Guatemala: Environmental Activists Take on Mining Company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates

EspañolThe National Civil Police of Guatemala became the center of attention on Saturday after dispersing a demonstration of 300 local residents to allow the shipment of machinery to the El Tambor mine, located in La Puya, San José del Golfo, about 15 kilometers east of Guatemala City. The episode led to a violent confrontation that left 26 injured, including 15 policemen and 11 activists.

Protesters prayed and sang Catholic songs while blocking access to the mine, when police arrived at 3:30 p.m. and used tear gas to beak up the crowd and allow the transfer of heavy machinery to the mine.

Since then, protesters have once again returned to the mine and set up camp, without incident so far. The activists are fighting to prevent the US engineering and machinery company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) from conducting excavations in the region for fear of contamination.

The Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) is now acting as a liaison between local leaders and police officials. In addition, authorities from the public prosecutor’s office visited the scene of the raid conducted by police on Sunday to gather evidence.

Otto Pérez, president of Guatemala since 2012, has said that the government has always been willing to negotiate with local residents to come to an agreement, but emphasized that no local leader attended a roundtable discussion held last week with experts to determine whether or not the mine caused contamination.

The meeting mentioned by the president took place Monday, May 19, and was organized by the director of the National Dialogue. The aim was to bring together representatives of the resistance movement of La Puya and residents of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc with government officials to discuss the conflict that arose from the license granted to Exmingua, a company owned by the US firm KCA, to mine gold.

However, the meeting did not end well. Protesters demanded the media be allowed to witness the negotiation as a condition of their involvement. When the media was not allowed in, the meeting fell apart.

An expert in hydrogeology that accompanied local demonstrators commented: “I have over 42 years of professional experience in hydrogeology and geochemistry, in hundreds of mines all over the world, the study of the environmental impact assessment of the Progress Derivative VII is the worst quality I have ever reviewed.”

Under the slogan of “No to mining, yes to life,” environmental activists have fought mining activities in their region for over two years.

With regard to the raid, police spokesmen Jorge Chinchilla, explained that police had instructions to keep order in the area and guard the machinery, as requested by KCA.

Government minister Mauricio López Bonilla added that the order was intended to “make [the passage of] the machinery of the company accessible.”

“We hope that there are no confrontations, because what they do is use women and children,” said the minister on Saturday morning. He added police would uphold the law with regard to free movement.

Kelsey Alford Jones, Executive Director of the Commission on Human Rights of Guatemala/USA, a non-partisan humanitarian organization, expressed solidarity with the demonstrations through a letter of support.

“Their commitment to ensuring a clean, healthy environment for future generations has been an inspiration to many in Guatemala and around the world,” said Jones.

Yolanda Orquelí defends the local movement and provides shelter to farmers, environmentalists, retirees, and indigenous peoples. According to Prensa Libre, Orquelí blames President Pérez and Minister of the Interior Mauricio López for the violence that has occurred.

“We will continue the resistance; we have not lost this struggle. We saw women and children here with split lips, burned clothes, and countless wounded,” said Orquelí.

The violence occurred one day after Flavia Pansieri, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed her concern over violations of human rights in Guatemala after four days of official visits.

“I am very concerned that the granting of licenses for energy and mining projects continues to generate social tension,” said Pansieri.

Meanwhile, KCA spoke out strongly with regard to the conflict through an official statement. They said they have spent more than two years subjected to violations of their constitutional rights, including the right to free movement of people, the physical safety of Exmingua employees, the right to private property, and the right to the free exercise of trade and industry.

“It is not possible for a minority group of people to organize for the purpose of preventing other parties from exercising their basic constitutional rights and protections,” said the company.

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

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