In our conversation at the Embassy, GHRC Director Kelsey Alford Jones had encouraged officials to meet with indigenous communities to hear their perspectives regarding development. It was fitting then, that our last delegation meeting brought us to San Jose del Golfo, where we met with community members who had established a peaceful roadblock to prevent Kappes, Cassiday & Associates from setting up a gold mining project in their community. At the time of our meeting in August 11, 2012, San Jose del Golfo’s protest had been going on 5 months.
As we drove up the long winding path on the way to San Jose’s roadblock, delegation co-leader Rob Mercantante pointed to a spot on the pavement and said, “that was where Yolanda was shot.” Yolanda Oqueli was a resident of San Jose, who had an active role in leading protests against the gold mine. When I had applied to participate in the delegation back in June, Yolanda was included in the roster of activists we had planned to meet. But on June 13, she was shot at three times by two men on motorcycles while leaving the roadblock at 6:30 pm. One bullet entered above her right kidney. Yolanda has since recovered, but watching the spot on the road recede made my stomach churn, and was a powerful reminder of how violence looms over and so easily threatens San Jose’s peaceful resistance.
When we arrived at the roadblock, which was arrayed with colorful banners protesting the mine and expressing solidarity with the people of San Jose, we were welcomed by many men and women of the community. Antonio “Tono” Reyes introduced himself as a leader. He gestured to show us that the community has set up a stage and sound system for gatherings, and people bring their guitars to play. He explained that community members are present at the roadblock 24 hours each day in rotating shifts, and they have also set up a bathroom, kitchen, and enclosure for people to sleep.
We joined the community in a circle, and an American nun named Sister Danni translated Tono’s words into English. After learning our delegation’s theme “Women in Resistance,” Tono commented on the valuable role that women have played in San Jose’s peaceful protest. Sister Danni added, in fact, this protest was started by a women. She elaborated: On March 2, 2012, a San Jose resident named Estella was working at a bank when she saw people driving mining equipment toward San Jose, and overheard officials at the bank discussing that the mining project was on its way to their community. Aware of the harmful environmental and health effects of gold mines, which use toxic chemicals to extract the gold from the rocks, Estella immediately left the bank, and drove her car into the road at the point where the construction trucks were poised to enter.
The drivers honked, and after Estella refused to move, the drivers came out and yelled at her. They called “stupid,” and threatened run her over unless she got out of their way, but Estella remained in the road. Soon, two women from the community showed up alongside her, and Estella was nervous, unsure her neighbors would react to her one-woman blockade. But the women got out of their cars and told her, “we are here, Estella. We are here with you.” Thirty minutes later, 1,000 people joined Estella’s blockade, now in its fifth month.
Tono explained that so many members of the community were motivated to join Estella in the roadblock because the people of San Jose “view all life in a holistic way.” This perspective gives them an understanding of how the mine will harm community and environmental health, even though Kappes, Cassidy and Associates claims the mine will bring economic benefits. Tono reported that the process of separating gold from rocks requires toxic chemicals that end up in the water supply. In San Marcos, where the Goldcorp company established the Marlin Mine, residents have suffered from outbreaks of cancer, skin rashes, and eye aliments.
Tono continued to share that although many members of the community have joined the peaceful protest, some members of the community support the mining project. The mining company has taken advantage of these diverging views to spread conflict. One way the mining company tries to divide the community is through gossip, and the mining company has spread a rumor that women participating in the protest are prostitutes who go to the roadblock to solicit men.
But, Tono noted, the women who participate in the protest are “armed with peace, truth and justice.” He acknowledged that the mining company’s efforts to tear San Jose’s community fabric, have united the people participating in the protest. He added that they are “only rebelling against injustice” and committed to continuing nonviolent resistance. “If there are deaths and flowing blood, it will be ours.” His heartfelt words provided a fitting opportunity for GHRC to honor San Jose del Golfo for their peaceful resistance with the Sister Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award. Tono accepted the award, named for GHRC’s founder at GHRC’s 30th Anniversary Celebration in September, 2012.
Learn more about San Jose del Golfo’s peaceful resistance
1. Guatemala Human Rights Commission. “One year of resistance against mine in San Jose del Golfo.” March 5, 2013. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/weekly-news-round-up-8/#more-1905 GHRC’s news update describes and links to a Prensa Libre article regarding San Jose del Golfo’s celebration of one year of resistance against the mine on March 3, 2013.
2. Guatemala Human Rights Commission. “La licencia de la mina El Tambor debería ser suspendida.” February 15, 2013. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/la-licencia-de-la-mina-progreso-vii-derivada-el-tambor-deberia-ser-suspendida/ Robert Robinson and Steve Laudeman conducted an Environmental Impact Assement of the land in San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc slated for gold mines. The photoessay from GHRC documents the men’s visit to the roadblock to share the assessment’s results. The essay is written in Spanish, but is easily translated with the browser Google Chrome.
On December 7 2012, anti-riot police disrupted San Jose’s peaceful resistance
1. Guatemala Human Rights Commission. “Communities in Resistance in San Jose del Golfo Under Attack.” December 8, 2012. http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/communities-in-resistance-in-san-jose-del-golfo-under-attack/ GHRC’s photoessay provides detailed documentation of December 7th’s attack.
2. Waqib’ Kej Convergencia. “La Puya, viernes 7 de diciembre de 2012, intento de desalojo.” December 7, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiGM7M9q9TM. This 1 minute video, in Spanish without subtitles, features Yolanda Oqueli denouncing the attack.
Learn more about harmful health, environmental, & social impacts of mining in Guatemala
1. CucGuatemala. “Otra Vez la Mina.” May 10, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gq5wA0XGrEg. This seven minute film, in Spanish without subtitles, provides an informative overview of the situation regarding the mine. The film also features powerful footage of Yolanda Oqueli speaking about the mine and blockade.
Learn more about anti-mining activist Yolanda Oqueli
1. Waqib’ Kej Convergencia. “Yolanda Oquelí esta resistencia se fortalece con los ataques de la minera.” November 12, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGElSaKgx8k This four-minute film, in Spanish without subtitles, shows Yolanda speaking to the people of San Jose. Community leader Don Alvaro, from San Pedro Ayampuc who plays a key role in speaking out against the Tambour mine in his community, is in the audience, visible at :38. San Pedro Ayampuc was also honored with the Sister Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award, which Don Alvaro accepted at GHRC’s 30th Anniversary Celebration.
2. Paley, Dawn. “Guatemala: Peaceful Resistance in the Face of Violence.” Upside Down World. October, 24, 2012. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/3934-guatemala-peaceful-resistance-in-the-face-of-violence Journalist Dawn Paley describes Yolanda’s first public speech since she was attacked in June. This essay provides a valuable written complement to the film linked above.