MONTREAL — With her broad, patient smile, her work-worn hands folded over a traditional, woven skirt, Lolita Chavez is hardly a menacing figure. Yet in Guatemala, Chavez has been branded a threat to national security and a terrorist for speaking out against the development of Canadian-owned mines against the people’s will.
In Montreal Friday as part of a cross-country tour to draw attention to ongoing conflicts around mines — called “Plan Nord, Plans Sud” in Quebec — Chavez spoke to a crowded auditorium at UQÀM about her experience and Canadians’ responsibility in the “new invasion” of her country.
First came the Spanish conquest, then the civil war in Guatemala that claimed some 200,000 lives, now come the Canadians, Chavez told the crowd of students, academics and activists.
“Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction,” said Chavez, the spokesperson for 87 indigenous K’iche’ (Mayan) communities in Santa Cruz del Quiché, about 145 kilometres north west of Guatemala City. “And when we say we don’t want it, they say we are ignorant, or brutes, or we don’t understand the benefits. But we have a right to say no.”
Saying no has been dangerous for Chavez and others trying to stop mining development by transnational corporations, first and foremost, Vancouver based Goldcorp. A 2005 referendum showed widespread opposition by local communities to the opening of Goldcorp’s Marlin gold mine, out of fears the mine would contaminate the water and soil in the agricultural region. The company and the government ignored the results, Chavez said, and the mine is still in operation, expecting to produce 200,000 ounces of gold this year.
Since community-led consultations on mining began in Quiché in 2010, the number of attacks on community leaders by government forces allied with the mining companies has increased, Chavez said. In 2011, there were eight attacks recorded. In 2012, there were 67, including threats, beatings and kidnappings.
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