The Indigenous people of Guatemala have just lived through another massacre in their territories, which has led to the declaration of another state of emergency by the government of Otto Pérez Molina. The acts of violence started on the evening of September 19th, when, according to the communities, armed actors entered their territories and identified themselves as workers with Cementos Progreso, they opened fire and killed a member of the community delegation that was in the area, killing him.
Corporations, Conflicts, and States of Exception
Translation provided by The Media Co-op
The Indigenous people of Guatemala have just lived through another massacre in their territories, which has led to the declaration of another state of emergency by the government of Otto Pérez Molina.
The acts of violence started on the evening of September 19th, when, according to the communities, armed actors entered their territories and identified themselves as workers with Cementos Progreso, they opened fire and killed a member of the community delegation that was in the area, killing him. That began a cycle of violence that has, up until now, caused eleven deaths and injured various people, and which has dramatically aggravated the conflicts that exist in the region.
The cement company, source of conflict
The climate of violence in the region has been rising since 2006, when Cementos Progreso announced their intention to build a large cement project on Indigenous territories. That project, which local people were not consulted about, had been in development ever since, in the framework of generalized conflict which has negatively affected their human rights. The company has yet to completely install itself because of community resistance, but they have not abandoned the project because they have explicit government support for it.
Among the recorded acts of violence, according to documentation by Peace Brigades International (PBI), there have been armed attacks against people and property (vehicles, a church, etc), death threats and physical aggression against traditional authorities and community leaders, as well as attacks against social activists that accompany the communities. In the majority of the cases, the local population has identified the aggressors as personnel contracted by the cement company.
Local communities are not the only ones to point to a link between the presence of the company and increased conflict. James Anaya, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, noted after his mission to Guatemala in 2011 “the presence of companies in Indigenous territories has created a situation of great conflict and has caused enormous divisions in the communities.”
Recently, Amnesty International went even further and alerted that “the government of Guatemala is feeding the fire of conflict by not consulting with local communities before handing out mining concessions to companies; in that way, in practice, the government is increasing the risk of bloodshed and destroying the rights of the population.”
States of Emergency, the Government’s Weapon against Indigenous Peoples
Since taking power in January 2012, President Pérez Molina, a retired General who was a high-ranking military official during the years the state perpetrated genocide against Mayan people, has declared states of exception on various occasions. All of them have taken place in Indigenous lands, and always when there are corporate interests involved. In 2011, Special Rapporteur Anaya pointed to “the indiscriminate use that is made of states of emergency by public powers in Guatemala.”
The first of these declarations came in 2012, in the municipality of Barrillas (Q’anjobal territory, department of Huehuetenango), because of community resistance to the construction of Hidro Santa Cruz, a dam, by the Spanish company Hidralia Energy. The second was declared in the departments of Jalapa and Santa Rosa in May of 2013, affected, among others, the territory of the Xinca people of Xalapán. In that case it was a response to protests against the company GoldCorp, who is exploring for the El Oasis Mine (there were peaceful demonstrations that prevented workers from reaching the mine site in San Rafael Las Flores).
In the previously mentioned report, Special Rapporteur Anaya warned of “the indiscriminate use of states of emergency by public powers in Guatemala, the growing presence of security forces in communities, and the excessive use of force by said forces. In addition, there is a situation of impunity regarding acts of harassment and physical violence, including sexual violence, against community members in a context marked by a lack of access to justice by Indigenous people.”
Peaceful Resistance as Community Response
In the midst of this climate of conflict, constant aggression and criminalization, the Maya Kaqchikel communities of San Juan have continued to honor the result of the popular consultation carried out in May 2007, when 8,946 residents rejected the construction of the cement plant, compared to four people who voted in its favor.
In addition, faced with the latest round of violence, they demand the following:
1) That there be an objective and thorough investigation to determine who were the people that provoked the massacre in the community of Los Pajoques.
2) That the government stop the construction of megaprojects that are provoking deaths.
3) That public forces protect and watch over the security of citizens who are defending the natural resources of their communities.
Finally, the twelve communities express “their solidarity with the martyrs who have fallen in defense of the land and reiterate their peaceful resistance, as they have done until today, as well as their rejection of the megaprojects in their territory.”