Printer Friendly


Mining companies operating in Guatemala face increasing resistance as residents of lands encroached by the companies have begun to occupy and hold the sites. The occupation tactic was in times past used to protest and refute the ownership of vast tracts of productive territories while local subsistence farmers went landless. In urban areas, occupation was a tactic to obtain housing, a few square meters to put up a flimsy shelter. Now it is being used to prevent the degradation of environments where entire communities have lived for generations and to preserve claims to properties the communities have paid for. In September, hundreds of families from different communities of the municipalities of El Estor and Los Amates in Izabal, and Panzos and Santa Maria Cahabon in Alta Verapaz, took over lands where companies have government-allocated concessions.

In Izabal, about 2,000 Q'eqchi Mayans moved into three separate areas of the mining complex owned by Skye Resources, a Canadian company. As has been the case elsewhere in the country where mining threatens the environment and local way of life (see NotiCen, 2006-03-16), the actions are supported by the Catholic Church. In this instance, it is longtime activist Father Dan Vogt who is involved in the movement. "They got fed up and decided to take action. There were about 350 families--around 2,000 people," said the priest. "They are still there, building houses. The company has told me they are not willing to negotiate until they move."

Support also comes from international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for the local action. Grahame Russell of the Canadian organization Rights Action said, "Skye Resources is just one more example of what North American companies are doing through Latin America. The patterns are being repeated everywhere, and the problems go from A to Z. It starts with a complete absence of consultation with local communities, which they have a legal right to. Before people know anything about it, they are in the back door with a mining-exploration license."

A recent report from Oxfam, an international NGO, read, "Rigorous strip-mining has already degraded the fragile ecosystem, eroding the thin topsoil in mountain passes inhabited by Mayan communities. The mountainsides have been deforested, causing landslides and a litany of environmental hazards. In addition to the environmental threat, there is a long history of political violence between the mining companies and the indigenous communities who resist."

The Q'eqchi communities are supported by these organizations, but are certainly not led by them. A delegation of representatives from the communities appeared before the congressional Energy and Mining Commission in concert with the movement onto the mining areas. They came to press legal rights based on their having bought the land from the Instituto Nacional de Transformacion Agraria (INTA) for which they had never received titles. They charged that the land granted to the Guatemala Nickel Company (CGN), a former subsidiary of Skye Resources, was that same land and that they had never been informed when the land was granted to Guatemala Nickel. The delegation told the commission that mining was not compatible with their lives.

The Q'eqchi explained it all in a press release. "Some years ago, Eximbal [Exploraciones y Explotaciones Mineras Izabal S.A.] invaded our lands. These properties are the legacy of the work of our grandfathers and grandmothers; they worked, sweated, and sacrificed themselves for these lands over a long period of time. Suddenly the CGN appeared and was able to appropriate part of our lands. This was an unjust blow to the Maya Q'eqchi people. As we have been unable to find a solution to this problem, we have no other option but to occupy the following areas as of Sept. 17, 2006: Barrio la Revolucion, Chichipate, 200 families, Comunidad la Paz Quebrada Seca, Santa Maria, 80 families, and in Colonia la Pista, 100 families."

On the other side of Lake Izabal, the south side, another movement against the mines is brewing. There, the residents' concern is that Mayaniquel S.A. will sterilize the lake by overheating its waters, which it uses to cool machinery used in high-temperature metal-separation operations. Mayaniquel is a subsidiary of BHP Billiton, the world's largest diversified-resources company and third-largest nickel miner. Local communities had hung their developmental hopes on ecotourism, which would be destroyed by the mining.

For some of the communities, indigenous claims precede the INTA sales. In La Revolucion, Chichipate, said occupation leader Federico Pop Caal, "CGN wants to take more than half the lands that belong to us. Of the 30 caballerias we had, they are offering us only five [in Guatemala, a caballeria is 45.16 hectares]. We have been displaced from our land just as our parents and grandparents were more than 100 years ago. Many communities paid for their land decades ago."

