Friday, October 31, 2014

The Q'eqchi' and the Duwamish

This article was originally published in Spanish, online at

By Alejandro Echeverría
October 13, 2014 
Indigenous leaders Víctor Caal Tzuy and Ken Workman
Ken Workman is a Seattle native who despite his tall stature, has characteristics that evoke his famous 19th century ancestor - the indigenous Chief of Seattle (Si'ahl) - who gave this city, which lies in the state of Washington on the Pacific coast of the northern United States, its name. Standing before a large audience at the Duwamish headquarters  (the indigenous group to which he belongs), he speaks about his people and his struggle while alternating between the languages of Lushootseed and English. Beside him, Víctor Caal Tzuy, a Q’eqchi' representative of Las Margaritas Copón, listens attentively while he readies himself to speak about his own struggle 4,500 kilometers to the south.

Ken speaks about the agreement his tribe made in the 19th century with the American colonists, in which they ceded their territory under imminent invasion and in exchange for money, the rights to inhabit the land, and to hunt and fish on it. They weren't given an indigenous reservation like many other tribes who had the fortune of living in more remote areas unlike the geographically strategic city of Seattle. The Duwamish are not a recognized tribe. Many of them have been displaced, integrated into other tribes and lost their customs and cultural unity. Ken talked about current attempts to revive the Duwamish culture from the oral tradition that remains. “You have come at a good moment,” he says while looking at Víctor. 

“Ma sa sa’ laach’ool?” greets Victor in Q'eqchi' with a smile and a wave, after which he speaks in Spanish about the impacts that the construction of the Xalalá hydroelectric dam would have on surrounding communities in the Quiché and Alta Verapaz. In response to these impacts, they organized the Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Land and Natural Resources (ACODET) in order to preserve their communities and consequently  their culture. 

The dam's construction would directly affect 13,000 people living in the 50 communities that would be displaced, and indirectly affect another 18,000 people living in an additional 44 communities. If forced to reach an agreement with INDE, they would be displaced and have to integrate into other communities – a scenario that is all-too familiar. It is impossible to ignore the parallels with Ken's history from almost 150 years ago, parallels that were brought to light on the “Rivers for Life” tour organized by the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA).

In Washington, what was once the Duwamish River or Black River is now dry because it was transformed into a channel. In a surprising and sad coincidence, another river of the same name in Guatemala – the Rio Negro (“Black River”) – is in danger of suffering irreparable changes to the ecosystem and to the communities that depend on it. The communities in the area are organized, brave and made up of intelligent people who are concerned about local development -  a concept that is not necessarily aligned with what we in the capital city perceive as “progress,”. And that's good; why not? Self-determination is important. “In my river, the fishing is good and everyone is welcome except those who want to come to flood our communities,” said Victor, ending his presentation with a slide showing a picture of a child holding up a fish almost as tall as him.

While having coffee in the reception area of a local Seattle radio station where Víctor had given an interview, I learned about the local rules they have established for the proper management of hunting, fishing and the use of natural resources. These policies are much more reasonable than anything someone from Guatemala City with their smart phone in hand could find on Google. He talked a lot about the impact on the flora and fauna, and on the environment, the incomplete environmental studies, the fact that it is important to continue to generate electricity for the city – oh, the progress! - the many pros and cons, all of which come from a perspective that is so city-focused, but not at all cosmopolitan. In fact, there is little talk at all about the cultural impact.

Even though I already knew about the issues surrounding Xalalá and the history of the Duwamish separately, I never saw them side by side. It opened my eyes. There are communities in Guatemala, like those surrounding the Chixoy hydroelectric dam, that have gone through the same things as the Duwamish. We are in a unique context here, if we can only learn how to listen and decide to learn from history.

Translation by NISGUA

Friday, October 17, 2014

Guatemalan Prosecutor summons Tahoe Resources CEO to testify about criminalization of community leaders

Source: Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores - Guatemalan Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS) 
(Guatemala City): Kevin McArthur, CEO of the transnational Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources Inc, owner of the subsidiary Minera San Rafael S.A., has been summoned by the District Attorney’s office in Villa Nueva, department of Guatemala to provide his declaration with regard to Minera San Rafael’s policy of criminalization against community leaders in the department of Santa Rosa who are in peaceful resistance to the Escobal mine. This declaration was requested as part of case MP015-2013-7757 for which the District Attorney is responible and in which regard the Manager of External Relations for Minera San Rafael, Camilo Ernesto Medina Mazariegos, has falsely accused without grounds the community leader and coordinator of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores, Oscar Roderico Morales Garcia. This is the third time that Minera San Rafael has made efforts to criminalize Oscar Roderico Morales Garcia by way of its workers.

The summons for Kevin McArthur as CEO of Tahoe Resources to provide his testimony to the District Attorney’s office in the Municipality of Villa Nueva was presented to the office of Minera San Rafael in Guatemala City on the afternoon of October 15th, 2014. According to the order, Mr. McArthur is obliged to be present to make his declaration on October 21st at 10am.

The Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores and the
Guatemalan Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS) have been taking all possible legal actions to ensure that the CEO of Tahoe Resources appears in Guatemala to provide his testimony and demonstrate the policy of criminalization against activists and community leaders that Minera San Rafael has been carrying out.

‘Justice for Nature, Justice for Communities in Resistance’

For more information:
  • Pedro Rafael Maldonado, General Director, CALAS, (502) 24744545, (502) 54178499, rafamaldonado(at) 

Summary of Related Documents  
On October 10, 2014, Oscar Roderico Morales García made a request to the District Attorney’s Office in Villa Nueva, Department of Guatemala to summon Tahoe Resources CEO Kevin McArthur to testify in connection with criminal charges made against him by a Tahoe employee. The reason provided for the request was “To testify to the policy of criminalization that [the company’s subsidiary] has been carrying out against community leaders in resistance to the imposition of the Escobal mining project in the muncipality of San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa. This declaration will demonstrate that the complaint that has been made against me is part of a series of cases that Tahoe Resources Inc by way of Minera San Rafael, S.A. has undertaken in Guatemala against community leaders in the area of influence of the Escobal mine in order to effectively impose it on the community.” The request makes reference to rights enshrined in the Guatemalan Political Constitution and Procedural Criminal Code. See the summons issued by the District Attorney here.

On October 15, 2014, the District Attorney’s Office in the Municipality of Villa Nueva, Guatemala issued an urgent summons addressed to CEO Kevin McArthur at Tahoe Resources’ office in Guatemala City requesting his presence at the District Attorney’s office on October 21, 2014 at 10am or to communicate directly with the office by phone. He is asked to provide his testimony in response to Oscar Roderico Morales García's request. See original document signed by Auxilliary Attorney I Karen Jimena Ucelo Lima and received at the offices of Minera San Rafael S.A. in Gutemala at 3:40pm on October 15, 2015: MP015-2013-7757, Fiscalía Municipal de Villa Nueva, Guatemala, Agencia 3UDI.

NISGUA has accompanied communities in opposition to the Tahoe Resources Escobal mine since 2011.