In late December 2014, the social movement turned political party, Western Peoples Council, released a list of all mining concessions across Guatemala.
According to their data, which was obtained through the Ministry of Energy and Mining, and the National Council of Protected Areas, there are 990 permits for the exploration or exploitation of mineral resources in the country, 115 of which are for metallic resources such as gold, silver and copper.
Twenty of those permits are for projects in the small community of San José del Golfo, which sits about an hour to the north of Guatemala City. The first of these projects to begin operations is the El Tambor gold mine, owned by the U.S. mining firm Kappes, Cassiday and Associates, or KCA, which is based in Reno, Nev. It doesn’t have to be too quiet to hear the operations at the El Tambor mine; during the day one can hear the churning of machinery in the distance. And at night the lights from the mine illuminate the horizon.
Fighting for life
On March 2, 2012, Yolanda Oquelí was driving her car between San Jose del Golfo and another community nearby when she observed the mining firm’s trucks turning down the road. She made a quick decision, and pulled her car in front of the trucks and blocked their access to the site. It was in this moment that the barricade they called “La Puya,” named after the thorns of the bushes in the hills around the mine, was born. Since 2012, the community has maintained a 24-hour presence at the entrance of the mine. Every day between 16 and 20 community members take turns at the barricade.
As in other resistance movements against mining in Guatemala, the community was never informed of the project prior to the issuing of permits. The community is concerned that the mining project will not only lead to the destruction of their land, but their water as well.
“There is no country without water,” said Cristobal Diaz. “There is no life either when there is no water. That is our struggle. We are defending life.”
These concerns are supported by the fact that the official environmental impact report that was performed by government officials and the mining company was proven to be fraudulent by an independent study. The Guatemalan government and mining firm have argued that the mine represents development for the country. But community members have challenged this.
“It only represents development for the mining company,” said Felisa Muralles. “For us it means pollution of our water, and destruction of our environment.”
Dedication to nonviolence
The community has dedicated themselves to resisting the construction of the mine nonviolently. Due to their nonviolent discipline, a state of emergency has not been declared, the military has not been deployed, and no one has been killed.
Though the community has only received a few trainings in nonviolence, they are quick to point out that their reasoning for using nonviolent tactics is based off their understanding of the efficacy of nonviolence in other historical struggles.
“We have learned from other resistance movements,” said Muralles, adding, that have seen “people killed and the military deployed to their communities. We chose to resist nonviolently because we do not want to see anyone in our communities killed.”
In December 2012, community members put their lives on the line to block contractors who had arrived with mining machinery. The contractors were supported by hundreds of Guatemalan National Police who deployed tear gas on the community members. But the members of La Puya held their ground, and ensured the machinery did not arrive at the mine.
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