A long history, complete with massacres

Said political analyst Marco Vinicio Mejia, "These evictions have been going on forever; this problem has been coming up since the beginning of INTA and was the cause of the Panzos massacre...." The Panzos massacre occurred in 1978 and goes unpunished to this day because of impunity. The now-defunct INTA's failure to deliver titles to the communities is thought to have been a prime cause of the massacre because large landowners used the lack of titles as the basis for mass evictions.

What happened with INTA then, said Juan Tiney of the Coordinadora Nacional Indigena y Campesina (CONIC), is the same thing that "is happening now with the Fondo de Tierras (FONTIERRAS), because the community leaders of Izabal, where the problem is greatest, have provisional titles and the receipts that show they have paid."

Pop Caal said that CGN executives have told him and others that "we better stop screwing around because, if not, the same thing will happen to us that happened to our ancestors."

There are indications that these communities will suffer at the hands of government and big business. At their meeting with the mining and energy commission, at which FONTIERRAS officials were present, the authorities refused to recognize either the payments or the authenticity of the titles, arguing that these documents were the work of INTA and that current institutions would not honor them.

Carlos Giron, director of FONTIERRAS said, "In the institution there are no records of the payments or of the property titles since they were INTA arrangements, but to prove their authenticity there would have to be proceedings to legally grant the lands to the community."

Carlos Cacao, representative of the community of Santo Domingo, El Estor, remembered the situation. "When we tried to obtain our title, we went to INTA, and it turned out that, in the folder that contained the documents in which our properties were adjudicated, 21 pages had been removed, which contained our land documents. We sought through FOTIERRAS to recover this folder, but, as of now, we have had no response. That is why we appeared at the legislature, because we didn't want confrontations, but dialogue."

FONTIERRAS has denied having any information about the folder. "FONTIERRAS has no information of the existence of these folders and much less that they were mutilated, but, if the communities present the papers where it says that the lands have been paid for, their titles to the property will be conveyed," said Carlos Giron, the institution's director.

Mejia, however, foresees escalating confrontations. "The interest of the transnationals in keeping control of these great expanses of land is that the Franja Transversal del Norte (FTN) is in that zone. The FTN is a strategic area of mineral wealth where multinational corporations have traditionally been protected from the property claims of indigenous people who have lived there for eons. It has contributed millions in profits to the transnationals (see NotiCen, 2006-09-07). It was created for the enrichment of the national oligarchy. It wouldn't surprise me if there were to be a paramilitary repression of the people who occupied the territories in Izabal."

The FTN has been the scene of strategic colonizations and resource development for many years. Since the 1960s, INTA had been the government agency charged with moving populations around to accommodate mining, oil, and other extraction schemes to benefit the sectors Mejia mentioned.

Ariel Hasse of the Pastoral Social de la Tierra Norte of the Vicariate of Izabal is another for whom history portends a bleak future for the communities. He recalled that, ten years ago, these people had been evicted, without consultation, because their lands were declared environmentally protected zones. "If they didn't consult them in that case, much less would they consult them for a mining-concession license," he said. "That's why that license has caused so much controversy, moreover because the negotiation for the concession was done at a high level without taking into consideration the opinion of the people."

The proof is there, the will is not

There is some question whether these licenses even cover the areas the companies now claim. Records show that license LEXR-902 permits mining exploration on about 248 sq km within El Estor, and license LEXR-1805 in Los Amates authorizes the activity on 139 sq km. But the Web site of the Ministry of Energy and Mining shows the licensed area covered by the second permit is a polygon of only 100 sq km.

The difference in area between the license and the map is the land Pop Caal wants returned to his community, roughly equating square kilometers with caballerias.

Edgar Ical, who was CGN's community relations officer until he was relieved when the local people rejected him as arbitrary and abusive, told the people at a meeting, "The only thing the company can offer is the sale of the five caballarias, but there will be a survey of the area to start negotiations and thus see if it is possible to offer more land."

