It.

The context: as nonviolent protests have spread throughout the country, the right-wing government and the mines’ security operations have responded with force.

It’s a long form piece but well worth sticking with, containing interviews and analysis and in the original piece some pretty dramatic photography too.

At the heart of the matter is the contention that the mining companies operating in Guatemala “have the backing of Guatemala’s right-wing president, Otto Pérez Molina, whose long military intelligence career includes a stint at the School of the Americas and an active role in the country’s brutal thirty-six-year civil war. And the corporations have recourse to a neoliberal mining law passed in the late 1990s that opened the country’s vast mineral wealth to them and reduced the amount they must pay in state royalties to an historic low of 1 percent (though that rate may soon change).” There are 345 mining licenses active in the country, and another 592 pending. It makes for a pretty dense mine population: Guatemala is not by anybody’s standards a big nation.

The upshot has been solid, contentious local resistance to many of these projects. As the article states, “the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman, a government agency, estimates that at least fifty-seven major natural resources conflicts are unfolding across the country today. Indigenous and community groups have initiated waves of demonstration and denunciation from coast to coast, citing as their primary concern the danger mines pose to land rights and water resources.”

It basically comes down to water—as is so often the case—and farming. Locals are concerned for the most part about contamination water supplies necessary to their livelihoods. Resistance has been supported for the most part by the Catholic Church, a big player in Guatemala: “Clergy, from priests to some prominent bishops, are advising anti-mining organizers, leading marches and calling for the reform of relevant laws. The church, at least its progressive faction, has used its material resources and moral force to amplify what is already one of the most significant eruptions of popular protest in postwar Guatemala.”

There result in some cases hasn’t been pretty: government crackdowns, police repression, and the darker side of Latin American “politics”: kidnapping, intimidation, torture, arrest, imprisonment and murder.

It’s worth a read here; it’s not an entirely one-sided piece. Right to reply is granted: the authors also interview some of the mining companies involved, including Nevada engineering firm Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA), and Tahoe Resources Inc., a Canadian silver company, who talk of the positive difference the company has made since investing in the area.

On the whole, though, it’s not a pretty picture, and many of the locals disagree strongly with that assessment. 16-year-old youth leaders begin killed in the street is the low point, but not much of it is good.