Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ixil communities of Nebaj express opposition to US-led extraction in their territory

"Historically, we have never received the support of the state or the government for our development, which is why it seems fair that we be able to take advantage of our own natural resources in order to improve the living conditions of our people according to our own vision of development." 

Letter from communities of Nebaj to US-owned Double Crown Resources Inc.

In May 2014, US-owned natural resource exploration and development company, Double Crown Resources, Inc., bought the exclusive rights to all barite production from the Bilojom II mine site located near Salquil Grande, Vicalamá and Tzalbal, three Maya Ixil communities in the municipality of Santa Maria Nebaj. Despite having already presented their formal opposition to the imposition of large-scale projects on their territory to the Guatemalan Congress in 2010, plans to ramp up the extraction of barite, a non-metalic mineral used primarily for petroleum and natural gas drilling and extraction processes, continue.

In response, representatives from the affected communities submitted letters to Guatemalan and international authorities in which they reject the extraction of barite on their communally owned lands and demand respect for the right to consultation and self-determination.

Community representatives meet with the Guatemala Human Rights Ombudsman. Photo NISGUA

NISGUA joined the communities in submitting our own letter to Double Crown Resources (en español aquí) expressing our concern regarding the imposition of mining projects without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous population. Likewise, we are concerned by the participation of a US-owned company in the ongoing usurpation and exploitation of Ixil lands and peoples given the history of genocide and forced displacement in the region during the internal armed conflict.

While clandestine extraction of barite from the region known as Corralcub has been occurring illegally since the early 1990s, the involvement of Double Crown Resources, through their relationship with the Mexico-based Geominas de Guatemala S.A., indicates a concerning turning point for the imposition of large-scale extractive projects in the department of Quiché. Double Crown Resources plans to export an estimated 10 thousand metric tons of what they consider to be extremely high-quality barite to their soon-to-be completed processing plant in New Orleans, LA.

Widespread community opposition is focused on concerns regarding the impact on local water sources. During a previous phase of barite extraction beginning in 2003, Geominas utilized dynamite to remove the mineral, causing massive destruction of the natural environment that local communities depend on. Communities explain the impacts stating, "As a result of the constant explosions, the springs from Vijolom II that served the community of Salquil Grande dried up, and thousands of people in the surrounding  communities were left without drinking water."

In their letter, communities also call into question the legality of the mining licenses given that the land in question is communal property of the ejido of the municipality of Santa Maria Nebaj. "This land is the property, not only of the municipality of Nebaj, but also of each and every citizen of the municipality. This is to say that the land is communally owned and managed by the indigenous farming communities and is protected under the communal system by the communities and peoples, as well as by their municipal authorities."

NISGUA has provided on-the-ground human rights accompaniment to communities, witnesses and survivors in the municipality of Nebaj since 2001 when the legal case for genocide and crimes against humanity against former general Efraín Ríos Montt was filed. In May 2014, the witnesses and survivors of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation along with their legal team, achieved what many believed was impossible – Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Over the years, we have heard stories from our partners in Nebaj about how the violence of the 1980s sought to eliminate their families and communities through massacres, extra-judicial executions and forced displacement. We have also heard about the ways in which that violent past has continued into the present – how the current attempts to remove the indigenous Ixil population from their ancestral, communal lands ring as alarming echoes of the past. 

Certainly the tactics have changed – communities are not attacked with tanks and bombs, but rather by an army of multi-national development firms that threaten their communities with the very same displacement and loss of culture. The opposition to Bilojom II mine is just one of many examples throughout Guatemala in which indigenous communities, in the midst of healing and seeking justice for the deep wounds of the armed conflict, have stood up in defense of their land, livelihoods and culture.

NISGUA Fall Tour 2014

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