Indigenous Guatemalan Activist speaks out about Vancouver Mining Corporation in Guatemala

Demonstration in support of Xinka communities outside the Beatty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia. The museum is named for Panamerican Silver founder Ross Beatty.

By Wendy Santizo, (Education Program Director, CoDevelopment Canada)

Luis Fernando Garcia Monroy is the spokesperson for the Indigenous Xinca Parliament in Guatemala. CoDev had the honour to translate for Luis during two public events to raise awareness on how Xinca communities are engaged in a political and legal fight to protect their ancestral territories from corporate greed.

Since 2007, when Canadian transationals first began to promote the construction of a large silver mine in their traditional territories, Xinca communities have held cultural and educational events to raise awareness of the environmental impact of the extraction of gold, silver, lead and zinc on their land and water. They exchanged experiences with communities affected by the Vancouver-based Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine in San Marcos and held protests before government authorities. Once the El Escobal mine was opened, they organized peaceful protest encampments outside the main gates and blocked roads to mining traffic.

Luis explained that based on the 1996 Peace Accords, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169, and municipal codes, Xinca communities in Jalapa, Jutiapa and Santa Rosa have held numerous community consultations on whether they accept the mining projects, to which over 98% clearly said NO.

The mine was originally developed by Tahoe Resources, a spin-off of Goldcorp, but was purchased in early 2019 by Pan American Silver, a Vancouver-based transnational that has attempted to cultivate an image of environmental responsibility.

Opposition to the mine has been met with repression and violence, including the military occupation of the region in 2013, the wounding of several protesters by Tahoe Resources gunmen, and the assassination of several community environmental activists. Merilyn Topacio Reynoso, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, Ronal David Barillas Diaz, Angel Estuardo Quevedo and Laura Vasquez are some of the community leaders opposed to the project that have been killed.

Luis, who was injured in April 2013 when Tahoe Resources security guards opened fire on protesters, said that Canadian mining companies in Guatemala violate indigenous rights, negate that indigenous communities even exist in eastern Guatemala, disrespect ceremonial grounds and deny that water has rights.

Xinca communities are demanding respect for the Peace Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous People, strict adherence to ILO Convention 169, respect for the right to protest and respect for their traditional ways for electing representatives.

During his presentation, Luis described the day he witnessed his community come under a shower of tear gas canisters and heavy beatings by national police. That was the day he decided to become a lawyer. Luis urged students at UBC’s Allard School of Law to study hard and graduate, and use all their knowledge and skills to defend indigenous communities in British Columbia who are also opposing extractive projects on their sacred and un-ceded territories.

Luis said that Pan American Silver’s El Escobal mine in southern Guatemala continues to operate despite a 2017 Constitutional Court order to suspend all activity until a process for free, prior, informed consultation of affected communities is conducted.

For more information on Pan American Silver’s El Escobal Mine:

Xinka Parliament: Ministries have failed to execute consultation over Escobal mine

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