Sunday, January 12, 2014

Guatemalan Supreme Court to Investigate Mayor of Mining Town

So, I will fill in the spaces, but one of the things I did while I was here was accompany Maya community leaders and their legal adviser in filing a criminal complaint against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán for making the community residents do forced labor -- in order to comply with a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that decreed that the government was responsible for taking preventive measures to ensure a supply of water suitable for drinking, domestic use and farming. Forced labor is, sadly, an important part of Guatemala's colonial and more modern history; friends of mine have recounted that as recently as the 1960s and 1970s, their fathers and other male relatives were forced to dig ditches and build highways. And of course during the armed conflict the army imposed forced labor regimes on those men whom it did not kill or conscript into the army. Still, it is a bit of an outrage that in 2014, this would still be practiced by a municipal government. I was there to document, and then I helped work on press communiqués. Here's a longish version of a press release -- too long to send out to the press, but maybe the basis of an op-ed piece somewhere. 

San Miguel Ixtahaucán, San Marcos, Guatemala: 

On Thursday, January 9, one day after Maya community leaders filed criminal charges against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, with the local justice of the peace, for compelling residents of five Maya communities to perform forced labor, the tribunal decided to send the case to Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice.  The complainants and their legal team are now awaiting word from the Supreme Court of Justice about the next steps in this case. “I would never have believed that in the year 2014, a municipal government would make Maya communities do compulsory labor.” Such was the opinion of Francisco Bámaca, a 53-year old farmer from the community of San José Ixcaniche, and leader of the anti-mining movement in Guatemala.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, Bámaca and other leaders from the five communities most affected by environmental damage from the Marlin Mine, operated by the Canadian transnational Goldcorp through its Guatemalan subsidiary Montana Explorer of Guatemala, filed a criminal complaint against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, charging him with imposing compulsory labor upon the Maya Mam communities of Ágel, Siete Platos, San José Ixcaniche, San José Nueva Esperanza and San Antonio de los Altos. All five communities are part of the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, and were beneficiaries of a 2010 ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which determined that Goldcorp’s mining operations posed a clear risk of contamination to their water supply from mining operations, and ordered the Guatemalan government and the municipality to take precautionary measures to ensure an adequate supply of uncontaminated water for drinking, domestic and agricultural use. 

However, the local Mayor, Ovidio Joel Domingo Bámaca, has forced local residents to not only work for free on the construction and maintenance of the necessary infrastructure, but also provide the construction materials out of communal resources, and cover the fees to the owners of the properties where the water lines would be installed.

The Mayor’s actions, according to the complaint, are in clear violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization on the Rights of Indigenous and Native Peoples, and Guatemalan Constitution. Carlos Loarca, executive director of Plurijur, an association of human and indigenous rights attorneys, and legal adviser to the resistance movement in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, notes that this case is significant for indigenous communities not only in Guatemala, but also throughout Latin America: “Historically, the elites and the governments have argued that the progress of indigenous peoples depends upon their providing free labor for projects that will benefit the community.  Indigenous communities are obliged to work without any salary because it’s the only way they can get any benefit from the government, but the non-indigenous communities don’t do this work for free, so it’s clearly discriminatory.” 

Adds Gregoria Crisanta Pérez, a community leader efrom Ágel, who also signed the complaint, “What we want is for the mining company to cover the labor costs, and all the other expenses necessary to provide an adequate water supply,” adding that single mothers, widows and the elderly cannot comply with the forced labor obligations.

            The complaint was prepared with the assistance of FREDEMI, a community-based coalition of anti-mining activists in the San Miguel Ixtahuacán area.

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