Thursday, July 3, 2008

Human Rights Accompaniment Report: Fabienne Doiron (Part 3)

¡Saludos cariñosos a todas y todos!

I hope that this email finds you all well and enjoying the Canadian summer, which I hear has finally started in the Maritimes! This week was my last week of work. I fly out of Guatemala City on July 30th. For the next month or so I will be traveling in the country a bit, visiting friends, saying goodbye – for now – to people and places. In the beginning of October, I will be here again for the Social Forum of the Americas, to be held at San Carlos University in Guatemala City (

As I embark on my "last" month here and begin to prepare to go back to Canada, I find myself thinking about home almost daily. I feel simultaneously quite excited but also slightly apprehensive to be going back. Excited because I haven't seen my family and many good friends since December and I really look forward to spending time with them, traveling a bit (at least through Montreal and the Maritimes) and getting re-acquainted with people and places that I haven't seen in a while – some for almost a year, or longer. Apprehensive because I am going back to a world that I am supposed to understand and where I am expected to "fit in." I think that through the experiences I have known in Guatemala – both this time and last – the way I interpret the world has changed and I have not yet fully "applied" these new understandings to life in Canada. I noticed the other day that when I flip through the newspaper recently, I am not only looking for articles related to CAIG-ACOGUATE's work, but am paying increasing attention to the international section – trying to catch up on what is happening in Canada, what I've missed and understand what I'm going back to.

Working as a human rights accompanier with CAIG-ACOGUATE has been one of the most interesting and deeply challenging experiences I have known – mostly happy, motivating, inspiring and uplifting, but also sometimes sad, discouraging and even infuriating. I feel extremely privileged to have gotten to know so many inspiring and courageous people who tirelessly continue their struggle to achieve social, economic and political justice for crimes of the past and present – despite the fact that the "odds" are clearly stacked against them. While I'm back in Canada in August and September, I will try to share a bit more about the work I was doing here and how I experienced it – both through informal and slightly more formal talks or presentations.

For now, I want to share a few reflections on my last month of work. I am also forwarding a communiqué and an Urgent Action request to respond to recent threats that have been made against H.I.J.O.S. – a capital-based group that works on historical memory, social justice and demilitarization issues, among other issues. This year there will be no military parade to celebrate national Army Day! Instead, tomorrow, June 30th, H.I.J.O.S. along with other organizations will celebrate and remember the Day of Heroes and Martyrs – which they are campaigning to have replace national Army Day. Please take the time to respond to this action, a sample letter is included at the end of this email!

- Return to Choatalún
- 30th anniversary of the Panzós massacre & Skye Resources
- June 30th military parade cancelled: threat & Urgent Action in support of H.I.J.O.S. (Located in separate blog)

In solidarity,


***If you want peace, work for justice***

Return to Chaotalún

This week, I returned to Choatalún, a community in which I had worked in December and January. It was great to return there and visit with people I had not seen in a few months. The people we visit in Choatalún are a great example of the inspiring and courageous people that I was talking about above. They have, for the first time in Guatemalan history, succeeded in bringing a case of forced disappearance to trial.

The trial opened in March but is now at a standstill, waiting for a decision by the Constitutional Court on the application of "retroactivity" in this case. (The crime of "forced disappearance" had not yet been typified in Guatemalan law in the early 1980s when the crimes were committed. However, Guatemala had signed on to a number of international treaties that typify the crime of forced disappearance. Additionally, Guatemala's Law on National Reconciliation does not apply a statute of limitations to the crimes of torture, genocide or forced disappearance). In the meantime, the former military commissioner accused in this case is still free and continues to live in the community. The family members of the disappeared – themselves survivors of the genocidal violence unleashed on their community by the Guatemalan State and its Army – are therefore having to continue living side-by-side with their victimizer, who, over 25 years later, continues to hold a position of power within the community: he is the assistant mayor … A microcosm of the larger reality of Guatemala.

Here are a few articles written in English on the Choatalún case:

30th anniversary Panzós massacre & Skye Resources

Last month, on May 29th, I was in Panzós, Alta Verapaz, for the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of a massacre that claimed 53 lives. For many people, the Panzós massacre of 1978 marked the beginning of a wave of escalating violence that was unleashed on the countryside by the Guatemalan State in the early 1980s. There are many theories of why the soldiers started shooting at the crowd that had assembled in the plaza in front of the municipal building on May 29th, but the fact is that the campesinos (small-farmers) that had gathered there that day had done so to ask the mayor to resolve the long-standing land issue in the area. The presence of Exmibal (subsidiary of Canadian INCO) in the region in the last 1970s and the land expropriations that the nickel mining project entailed did not help ease these tensions and conflicts over access to land.

After the commemoration, as we drove through mile upon mile of private fincas (large estates) on the right side of the road and seemingly unoccupied land on the left side, I could not help but reflect on the decades-long struggle for land in which campesinos in the region – and in most of the country – have been involved. Then I noticed a barbed-wired fence on the left side of the road, with a sign hanging on it that read "No Trespassing – Property of CGN." CGN is the Compañía Guatemalteca de Niquel (Guatemalan Nickel Company), the company that took over Exmibal's land-concessions.

Even though the Exmibal project was abandoned only a few years after the Panzós massacre, the idea of establishing a fully-functioning Nickel mine in the region was given a new impulse this week with the announcement that a merger between Skye Resources (CGN's Canadian parent company) and HudBay is in the works, which would provide the financial capital necessary to put the mine to work – over three decades after the initial land-concessions were granted. In Canada, I am sure this only made the financial news section. The Canadian articles I have seen about the merger do not even mention any social, environmental or human rights concerns related to the mine's operations. However, for those who remember the powerful and shocking images that were published after the CGN-ordered land evictions in El Estor only last year, these are obviously issues of concern.

Articles related to Skye Resources and HudBay merger:

Video and photo essays of 2007 El Estor land evictions:

Mining Watch's website (for a more balanced look at Canadian mining in Guatemala):