The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA presented the 2012 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award to two communities in Guatemala, San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc (commonly referred to as “La Puya”), for their efforts to protect the environment against international mining interests.
Since 2011 the people of San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have organized in nonviolent resistance to a US-based mining company intent on extracting gold from the area in callous disregard for residents’ concerns about the mine’s environmental impact, especially on their water supply.
The communities’ use of peaceful civil disobedience has led them to maintain a permanent roadblock at the entrance to the mine. Men, women and children take turns preventing the heavy mining machinery from entering their communities.
The site, called the Tambor Gold Project, is owned by Guatemalan mining company Exmingua S.A. The Reno-based engineering firm Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA) acquired 100% of the interest in Exmingua from Canadian company Radius Gold at the end of August 2012.
“We are dedicated to opposing this mine through nonviolent resistance,” assures community member Antonio Reyes. “If any blood is shed here, it will be ours.” His assurance is not lightly made. On June 13th of this year, community activist Yolandi Oquelí barely survived an assassination attempt as she left the roadblock. To this day she lives with a bullet lodged near her spine.
On June 26, 2013, the Comstock Residents Association from near Reno, Nevada protested against Comstock Mining Incorporated’s (CMI) plan to mine in the Virginia City National Historic Landmark. With the help of GHRC, Alvaro Sandoval Palencia traveled to Nevada to join the protest and tell the story of La Puya. Through musical street theater, the protesters told “A Tale of Two Communities,” drawing the connections between the imposition of destructive mining in both places. The protest received media coverage from The Nevada Appeal and NPR.
Robert Mercatante, Director of GHRC’s Guatemala office, praises the communities’ commitment to nonviolent defense of their natural resources. “Being a human rights defender in Guatemala is a high-risk occupation. Be it women’s rights, indigenous rights, land rights or environmental rights, taking a stand for the well-being of others means that you run the risk of harassment, imprisonment, violence and even death. Through this award, GHRC wishes to shine a light on those valiant men and women who act so tirelessly and selflessly in the construction of a more just world.”