German Choc is a human rights defender-intersectional identities

A few nights ago, I was talking to my friend about my fundraising project. My friend works at the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC), and it was through her organization’s Speaker’s Tour with the indigenous activist Maria Choc that I first learned German Choc’s riveting story.

I updated my friend on my project’s slow progress, and by way of explanation said that perhaps people don’t perceive German’s appeal to be urgent. My friend disagreed, and said that this perception was due to my point of view. She told me,”You look at German Choc from a disability rights perspective, at his long-term needs–his access to medical care and right to employment. I look at him from a human rights perspective. I see him as a human rights defender attacked for defending his right to natural resources.”

German Choc at his home in El Estor, Guatemala

Both my friend’s and my own ways of perceiving German Choc’s story touch on intersecting elements of his experience. Yet I have only discussed German’s cause from a disability rights perspective on this blog. I shied away from discussing how German is a human rights defender, shot and subsequently paralyzed for defending his community’s right to land. My knowledge of Guatemalan land rights is limited, and I was worried my explanation could misrepresent German and his community.

I want to avoid misrepresenting German at all costs. As a human rights defender and a person with a disability, German has suffered a loss of power over his own life. I never want to take more power from him by misrepresenting his story.  Yet my failure to discuss how German Choc is a human rights defender takes away more power from him than my unsophisticated explanation ever could, which is why I will give my best efforts to describe the land rights struggle in El Estor, Guatemala and how this forty-year struggle led to the attack on German Choc.  After all, I named my Etsy Store after Amelia Sedley from “Vanity Fair” and not Nelly Dean from “Wuthering Heights,” so here it goes….

In the 1950s, the US Geological Service found large nickel deposits in El Estor, Guatemala, a small municipality in the Izabal department located near Guatemala city.  Eager to acquire the nickel, the Canadian mining company Inco attained a forty-year lease to set up an open-pit nickel mine near El Estor in 1965.  To make way for mining operations, Inco evicted indigenous communities living in El Estor from their own land.

The Guatemalan military government permitted the evictions, and also participated in horrific brutalities against the people of El Estor, and those who spoke out against the mining operations were disappeared. In the thirty-six year Civil War (1960-1966) that broke out in Guatemala, Time magazine reported that over “2,400 innocent Guatemalan peasants were killed in the military’s sweep around El Estor.”

The Civil War ended in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords, which stated that the land historically owned by indigenous Mayan communities must be protected and returned to them. Despite the promising words of the Peace Accords, nickel mining continued.

Inco sold its mining operations to Skye Resources in 2004.  Skye Resources then set up a local subsidiary, Guatemala Nickel Company (CGN), which HudBay Minerals would later acquire in 2008.  In 2006, Mayan communities began returning to their homes in El Estor, but were soon evicted without a court order because the land was part of Skye’s mining operations. Soon thereafter, in early January 2007,  police, military and private security forces burned down the homes of hundreds of farmers throughout El Estor. mine security forces, police, and military gang raped eleven women in the community Lote Ocho.

In 2009,  El Estor community members gathered to voice their fears about more evictions to the mine personnel. They planned a peaceful protest, but the situation escalated into a violent conflict.  During this conflict, mine security forces shot and hacked Adolfo Ich Choc, a respected community leader who spoke against the mining, to death with a machete. On the same day, different mine security forces shot German Choc at close range in an unprovoked attack, paralyzing him.

In 2011, German told his story to representatives from Rights Action, the Council of Canadians and the Forum on Water & Gender. He also announced a lawsuit against HudBay Minerals in December 2011. Much of the information from my post comes from the description of this lawsuit, which is one of three lawsuits that the El Estor community is bringing against HudBay Minerals. The other two lawsuits are for Adolfo Ich’s murder, and the gang rape of the eleven women from Lote Ocho.

Source Notes  

1. Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors. (2012). “Canadian Mining in El Estor.”  Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. http://www.chocversushudbay.com/history-of-the-mine

2. (2012). “Guatemala Historical Timeline.” The Guatemala Human Rights Commission. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/AboutGuatemala/History.htm

3. Russell, Grahame and Annie Bird. (2011). “Special Fundraising Appeal–Health needs & family store for German Chub Choc.” Rights Action. http://rightsaction.org/action-content/special-fund-raising-appeal-health-needs-family-store-german-chub-choc

4. Small, Rachel. (2010). “Background on Nickel Mining in El Estor.” Under-mining Guate: a Canadian’s exploration of the impacts of her country and its mines on people in Guatemala. http://rachelblumesmall.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/background-on-nickel-mining-in-el-estor/

5.  (1970 ). “Guatemala: A Step to the Right.” Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,909074,00.html   

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