This morning I woke up early, and had a breakfast of tostadas con mantequilla y mermelade (toast with butter and jelly), panqueques (pancakes), y cafe con leche (and coffe with cream). I will really miss this wonderful, small cafeteria when we leave to Xela tomorrow.
After breakfast, we met with a lawyer from the Center for Legal Action and Human Rights, Edwin. Edwin worked diligently on the trial against Rios Montt. For those who may not know exactly who this Rios Montt is I’ll give a quick description. Rios Montt was a military general in Guatemala during the civil war. Then using a military coup, he became president of Guatemala during 1982-83, which was one of the bloodiest era of the genocide. Thus, taking him to trial was no small task. Rios Montt never directly committed crimes, but he was one of the main intellectual authors of the war and Edwin helped to prove the intentionality of Rios Montt’s actions.
The fact that a person of such high status and economic power was put on trial in Guatemala was revolutionary. The case faced many roadblocks along the way, but it at the end Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 yrs in prison. Although Rios Montt was (corruptly) granted amnesty, this trial has set a precedence in Guatemala. Edwin reflected and walked through the roadblocks that he faced in the case: an uncooperative government, intimidation, discrimination of women, ect. Yet, when asked if he would do it all over again, he answered with a resounding yes. I am under the impression that the hard works reflects the importance of the task.
This realization perfectly complemented our afternoon activity. Ellen organized a visit to La Puya, a community in resistance that NISGUA works with. La Puya is a roadside encampment that has been around for the last 22 months. While we were there, we sat in a circle on the side of the small dirt road. Hens were clucking and darting in and out of the circle, roosters would occasionally puff up their chests and crow, and every few minutes a car or motorcycle would drive by and curiously stare at us. The community of La Puya consists of 120+ people from the surrounding communities, but only 20 people will occupy the site at a time. In 2011, an article in the local newspaper reported that their were minerals in the area and that there was already a plan to build a mine. The community began to organize marches and approach the government for more information. The government denied the existence of the project, and told the people not to worry by claiming that it was a housing project. The company tried several times to physically move the community, but both attempts were unsuccessful. The company then started to use psychological warfare against the people, including manipulating the community, targeted violence, and propaganda. The company even brought 400 militants and police one day to intimidate the community to leave! These attempts were meant to provoke the community into fear, as well as provoke violent reactions. The government supports the mine and has tried several times to create a dialogue between La Puya and the company, yet all attempts have been unsuccessful.
The people of La Puya are incredibly strong-willed, thoughtful, and strong. They oppose the mine not because they oppose development, but because they know that their communities will be adversely affected. The water in the area is already limited and contains arsenic at levels 8x higher than the recommended amount. Additionally, the practice is very loosely regulated and the company is taxed less than 1%. I really admired the community of La Puya. They have stayed committed to a philosophy of nonviolence and are committed to completely stopping the construction of the mine. From the 5 year old boy to the 80 year old women that I talked with, they were all so determined. It was a powerful experience to say the least. When I return back to the US, I definitely intend to share the story of La Puya. So much can be learned from this community and applied to similar projects in the states. 🙂