Monday, July 29, 2013

San Miguel Ixtahuacán: background and arrival

The day after I visited La Puya, I traveled to San Miguel Ixtahuacán, where Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, a subsidiary of the Canadian transnational Goldcorp, has been operating the Mina Marlin (Marlin Mine) since 2005. San Miguel Ixtahuacán (SMI) is located in the mountains of the department of San Marcos, about an hour and a half from the departmental capital. I haven't any idea how many kilometers lie between SMI and San Marcos, but precise geographical distances are pretty irrelevant in Guatemala, since the terrain, the conditions of the roads and the slow-moving trucks and buses mean that "average travel time" is in the realm of the imaginary.

I've been to SMI twice before, but this time I was coming with a friend who is one of the attorneys for the resistance -- which began in earnest about two years after Montana started to extract gold.  I first became interested in the situation here through meeting two people, one now deceased, who were involved with a now-dormant community radio station. Noe, Oscar and I met at the First Encounter of Community Radio, on August 8 and 9, 2011 in Guatemala City. The three of us ended up sitting together during some of the sessions and we somehow just quickly became friends. Noe and Oscar were already close friends and co-workers, and the two of them stuck together, and so the three of us bonded.  Oscar was then 19, and Noe in his early 30s (both looked much younger than their biological ages). They were eager for me to come visit their community and the radio station, and I finally made it there in December of that year when I was trying to set up some screenings of a documentary called Cyclovida, about two Brazilian farmers who set off to find people who conserve seeds rather than using hybrids or GMOs. I thought that maybe communities that were experiencing environmental problems might find the film interesting and so I contacted Noe and asked if he thought he could set up a screening.  We showed the film in a private home, and spend the night in the community center of a local community development organization that is part of the anti-mining coalition FREDEMI (Frente de Defense Miguelense -- the San MIguel Defense Front is the best translation I can make), and the following day Noe took us to view the mine. Oscar had been on the coast working for a few months but apparently had come back home for the holidays; we talked on the phone but he wasn't able to come meet us. The radio station had been founded for the purpose of giving a voice to the anti-mining movement -- as well as for other community concerns. 

The radio station wasn't on the air at that time; there had been some technical problems but Noe hoped that it would start broadcasting again soon.  Then in March of 2012, when I visited Guatemala over my spring break, I was hoping to see Noe and Oscar, but Noe contacted me to tell me that Oscar had committed suicide.  He was very upset as they were close, and he had tried to be a mentor to Oscar, not only regarding the radio and the mining resistance, but in terms of his personal and family life.  I didn't visit SMI on that trip, but I stayed in touch with Noe intermittently, and had some conversations with other folks in the community radio movement, and decided that I would try and support the folks in SMI who wanted to restart the radio project. My visit coincided with that of an attorney who has been representing the resistance movement and some of the communities in a variety of legal cases, Carlos, and so we got to talking as there were some meetings that were going on during my visit and I was invited to sit in on them. In addition to Noe, there was a man named Maco who has been training as a documentarian and has been videotaping and photographing a lot of the resistance activities, and so Carlos, Noe, Maco and another resistance leader, Aniseto, and I had a variety of conversations about trying to develop a radio and documentation project. 

When I was in Guatemala in December and January, I did not travel to SMI but Carlos and I were in touch and met to see where we could take this idea, and have stayed in touch since that time, hatching some plans that involve working with some of the women in the resistance movement and helping them start a radio station -- basically from scratch.  Which would mean raising the funds and also arranging for them to get training and support so that they could really become self-directed and self-sustaining. Exciting and also a little scary as it means jumping off into areas that are not entirely familiar.

So, during the last few weeks before my departure, Carlos and I were in touch a lot since I wanted to be able to spend a couple of days in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, both to meet the women (since all of this had been mediated through conversations with Carlos -- he had spoken to the women, and had spoken to me, but I had never met them, nor they me) and to get a better sense of the lay of the land and the politics of the situation.  There was a lot of juggling back and forth as the residents of one of the communities, 7 Platos, had put up a blockade, and Carlos wasn't sure it would be safe to travel, as the situation was pretty tense.This made it hard for me to make plans as I wanted to give priority to going to SMI.. but couldn't know for sure when that would be, which made all of my other plans very tentative. I needed to go with Carlos as he would have to introduce me to the women and other people in the resistance.

So, about two days before my departure, Carlos told me that we would go up to SMI on the 14th as there was going to be a rally. Then the next day he told me that we couldn't go because of the blockade. About two hours later that same day, he told me that there was going to be an important meeting with some of the community leaders and the mayor on the 16th, and that we would attend that.. so we were back on. We would stay a few days and there would be time for me to meet some of the women, or at least one of the leaders. 

I realize that this is a lot of prologue and perhaps not all that interesting. But I need to write this out for myself, to set up the context.

So, the Monday after I visited La Puya, Carlos and I met up on the highway (he took a bus and got off and waited for me as I was in Antigua and didn't want to head back towards Guatemala City to meet up) and made our way to SMI. We stopped in Xela because my friend JL, who had been keeping my car and had brought it to me in Antigua, had forgotten to give me the registration along with the vehicle and the keys. So, Xela is on the way, and we met JL for lunch at my favorite pupusa place, Pupusawa, and then headed northward. 

Since the earthquake last fall, driving through San Marcos has meant passing destruction, some rebuilding, a lot of homes still looking as though they might tumble at any minute.  We arrived in SMI in the early evening, stopping to make a flurry of phone calls to find out where we might stay for the night.  I had been promised that we would have a place to stay but apparently the details hadn't been worked out. I know Guatemala well enough to know that worrying or fretting or fuming would not change anything so I just decided to let matters take their course.  Eventually, a call was placed to the parish priest in SMI who offered to let us stay at the parish house  and so we headed into the town center. 

The parish house comprises a bunch of rooms around a courtyard, part of which contains a concrete swimming pool about 25 feet in length, and another part of which is devoted to a garden, some of which seems to have been planted with care. There is a lot of arugula, more than I have ever seen outside of a commercial farm, some basil, carrots, mustard greens, beets, turnips, a fig tree, a pomegranate tree, and a bunch of flowers. There might be more vegetables but those were the ones I recognized. The priest, Father Erick, is a tall, thin man somewhere northward of 50 years old. He is from Belgium, and has been in Guatemala for over 20 years, all of it in SMI.  There are a a handful of teenaged boys from the surrounding communities who stay at the parish during the week since they are studying in town and getting to town each day from their hamlets would be difficult. Most were shy and quiet, although very polite and friendly in their own way.

Well, I'm going to leave this as is for now. Next installment will be about the meeting with the mayor and the politics of remediation.

No comments:

Post a Comment