But Pop Caal said the company never even did that much, "and we're not inclined to let them keep on cheating us."

FONTIERRAS, meanwhile, appears to support the communities' claims, but, like its predecessor INTA, allows the problem to get out of hand by not taking responsibility for a solution. Demetrio Cutzal a technical representative of the institution, sent the Energy and Mining Commission a map, which he said shows it is "almost certain that the lands occupied by the campesinos are the property of the communities. Nevertheless, the final report of the Registro de Informacion Catastral (RIC) will have to determine that, because FONTIERRAS cannot make a resolution on the matter."

The map shows further that CGN is drilling on about 20 sq km of that land. Without the missing 21 pages of the folder that would prove title, the communities are at the mercy of bureaucratic buck-passing. "We have to battle alone because what the municipalities, which would have to help us with this kind of problem, do is sell out to the transnational companies," said Caal. [Sources:, no date; El Periodico (Guatemala), 09/21/06, 09/22/06; Independent (UK), Prensa Libre (Guatemala), 09/22/06; Inforpress Centroamericana, 09/29/06] DEPARTMENT *********************


The hemisphere's defense ministers met in Nicaragua Oct. 1-5, with an agenda aimed at a further blurring of the lines between military and civil security functions. Within the broader context of the VII Western Hemisphere's Defense Ministers Conference, a smaller meeting of eight countries of the Central America region gathered around US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. For years, Rumsfeld has been the prime mover of a Central American military redesigned and integrated to take jurisdiction over gangs, drug-trafficking, northward migrations of workers and terrorists, and other problems of political interest in the US. More than 30 nations participated in the conference.

In turn, the Central American ministers asked Rumsfeld for more money in the form of US aid to get these jobs done. Showing how capable they can be given the proper resources, Nicaragua seized 3,000 kg of cocaine in a shootout on Sept. 30, the day before the meetings began.

Outside the Central American region, some militaries are interested in, and debated the merits of, forming a regional peacekeeping force. Venezuela has proposed linking the armies to guarantee the region's security and counterbalance US influence, but Guatemalan Defense Minister Gen. Francisco Bermudez said the discussions centered on forming a force for UN peacekeeping missions and disaster relief. He said, "At no moment have we talked about creating another force for other means. We believe that as a region we can support the strengthening of world peace, democracy, and respect for human rights as our fundamental mission."

Much ado about Rumsfeld

Rumsfeld pressed hard his vision for Latin American military priorities. "Almost every problem we face is a problem that cannot be solved by a single nation. Whether it's counternarcotics or gangs or hostage-taking or counterterrorism, all of these problems require very close cooperation among nations, many nations," he said.

Nicaragua's President Enrique Bolanos asked the conference to support a proposal to create an international center for humanitarian minesweeping in Nicaragua. The country has ample experience in the field (see NotiCen, 1995-07-14), the result of the aftermath of the contra war. His other contributions were to open the meeting and to deploy hundreds of soldiers on the streets of Managua to protect Rumsfeld from anti-US demonstrations.

Nicaraguans, and partisans of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) in particular, have been outraged by US interference in the coming national elections. The army and police restricted vehicle access all the way to Managua International Airport. Rumsfeld denied any intention to influence the course of the campaign. "I don't get involved in politics in the United States," he said, "so you can be certain I don't get involved in politics in Nicaragua."

What Rumsfeld does seem to want from Nicaraguan politicians, however, is the destruction of some 1,000 Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles. He reportedly discussed the issue with Bolanos and said he was pleased with progress made to get the legislature to cooperate on the matter, even though Defense Minister Avio Ramirez said a month ago that he expected approval from the Asamblea Nacional for the destruction of the SAM-7s to come before this meeting (see NotiCen, 2003-12-04, 2004-08-26 and 2005-10-20).

Declining US influence

As the meetings wound into their final day, Rumsfeld said he was pleased with progress made between the US and Central America on forging the kind of military the US wants to see. But, in the rest of the hemisphere, it was apparent that the decline in US influence had affected military relations as well.

