Guatemala: Mayan people seek to end the Controversy

Date of publication: 
12 April 2014

Guatemala – In the third of September, 2013, the Mayan People’s Council (CPO) filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Since then there has been nothing but silence.

The IACHR is the ultimate resource for the Mayan communities claiming the national mining law to be unconstitutional ignoring both national constitution and international conventions protecting the indigenous communities’right to prior consultation before their collective land is being sold out to transnational mining companies in the name of development.

Mining under your skin

The mining activity affects directly the lives of the indigenous people. The actual mining extraction enters into their croplands, gardens and houses and ends contaminating the drinking and washing water, not only for individual families, but for whole communities.

Worst, say many community inhabitants, is the social disintegration caused by division between those who get work opportunities, those who do not dare to express their opinion and those who get organized in order to protect the cultural and traditional patterns of life of Mayan communities based on the close relation to mother earth.

The conscience is very high. People know exactly what this is about. Mining is nothing new, but the increasing activity is very aggressive and the consequences of the mining activity are severe. Many Mayan women testify about how it actually gets into their body. How they can feel and breath it.

As a result many of these women are in the front rows protesting against the mining activity. And not because they are reactionaries, but just because they see how it’s penetrating every layer of society in a subtle way causing discomfort, fear and unrest.

Repeating controversy from 1550

In 1550 in the Colegio de San Gregorio in Spain, the Valladolid debate took place. It was a debate concerning the natives of the new world and how they were treated, if they had soul or not. Bishop, Fray Bartolome de las Casas and the scholar Juan Ginés de Sepulveda, represented the opposing views. It has since been called the controversy and is the first known lawsuit in favor of the indigenous people.

Sepulveda argued that there are naturally inferior cultures and therefore the Indians should be punished and obey the conquerors. Two other arguments he presented were that the Indians were barbarians since they killed among themselves and that the slavery was an effective method of converting Indians to Christianity.

Fray Bartolome, on the other hand, argued that the conquest and the enforcement to submission was illegal. He also claimed that every killing should be treated as an act of violence and therefore subject to trial.

Today, the same arguments but dressed in other words according to today´s context are being repeated in legal sessions in Guatemala.

On Tuesday 8th, 2014, representatives of the Mayan Quiché Council presented a petition in front of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in Guatemala claiming that the Direction of the Ministry of Energy and Mining had violated their collective rights to prior consultation before issuing mining licenses in their territory.

When the lawyer representing the third party, the mining company Entre Mares de Guatemala S.A, subsidiary to Goldcorp, went through his argument they resemble those heard 500 years ago. First claiming the community authorities who had filed the petition do not have legal status and therefore is not a legitimate party in the legal process. This way he tried to discredit the whole indigenous community through its representatives.

The same lawyer also referred to the Pope saying that Benedictus XVI once wrote, making reference to a paper, that every people trying to decline development, shall not be listened to. Understood, they do not know what their best interests are. He also gave the public some, until date unheard of, statistics in general terms, saying that one of the municipalities where the country’s biggest goldmine operates is the most flourishing in the country.

Exclusion the best method

Also, it is a fact that the arguments refer to norms within a system of which the Mayan communities are not a part and have no legal or any other representation within. So to speak, more than half of Guatemala’s population has no actual say. This is the official version of Guatemalan democracy.

The petition filed to the IACHR has a 500 years heritage. The Maya people are survivors and patient, but isn’t it time for a change?