Photo: Delegation visits the Xinka Parliament (Photo credit: Xinka Parliament)

From February 22-29th, a Canadian delegation visited communities and organizations resisting the Escobal mine in Guatemala. The delegation was organized by BTS and Mining Watch. Charlotte Connolly writes about the experience.

The week-long delegation to the Escobal Mine, facilitated by Breaking the Silence’s amazing Lisa Rankin, was an opportunity to listen, learn and build North-South solidarity in the struggle for Indigenous rights to land, water, territory and life.

The Escobal Mine has changed hands several times, from Canadian multinational companies Goldcorp Inc. to Tahoe Resources and now Pan-American Silver. The shape-shifting power of the corporate form is contrasted with the steadfast resistance and presence of the Xinka people, who have remained clear in their opposition to the mine since 2011. The company and government officials repeatedly denied the very existence of the Xinka, to justify their failure to consult local communities.

In response, the Xinka launched a campaign of cultural re-vitalization and ‘re-visibilization.’ In the 2018 National Census, a staggering 264,167 individuals self-identified as Xinka, up from 12,000 individuals in 2002. The Xinka occupy vast territories spanning the Departments of Santa Rosa, Jutiapa and Jalapa, and are proudly seeking to defend their ways of life in the face of a racist state.

Quelvin Jiménez, lawyer for the Xinka Parliament, described how Spanish colonizers, upon the granting of Guatemala’s supposed independence in 1824, used western legal concepts to organize Xinka communal land ownership, to help them “manage” their territory. During the country’s 36 year-long armed conflict, Xinka communities were often forced to forfeit their title to avoid persecution.

To hear a Canadian Embassy official claim that, “there at least 24 languages in Guatemala and the Xinka are not one of them” and that “60-70% of the land in Guatemala has no clear legal status – no property claim or title” was a stark reminder of the ongoing process of colonization in Guatemala.

Photo: Delegation with Aleisar Arana and the Xinka Council in Jutiapa

In Jutiapa, we met with Xinka Councillors who had just been ousted from power the day prior by a “pro-business, pro-multi-national” faction. The Councillors were resisting plans for an inter-oceanic highway from El Salvador to Guatemala through Xinka territory. For this, they were violently evicted from their offices, criminalized and detained for 21 days. They told harrowing stories of abuse at a maximum-security prison, where they were tortured for saying no to a form of development deemed inappropriate for their communities. As Aleisar Arana, President of the Xinka Parliament, reflected, “this is the price we have to pay to defend our territory.” The injustice and absurdity were palatable.

As the Tshilqo’tin members of our delegation recounted, their people have resisted Taesko Mine Ltd.’s plan to build a copper and gold mine next to sacred Teztan Biny in the interior of so-called British Columbia since 2007. Despite the failure two federal environmental assessments and facing a repeated “no” from the Tshilqo’tin people, Christy Clark’s liberal government approved Taseko’s exploration permits in their last day in office and in the midst of one of the worst wildfire seasons on record. The community was not only under evacuation order, but also under siege by a state captured by corporate interests and, quite simply, greed.

In hearing these parallel stories of deceit, corruption and violence, the members of the peaceful resistance at the 24/7 encampments in Casillas and Mataquescuintla responded, “we are not alone; we feel strong in your presence.” To witness such solidarity between first peoples across Turtle Island was inspiring. We were reminded of our shared humanity in these moments, and most of all, reminded of the courage and resilience of Indigenous peoples who have been forced to bear the brunt of extractive impacts on their traditional, unceded lands.

From Wet’suwet’en to Mi’kma’ki to Xinka territory, Indigenous peoples are standing up against environmental destruction and in defense life. They are defending our “common house” – not only for their children and future generations – but for all of us.