On May 23rd, the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya was violently evicted from their protest camp which they have maintained since March 2012 in opposition to the mining project located between the towns of San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, 40 kilometers from the capital city. This project, called “El Tambor”, is a gold mine operated by Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala (EXMINGUA), a subsidiary of the American engineering firm, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates. The eviction took place three days after a high-level round-table negotiation between members of the community and public institutions. According to the representatives of the communities in resistance, the meeting was suspended after the government reneged on their promise to accept the participation of third-party observers.
Before dawn on the 23rd of May, heavy machinery from the mining company arrived at the protest camp. Shortly thereafter some 35 vehicles of the National Civilian Police (PNC) began to appear, amassing a contingent of approximately 500 officers. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon the police force began the eviction.
PBI bore witness to an excessive and disproportionate use of force by the PNC during the eviction. Employing teargas, clubs and stones alike, the police attacked the men and women of the non-violent protest camp indiscriminately, who resisted the eviction with their hymns and prayers. The resulting confrontation continued for an hour and a half. According to the Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (UDEFEGUA) 23 members of the resistance were left injured, the most severe of which requiring hospitalization. Representatives from the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (PDH) described the behavior of the police as “reprehensible.” A government source reported injuries among the ranks of the PNC as well.
The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, which has been accompanied by PBI since the end of 2012, has suffered continual threats and attacks from the start, including the attempted assassination in June 2012 of Yolanda Oqueli, an active member of the resistance. None of these crimes, denounced to the proper authorities, have yet been resolved.
The numerous communities which conform the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya demand that the Guatemalan State comply with their legal obligations with respect to the mining project. The communities maintain that they have been neither informed nor consulted by the government and they insist upon a revision of the project's Environmental Impact Study, which has been proven deficient by international experts. They are gravely concerned for the repercussions for the communities' water supply once the mine is operational. For all of the above reasons the communities continue to oppose the project which they understand to be rife with illegalities dating back to the the initial bidding process.
Individuals linked to the mining company have brought criminal charges against 8 members of the resistance, accusing them of coercion, threats, and false imprisonment. In April 2014, 3 of the accused were sentenced to 9 years in prison, though numerous institutions and organizations have called the verdict into question for abuses of due process and judicial partiality.1 The remaining five had their first hearing on May 27th, during which it was ruled that 4 of the defendants would be brought to trial, while the charges on the fifth defendant, Yolanda Oqueli, were dismissed.
Ever since the violent eviction suffered on May 23rd, a strong tension as persisted in the effected communities. Heavy machinery continues to enter into the mine, and the police and an anti-riot contingent has remained present.
PBI is concerned both for the violent eviction of, and the criminal accusations against members of the Peaceful Resistance of the Puya. We consider these acts to be symptoms of the deterioration of the climate for human rights in Guatemala, and a further reduction of the political space for activists in that sphere.
1www.fidh.org/es/americas/guatemala/15297-guatemala-faltas-al-debido-proceso-en-la-sentencia-contra-los-sr es-alonzo; Unidad de Protección para Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA), “Criminalización y machismo en La Puya”, Guatemala, May 28 2014.