Sunday, July 21, 2013

Consulta de Buena Fé de San Carlos Sija

I barely have the energy to type out a couple of words, as we spent the day participating in the community consultation about mining in San Carlos Sija, a municipality in the department of Quetzaltenango, about an hour from my friends' home in Olintepeque. My friend J.L. is  a member of the Consejo de los Pueblos del Occidente (CPO), the group that has been organizing most of the consults, and so he had invited me to come with him. He has been advising the people in Sija over the last six or seven months and was going as an observer, so I decided to tag along. I knew that I would be allowed to be an observer, as there is always a need for observers since the organizers want to ensure that the process is above any suspicion. 

If I am tired, I can only imagine what the organizers must feel like, as they are still tallying up the votes. There are over 30 communities -- aldeas and caserios, plus the town center itself -- in the municipality of Sija, and there were 35 voting centers, which were open from 8 a.m. until 4 (some stayed open later to accommodate latecomers). Each community voting station had to tally up their votes (paper ballots) and then the local authorities had to prepare an "acta" (a formal declaration, written out in their official "libro de actas") written out in longhand, that certified the results, which had to be signed and sealed, and then the authorities had to travel to the town hall. Sija is a large municipality, and some of the communities are more than 15 kilometers away over rutted, steep, rocky dirt roads.  And the results had to be reviewed and certified, one at a time (I will go into more detail about the process, which is kind of fascinating in its own laborious way).  And this all has to be done in person. No phoning or faxing or otherwise sending in the results. They have to be delivered in person, along with a photocopy of the relevant pages of the libro de actas.  

So, when we were finally ready to leave at around 6:30, only 10 of the 35 communities had showed up, and it doesn't seem likely that they will finish the count until late tonight. From what we could see, the results are pretty strongly against mining. We watched the first several sets of results being tabulated and there were literally only a handful of people who had voted YES -- in favor of mining.

We didn't spend the day at a single voting location. Instead, J.L. and I, along with two people from the office of the Attorney General for Human Rights (not quite sure how to translate Procuraduria de Derechos Humanos: the dictionary translates "procuraduria" as "lawyer's office" or "attorney general's office"), visited about six different voting stations. Each station had observers who spent the entire day there and signed the libro de actas and filled out forms with their observations. We were just trying to get an overview of how things were going, more of a series of quick snapshots.  It was exhausting, as the roads were often narrow, rutted and steep, and a few times I wasn't sure we'd be able to make it up a curve. Oh, did I forget to mention the curves? The roads are steep, winding, rutted, narrow... and we did have to cut out one of the communities we were going to visit as J.L. was pretty sure that the car wouldn't make it up the hill.

So, full of reflections and thoughts and observations.. which will mostly have to wait until tomorrow or later.

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