Concurrent with the opening of the conference, Paraguay announced that it had reconsidered its position and decided to refuse diplomatic immunity for US troops stationed in the country and had decided not to renew a military-cooperation pact. Last May, Paraguay allowed the entry of some 400 US troops for joint military maneuvers that focused on fighting urban terrorists, improving public security, and providing humanitarian assistance (see NotiSur, 2005-09-02 and 2006-01-20).

The US has conditioned aid and other cooperation in the region and around the world on individual countries granting US personnel immunity from prosecution before the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which it does not subscribe (see NotiSur, 2003-07-11 and 2002-09-13, and NotiCen, 2005-09-22). The immunity extends not only to the military, but to diplomats and ordinary citizens.

Paraguay is a member of the MERCOSUR trade block, whose other members, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela, have already refused to accord this immunity. What is different here is that these four nations all have leftist governments. The Nicanor Duarte government in Paraguay is farther to the right. The Paraguayan decision was something of a surprise in the US, but officials in Paraguay told the media that Duarte had told Undersecretary for Latin American Affairs Thomas Shannon about it in August.

The Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue's Michael Shifter speculated, "My guess is there was a lot of pressure on the Paraguayans to fall more in line with Brazil and other MERCOSUR countries in terms of not having a special military relationship with the United States. I do think it's a further setback for the US in terms of its influence and its objectives in the region."

The military cooperation is expected to continue until 2007, when the current agreement ends. In Paraguay, the government's concession on the ICC last May caused strong negative reaction on the left.

Less surprising was Venezuela's reaction to US attempts to dominate the conference. Rumsfeld had repeatedly spoken of regional concerns regarding Venezuela's recent arms acquisitions. The purchases came after US threats of a cutoff of arms supplies and after the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002 (see NotiSur, 2002-04-19), after which Venezuela became increasingly concerned about the possibility of attack from the US. Russia recently sold Venezuela 100,000 AK-103 rifles, a license to produce these weapons, 53 helicopters, and 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter planes to replace the aging US aircraft for which the US has denied replacement parts.

Chavez denied that there was any concern coming from the region and charged it was all coming from Rumsfeld. He called upon Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, with whom he shares an often-contentious border, to deny any such concern. "For the dignity of Venezuela," he said, "and for the dignity of Colombia, I publicly ask President Alvaro Uribe before the world to speak out about this and that he clear this up for me, because they are speaking for him, they are speaking for Colombia." Chavez explained, "It is clear there is no leftist or rightist guerrilla anywhere else, unfortunately only in Colombia is there a situation of internal conflict."

Uribe, clearly in a pinch, responded to Chavez on a radio broadcast saying, "Colombia is a country that has very good relations with its South American brothers, with Venezuela, and very good relations with the United States. The only thing Colombia has to say is that it maintains a totally prudent policy for the sake of these good relations with these countries." However Colombian military officials have said in the past that Venezuela's arms purchases were a "sovereign decision." [Sources: BBC Monitoring Latin America, 09/16/06; ABC Color (Paraguay), Deutche Presse-Agentur, Latinnews Daily (UK), 10/02/06; Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua), 10/02/06, 10/03/06; Financial Times Information (UK), La Nacion (Paraguay), Notimex, 10/03/06; Associated Press, 10/02-04/06; El Tiempo (Colombia), Xinhua, 10/04/06]
COPYRIGHT 2006 Latin American Data Base/Latin American Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Date:Oct 5, 2006

Related Articles
US mine gouges for gold.
Mapping the Gran Sabana.
All the rivers run red: the blood-soaked Gulf Country and its McArthur River is sacred land.
Botswana's San peoples win land battle in court: in one of Africa's most high-profile land disputes, Botswana's Bushmen have won the right to live on...
Indigenous rights still not being recognized.
Aboriginal land rights and uranium mining.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters