German Chub faces the judge as he responds calmly and evenly to question after question during cross-examination. He uses his arms to lift himself up and shift a little in his wheelchair. Other young Maya Q’eqchi’ men had to carry him up the stairs to the second-floor courtroom in Puerto Barrios, a bustling Caribbean port city in eastern Guatemala.
Five and a half years ago, Chub was playing soccer in the community of La Unión, in the department of Izabal, when security guards from the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), a mining corporation, showed up, he told the court. Chub heard a commotion coming from the direction of company-owned hospital property and approached the fence separating the company complex from the soccer field to see what was going on, he said.
“I saw Mynor Padilla pointing his pistol at me,” Chub testified. “When I turned around, I heard the gunshot.”
Chub is one of several Maya Q’eqchi’ community members shot on September 27, 2009 during a crackdown on protests over threats that a group would be evicted from its ancestral lands near CGN’s Fenix ferro-nickel mining project. Chub is paralyzed from the chest down as a result, and doctors determined it too risky to remove the bullet lodged near his spine. Adolfo Ich, a teacher and well-known community leader from La Unión, died after being beaten, attacked with a machete, and shot by CGN security personnel, according to witnesses. At least seven others were wounded on the same day, according to court case plaintiffs.
Chub was participating in the soccer game, he says, and was not involved in the protests, which were taking place some distance from the field at the time of the shooting. Ich was at home in La Unión, next to the soccer field, when mine security personnel arrived on scene. Witnesses claim Ich was singled out and called over by security personnel and that he approached them assuming they wanted to speak with him. It is not clear whether Chub or the others wounded that day were specifically targeted. Several Las Nubes residents were injured along the road where the protests were taking place.
Sitting four feet to Chub’s left, Mynor Padilla’s expression doesn’t change much as he listens to the witnesses, a rosary wrapped around his hand. A former military coronel, Padilla is charged with homicide, assault causing grievous bodily harm, and assault causing bodily harm for his responsibility for the actions of security guards in his charge and for taking some of the shots himself. At the time, he was the head of security for CGN, then a subsidiary of HudBay Minerals, a Toronto-based mining company.
Trials concerning conflicts over natural resources and land aren’t uncommon in Guatemalan courtrooms. More often than not, however, it is indigenous community members who face charges. The criminal case against CGN’s former head of security is an exception to the rule in Guatemala, and a series of ongoing related civil lawsuits in Canada have already set an important precedent when a judge ruled they could proceed in a Canadian court.
A Guatemalan lawyer with a long history of representing communities fighting for their lands, Sergio Beltetón of the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) land rights organization was one of six people sitting on the prosecution’s side at the April 28 hearing during Padilla’s trial in Puerto Barrios. Angélica Choc, who is the widow of Adolfo Ich, and the UN’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) are joint plaintiffs intervening alongside the Office of the Public Prosecutor in the case against Padilla.
“Cases like this one, where a head of security is being tried for the crime, are very rare,” Beltetón told mongabay.com. “Close attention needs to be paid to the case.”
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