Guatemala: The State Of Siege, This Time To Protect Canadian Investment

President Otto Perez Molina, a retired soldier (accused by his ex-comrades of sharing responsibility for the genocide committed during the internal war) decreed, this past May 1, the second state of siege of his term in office. This time, it was to repress indigenous people, the Xinca, in the municipalities of Jalapa and Mataquescuintal (Department of Jalapa), and in Casillas and San Rafael Las Flores (Department of Santa Rosa), and to protect the “investments” of the Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources (the San Rafael mine).

On May 1, 2012, Perez Molina also decreed another state of siege against the Mayan people, in the Municipality of Barillas, Heuhuetenango, to defend the interests of the Spanish company Hidro Santa Cruz, which currently operates in relative calm because there, they managed to murder and imprison the leaders of the organizations in resistance.

These states of siege coincide not only in dates and objectives but also in their methods of application.

Permanent State of Siege as a Method of Government

Both in the case of the Spanish hydroelectric company, as well as that of the Canadian mining company, the government authorized them to explore and exploit these projects, against the express will of the local indigenous peoples affected.

Faced with the uncomfortable presence of company machinery, both indigenous communities arranged dialogue with the government, and not being heard, mobilized and impeded the companies’ invasion of their territories. In both cases, the companies’ private guards shot and killed some of the leaders of the mobilized native people, a situation which unleashed the rage of those organized in resistance who went so far as to burn machinery and detain government agents.

In both cases, the government immediately declared a state of siege mobilizing several thousand soldiers and police into the area to detain all the native leaders and then take them to jail for the offenses of terrorism and organized crime. Could this be a coincidence? Or could it be a not so intelligent method of heavy-handed government?

Since the government of Otto Perez Molina came into office, some 20 leaders of social and native organizations, opposed to the invasion of their territories by extractive companies, were selectively murdered. But there has not been a single arrest or judgment for these crimes! And yes, the jails are being filled with responsible native and farmworker leaders, who embody the sovereignty and dignity of this country besieged by the multinationals.

Just to point out a couple of facts: the illusion of private “investment” in Guatemala is such that about 60% of the country's arable land is under the control of mono-culture companies. There are 428 mining projects (176 are for metals) across the national territory, the total area of which is much smaller than a single department of Bolivia or Peru.

Canadian Investment or Invasion

In recent times, Canada has expanded its investments in the category of mining and petroleum to more than 100 countries. Of the total amount of Canadian investment under these headings, 70% is found outside its own territory. But the accusations of violations of human rights, the generation of socio-environmental upheaval, labor conflicts, etc. against Canadian companies arise in different parts of the world. Just to mention some cases in Latin America:

Chile. The activities of the Canadian company Barrick Gold, in the mega-mining project Pascua-Lama, were stopped by a judicial order of the Chilean authorities for socio-environmental crimes.

Bolivia. The Bolivian government recently cancelled the mining concession of the South American Silver Corporation in Potosí, for failing to respect agreements. The Canadian company has just initiated an international arbitration against the Bolivian government.

Peru. Last year, the Canadian oil company Talisman left the Peruvian Amazon in a hurry when faced with the resistance and upheaval of the Achuar people, also because of environmental abuse.

Honduras. The Canadian mining company Goldcorp (which extracts gold from an open pit in the Valle de Siria, in Morazan, Honduras) was accused of being one of the companies which promoted the coup d’etat which removed Manuel Zelaya in June of 2009. Apparently, the motive for this company being involved in the coup was that, the then President Zelaya sought to prohibit open pit mining, the use of cyanide and the over-usage of the flow from water basins in mining projects. Some months ago, the government of Pepe Lobo (which emerged as a result of the coup d’etat) issued a mining law drafted by Toronto and Tegucigalpa which approves all of what Zelaya tried to prohibit. Currently, of the more than 200 applications for mining concessions in Honduras, about half are from Canadian companies.

Guatemala. At present, in Toronto, Canada, a tribunal is studying whether or not to proceed with prosecuting the Canadian mining company Hudbay for violation of human rights in Guatemala. And since May 1 of this year, the Xinca people (in the east of the country) are suffering under militarization and a state of siege to guarantee the activities of the Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources, against the express will of that native community.

Could it be that the suit-and-tie militia which (mis-)governs this poly-chromatic country is unaware of these matters? Or is it that the neo-liberal illusion of economic “growth” which supposedly makes Guatemala a thriving country was taken too seriously? What could be going on in the mind of our President who contends that his hands are not stained with blood?

What is clear is that no one will forgive having converted the deficient state of Guatemala into the heartless gendarme of foreign “investment”, by criminalizing, persecuting and murdering the moral conscience of the people. Responsible Guatemalans, indigenous or not, organized and mobilized to defend the natural resources of the country, are not criminals, are not terrorists. They are the stronghold and bastion of the dignity and sovereignty of this country, which its elites have been incapable of expressing.

Mr. President, do not accelerate the dynamics of generalized and growing social unrest in the country which, from the streets, could bring you down before you complete your term. The people have already begun to lose their fear of soldiers’ rifles and boots. Remember, Mr. President, that the revolutionary processes of Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, etc., are due in good measure to the violent resurgence of the tyranny of the neo-liberal system.
(Translation: Donald Lee)

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