Welcome to Guatemala: gold mine protester beaten and burnt alive – by David Hill (The Guardian – August 12, 2014)


Indigenous people speak out against the Marlin mine run by Canadian company Goldcorp

“They took him and poured gasoline all over him. Then they struck a match and lit him.”

Doña A – not her real name, for security reasons – was standing up, arms crossed, lightly leaning against a ladder, and speaking in her language, Maya Mam, while a friend, a relation by marriage, translated into Spanish. There were 20 or so Mams in the room – mostly women, some children, one elderly man – and we were in an adobe-brick house in the highlands of far western Guatemala, not far from the border with Mexico, and just around the corner from an open sky and underground gold- and silver-mine called Marlin.

The Mams had gathered there – at some personal risk – to speak about the mine and how it impacts them. “Her husband was killed by workers of the company,” someone had said suddenly, meaning Doña A, “but she doesn’t speak much Spanish”, although it was quickly suggested she could talk in Mam and a friend would translate for her.

“We heard the screams and the yellings but we didn’t know what was happening,” she continued. Her husband’s two brothers were with him: they had to run away or would be burnt alive too.

“He didn’t want to die,” she said. “It was the rainy season. There was a little bit of water which he tried to jump into and the fire sort of went away.”

This was 2009: Doña A named the month and the date. Her husband didn’t survive. He was eventually taken to hospital, she said, but died there. Although a formal complaint was filed with the Attorney-General’s regional office, it wasn’t followed up because Doña A was “scared” of the consequences.

“They said that they would lynch [“lynchar”] us,” she said.

Why had her husband been killed?

“He was part of the struggle,” said Doña A’s friend, answering directly. “He was defending our rights. He was informing the communities about the problems the mining company brought with it, and performing a community consultation.”

A lawyer from Guatemala City was in the room with us. He said the consultation process had been a grass-roots initiative which managed to consult 23 communities in the region – all of which pronounced against the mine – but “death threats”, among other things, had put an end to it.

But how could Doña A be sure this had something to do with the mine, the company? She had answered that earlier:

“They asked him, “Why are you against the mining?” They were wearing hoods. They asked him, “Why are you against the company?” That’s why we knew they were members of the company.”

This is just one of many horror stories that many Maya Mams, as well as Maya Sipacapenses, from the neighbouring district, could tell about Marlin – which they have been speaking out against, resisting and protesting for over a decade. Speak to others and it’s the same, desperate complaints: intimidation, threats, social division, violence, bribery and corruption of local authorities, destruction and contamination of water sources, livestock dying, houses shaking, cracked walls, the criminalization of protest, forest cleared, and appalling health impacts such as malnutrition and skin diseases.

For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2014/aug/12/guatemala-gold-mine-protester-beaten-burnt-alive