Photo essay: Guatemalan Indigenous communities resist violent eviction by Canadian mining company
Story and photo essay by James Rodríguez, Barrio La Union, El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala
September 28, 2009 -- MiMundo.org -- (Unless indicated, all photographs were taken in June 2009.) As a result of a frustrated eviction attempt in the community of Las Nubes in El Estor, Izabal, Adolfo Ich Xaman (middle in photograph above) was brutally shot and killed by private security guards subcontracted by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), local subsidiary of HudBay Minerals Inc., a Canadian mining company.
Mr. Ich Xaman was chairperson of the Community Committee for Development (COCODE) of the nearby Barrio La Union community, a primary school teacher, and brother-in-law of Ramiro Choc, a high-profile imprisoned Indigenous and peasant leader. During the attack, the following men were also shot and injured: Samuel Coc, Ricardo Tec, Alfredo Xi, Haroldo Cucul (left in the photograph), Alejandro Acté, Luciano Choc, Hector Choc and Guzman Chub.
According to a National Front for Struggle (Frente Nacional de Lucha in Spanish) communiqué, the events occurred as follows:
On the morning of Sunday, September 27th, 2009, the Departmental Governor, Luz Maribel Ramos, presented herself at the community of Las Nubes without previous warning. A pair of Civil National Police officers and approximately 20 private security agents subcontracted to CGN accompanied the Governess. Maribel Ramos claimed to represent the Government and ordered the community members to immediately vacate the area. According to local witnesses, she stated: “You do not pay taxes. CGN does.” The Governess did not have an official eviction order nor any other document issued by a judge. Therefore, her orders lacked legal backing.
Community members argued that CGN had failed to fulfill any of the previously accorded agreements set by previous negotiations. In the midst of such argument, community members of the neighboring Barrio La Union arrived and offered their solidarity. The Governess left the premises along with her entourage.Upon arriving to the community of El Chupon, the group of nine men was ambushed by CGN’s private security agents under the orders of Mynor Bonilla and an engineer identified as Otto. Adolfo Ich Xaman, a primary school teacher, was killed as a result of such savage aggression. Hours after the attack and well into the evening, officers from the public prosecutor’s office [Ministerio Publico in Spanish] had still not arrived.
Residents of Las Nubes and La Union then initiated a walk towards El Estor so as to denounce the illegal eviction attempt to local municipal authorities, to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office [PDH in Spanish], and to gather more support from other local groups. However, they never arrived to their destination.
The community of Barrio La Union suffered three violent evictions at the hands of CGN in 2006 and 2007, including the one of January 8, 2007 (photograph above). The land struggle between Maya Q'eqchi' communities and the Canadian mining company has unleashed a severe and extremely worrisome conflict in the region.
For more information on the conflict and problems caused by the reactivation of the former Exmibal nickel mine, known today as the Fenix project, please view and read the following photo essays:
In June 2009, MiMundo.org visited Barrio La Unión and was pleasantly surprised to see how the community had grown and how well they had been using the lands that the mining company wishes to claim for its own use. The following photographs document the visit to the community, approximately three months ago.
Nevertheless, in a meeting with the two main community leaders, Adolfo Xaman (RIP) and Haroldo Cucul, I was given a document that stated:
We, the people of Barrio La Unión, in El Estor, Department of Izabal, express our concern over the current situation and call the attention of the President and members of Congress to the violation of our indigenous rights, which are protected under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.
We are a community of 200 families who have settled on a piece of land that is said to belong to the Guatemalan Nickel Company. The place where we established our community was abandoned when we arrived. CGN began to pressure us and it has been able to do as it pleases -- carrying out illegal evictions, destroying our homes – while no one from the local authorities or any organization has taken any action. No one said anything when we were violently evicted, nor did anyone come to our defense. We have been treated inhumanely.Here, families living in poverty do not have even a small plot of land to call their own where they can build a roof over their heads and pass their days and night with their children in dignity. Our community has many necessities that our authorities must verify. We have widows in need of support, malnourished children, land titles that must be legalized promptly, lack of potable water, dirt roads, lack of electricity.
As of mid-2007, and throughout the following two years, CGN changed its posture and pushed for participation in so-called “dialogue tables”. Violent evictions and harassment of local leaders from surrounding Maya Q’eqchi’ communities ceased significantly.
Communities such as Barrio La Union, La Paz, and Barrio La Revolucion managed significant growth in terms of population and agricultural production. Nevertheless, the Indigenous communities also began to seriously doubt the true intentions behind such dialogue tables. They strongly suspected CGN was only trying to buy time as this period coincided with a period of industrial inactivity due to well-documented financial problems faced by Canadian parent company Sky Resources. Such financial difficulties resulted in the takeover by current majority stockholder HudBay Minerals Inc. in 2008.
Mrs. Jesusa Ixtecoc Juarez, who courageously attempted to resist the destruction of her humble living quarters during the January 2007 evictions has managed to build and keep a small general store within Barrio La Union. Her case is one of many that clearly displays positive results from the community’s hard work and resistance. Appropriately, her store is called “La Union” (below)
Mrs. Jesusa Ixtecoc Juarez's store, ``La Union''.
A few weeks ago, on September 11, community leaders from Barrio La Union, Barrio La Revolucion, La Pista, La Ceiba, Roberto Dala, El Chupon (all in the municipality of El Estor, Izabal), as well as from La Paz, Quebrada Seca, San Julian Vista Hermosa and Chacpayla Lote 8 (all in the municipality of Panzos, Alta Verapaz), released an uncompromising communiqué declaring their unity against CGN, in which they stated:
The meetings during the so-called Dialogue Tables with CGN have not yielded any positive results, as most of the accepted measures by CGN having to do with the ownership of land have not been respected. These futile discussions have only delayed the legal processes… We do not accept any more Dialogue Tables… We demand that the mining company leave our territories in a peaceful manner immediately… In case the company does not comply with our demands stated in this document, we will have to take drastic measures to make sure it does.
The full communiqué can be found here (in Spanish only).
Only 17 days after the release of the communiqué, violent events were carried out in El Estor which culminated with the death of Adolfo Ich Xaman and the hospitalisation of eight more.
Furthermore, a day after the events in El Estor, Rights Action had coincidentally scheduled a disaster prevention workshop in Coban, Alta Verapaz, that included several local leaders from most of the previously mentioned communities. At a place, known as the Devil's Corner, on the road between La Tinta and Tucuru, men armed with machine guns opened fire on the mini-bus from all sides. Nine men were admitted with bullet wounds and, according to Rights Action, Martin Choc, auxiliary mayor of the “Lote 8” community (another of the communities evicted violently on January 2007), had been killed.
For more information, see ``Recent killings linked to Canadian-owned nickel mine in Guatemala'', by Dawn Paley.