Saturday, June 28, 2008

Human Rights Accompaniment Report: Valerie Croft (Part 2) (2008)

Dear Friends and Family,

Time is flying! I thought before I headed into my last month of accompaniment, I would write another update. It is sometimes hardto focus on just one issue, as each and every region and community has its own intricacies and difficulties; however, I decided in this update to focus on Canadian mining. For those who are looking for a quick check in: things are going quite well, and I am planning on coming back to Canada at the end of July.

For those who are looking for a bit more detail: see below!

I hope that things are going well with each and every one of you.

With love,Val

***********

I wrote the following in a community we visit. Surprisingly, my thoughts were louder than the pouring rain.Sitting here, feeling the rain pour down all around me. Inside, it thunders down on the tin roof, sounding like a waterfall. Talking is impossible, yelling is necessary. Better to sit outside, under a small roof, feeling the misty spray of the rain drops while not getting uncomfortably wet. It has been raining a lot lately, as hurricanes are passing nearby and the rainy season is in full swing. It is amazing how easily the earth floods, and then dries up when the sun comes out. Rain here is a different experience than in the city. Surrounded by green mountains, the smells of earth are strong. The rain brings healing, renewing feelings with it, capable of providing the necessary nourishment. Very different being surrounded by living things that will drink up the rain and in thanks give back bright greens, reds, yellows, purples.

Here, there is a complicated tranquility that is difficult to describe - being surrounded by such beauty, but then talking with community members about a painful history and an uncertain future.I switched regions two months ago, just after my last update. At first I was disappointed leaving a place where I had started to build relationships, particularly accompanying the witnesses in the forced disappearance trial. However, it has been really great to get to know another region. The community I am writing this in was one of many in this region that experienced severe massacres in 1982. More than 350 people, including women and children, were killed in one day, with only a few survivors.

I cannot image the pain that is buried deep here, in both the hearts and minds of the survivors as well as in the mountains and trees that are also witnesses. In many communities we visit, fears are high that the army will come back. Here is no different, except fears are that the army will return to protect private corporate interests. In all of this beauty, it is a harsh wake up call to realize that there is a mining concession here. The fate of this community is currently in the hands of the government, with a petition by Montana - a division of Canadian Goldcorp - to open a gold mine here.More than 60% of all international mining companies list as Canadian. According to these Canadian companies, they uphold the highest labour and environmental standards, and fully comply with both International law and Canadian law, as well as the laws of the country in which they are operating. The rights of Indigenous peoples to be consulted and consent garnered in a free, prior, and informed way is explicitly written in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Canada has not signed on to this agreement; however, Guatemala has. (Regardless, there are many international laws that protect the rights of indigenous peoples that Canada has signed on to). Goldcorp has not participated in one community consult to obtain this free, prior and informed consent, and has explicitly ignored the results of community consults where they have been done anyway - consults where close to, or 100% of the people clearly state they do not want a mine in their backyards. It is not a matter of being paid more money. The majority of community members are dead set against any mine presence, destroying their ancestral lands, cracking their houses, and contaminating their waters with, amongst other harsh and deadly chemicals, cyanide. The posters of: "Mina, afuera!" are abundant. ("Mine, Out!"When questions were asked at the Canadian Embassy regarding the Canadian mining presence in Guatemala, it was made clear that Goldcorp is a private company with no relation to the Canadian government. Despite the obvious ethical concerns regarding this irresponsible statement, it is a blatant lie. Each and every tax-paying Canadian pays into the federally-run Canadian Pension Plan, which is Goldcorp´s biggest investor. Whether or not they want to, each Canadian is forced to monetarily support Goldcorp through their taxes to the federal government - supporting a company that is operating ILLEGAL mines in Guatemala as well as in many other countries around the world. It has been a pretty emotional experience seeing the Marlin Mine (run by Montana), which is operating out of San Miguel Ixtahuacán. To be there, see its unbelievably destructive impact on the land and the people is a sobering experience. It is the first place I have travelled where I am reluctant to say I am Canadian. Community relations are complicated to say the least, with people´s relationship to foreigners very dependent on their relationship with the mine. Having said all of that, the amount of organized resistance here is inspiring. Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds of protesting and resisting a corporation that is extremely well-funded and enormous, people are organizing in remarkable ways. Many different communities are organizing or have organized community consults, spreading information about the mining impacts in the area, and then having a vote. There have been several of these consultations and more are continuing, despite the unwillingness of the Guatemalan government or Goldcorp to recognize their legitimacy. As I start my last month as an accompanier, I am starting to think a lot about what I can do with these experiences. I strongly feel that the mining campaign is where I would like to focus my energies, so if I can be collaborating with any of you, please let me know! This is an issue that is affecting so many lives in Canada as well, and the parallels are frightening. I hope that things are going well with each and every one of you.

Again, I´d just like to re-iterate that although the struggle can sometimes seem overwhelming, there are lots of people who refuse to give up resisting. I hope to be able to take a little of that back to Canada with me, with the hope that one day, those in leadership positions in our country will have the courage to realize a better world. Thanks for reading my update. Also, thanks again to all of you who continue to support me, and the accompaniment program in general.

Fuerte abrazos!
Valeria