The indigenous Mayan communities of Guatemala have historically been given few judicial outlets, national or international, to seek justice for human rights violations at the hands of multinational companies operating in their territory. But Angelica Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi’ woman from the small hamlet of La Union in the department of Izabal on Guatemala’s eastern coast, has looked to change that. In an unprecedented case, Choc has sued a parent company in its home country for human rights violations committed by its subsidiaries in Guatemala.
“Those who have the money here have the voice,” Choc told Truthout. “But I too have rights, and I am struggling for respect and dignity…. This demand is not only mine; it is for all of Guatemala, for all of those who have suffered from the invasions of our territories by foreign companies to extract our natural resources. This demand is historic.”
“I’m a rock in their way,” she added.
Choc’s husband of 30 years, Adolfo Ich Chamán, was a respected community leader, schoolteacher and outspoken critic of the violation of human rights by mining activities in Guatemala. But on September 27, 2009, Chamán was shot and hacked to death by private security forces of Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), the Guatemalan subsidiary of the Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals.
“My husband was a great person, a leader from his community, and an indigenous person,” Choc told Truthout through tears. “It hurts to remember. I will never forget him. One day, we will understand; one day, we will accept what happened.”
In 2010, Choc and her supporters filed a lawsuit in Canadian courts against Hudbay and two of the firm’s subsidiaries, HMI Nickel and CGN, for the wrongful death of her husband at the site of their Fenix mining project near La Union, in the municipality of El Estor. The lawsuit claims that Hudbay acted with negligence in its operations in Guatemala, and failed to provide protocols for its security forces, which were already known for excessive use of force. Hudbay and other mining firms utilize private security guards to protect the properties of the mine, but all too often these forces in Guatemala have taken on a paramilitary like structure due to the presence of former soldiers employed as security guards. Choc’s suit seeks $2 million in damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
“Part of our objective is to make [people outside the country] see how foreign companies act in our country,” said Isabel Solís, a member of Communities in Resistance of El Estor, who has worked alongside Choc on her case. “It is important for the people of countries such as the United States and Canada to see that the products that they own and that they consume have depended on the death of many people and the violations of human rights. There are great costs within the concept of economic development.”