By: Maria Reyes, Consultant for communications support for the SAGE project

The Indigenous and small-scale farmers of Jalapa, Jutiapa and Santa Rosa have historically had to face adverse contexts such as discrimination, poverty and extractive projects. In these contexts people have always fought collectively and in these times of a global pandemic they have had to face this new disease.

In mid March 2020, the first positive case of COVID-19 was officially announced in Guatemala. Days later, restrictions were placed on the population and the resistance camp located in the municipality of Casillas was taken down to prevent contagion. In the face of this, the communities remain attentive and vigilant of what happens in the territory. The camp that is located in the municipality of Matasquescuintla continues to operate with protective measures for those who take shifts there.

During the health emergency, the population publicly denounced that the mining company San Rafael, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Pan American Silver, was taking advantage of the their vulnerability to distribute food. In return, people were required to provide documents with personal identification numbers and their signature. These opportunistic actions caused tensions and conflicts in the communities as Xinka people are demanding that the company respect the ruling of the Constitutional Court that suspends all activity of the company. Moreover, the consultation process is supposed to be “free,” meaning free from cohesion or manipulation, however, Pan-American Silver isn’t respecting this requirement.

The pandemic has highlighted the fragility of public institutions, especially the health system that is not prepared to deal with an emergency. Yet despite the health and economic crisis in the communities, we’ve also seen the strengthening of solidarity initiatives and new forms of support emerge. This includes the collection of food for the most vulnerable families, collective self-monitoring so that the pandemic does not infect members of the communities and the cleaning and disinfecting of streets, as well as the provision of a hygiene kit for the authorities of the Xinka People who have implemented specific measures to take care for people’s lives and health.

This emergency situation has also allowed people to reflect on the urgent need to strengthen community organizing, retake traditional measures to preserve collective health, as well as produce a diversity of healthy foods through home gardens and the exchanges of foods based on what different families produce.

The communities in resistance are clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only crisis they must face at the moment. They have been fighting for 10 years to protect the life, water and health of their territory in the face of extractive projects and will continue to demand that the process of free, prior and informed consultation be carried out. In addition, they will continue to demand justice in cases of criminalization against members of the resistance in Jalapa, Jutiapa and Santa Rosa, as well as in the case of the Extradition of Alberto Rotondo, former security chief of the mining company who gave the order to shoot 7 people who were protesting peacefully against the mining company.

Breaking the Silence continues to stand in solidarity with the resistance in the territory of the Xinka People.