Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lies and War Crime

Guatemalan ex-military accused of war crimes held in Alberta prison
http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3917
by Valerie Croft

CHIMALTENANGO, GUATEMALA—Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, ex-member of the Guatemalan special forces known as the Kaibiles, was arrested in Lethbridge, Alberta on January 18, 2011. He was detained at the request of the United States, who may solicit his extradition to face charges of immigration fraud.

If proven guilty of having lied about his role in the Guatemalan military on his US application for naturalization, Sosa Orantes could face up to ten years in prison in the United States. Meanwhile, human rights groups in Canada and Guatemala are petitioning the Canadian courts to try him for war crimes.

Sosa Orantes has been implicated in the planning and execution of the massacre at Las Dos Erres, in the northern department of Petén, where at least 252 unarmed civilians were systematically killed on December 6, 1982. This massacre was carried out in much the same manner as the more than 650 massacres committed by the Guatemalan military during the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict, which included widespread rape, torture and the mass killing of men, women and children, who were mostly Mayan.

According to Aura Elena Farfan from the Association for the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Guatemala (FAMDEGUA)—the plaintiff organization that since 2000 has been bringing forward a case against Sosa Orantes and 16 other ex-kaibiles implicated in the massacre—it is important that he is tried for the more serious crimes against humanity, rather than the lie he told US immigration officials.

“Of course that lie is important,” says Farfan. “But for there to be justice, it is important that he is not only judged for that lie, but for the serious violation of human rights in Guatemala.”

Even with an unprecedented amount of evidence, including survivor testimonies, exhumation records, and the testimony of a repentant ex-kaibil who took part in the massacre, Farfan does not believe the justice FAMDEGUA seeks is possible in Guatemala.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found the Guatemalan government unwilling to live up to its judicial responsibilities to investigate and successfully prosecute those responsible for the massacre. The country is still characterized by widespread violence, while many of the intellectual and material authors—those who planned and those who carried out the massacres—retain high positions of political power in the current government and military.

Even though the Guatemalan Supreme Court issued arrest warrants in 2010 for the 17 ex-kaibiles implicated in the massacre, Farfan believes this case is stuck in impunity. “It needs to be heard in a place where there does not exist the same danger of being bought off.” Such bribery, says Farfan “is likely to happen in Guatemala.”

Matt Eisenbrant from the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) has called on the Canadian government to launch a full criminal investigation against Sosa Orantes.

“Usually, a trial in the place where the abuses occurred is preferable,” he says. “This should only be done, however, if all due-process guarantees can be protected and there are assurances that a fair trial can proceed without being tainted by outside influences.” The CCIJ is calling on the Canadian government to ensure that Sosa Orantes will be held fully accountable by conducting its own criminal investigation into possible war-crime charges, taking this into account when considering the extradition requests.

Legal support for the case first surfaced in 1994, after FAMDEGUA officially received an exhumation request from three families from the area. Within a year, anthropologists had found 162 complete skeletons in a 12-metre grave, 67 of which were from children under age 12.

According to a report released by Amnesty International in 2002, the findings of the exhumation matched up with survivors’ testimonies about the massacre; it involved first the mass and repeated rape of the women and young girls, followed by the killing of the children and then the women, many of whom were pregnant. The men were killed last. Anthropologists’ reports reveal that most of the victims were killed by a blunt object to the back of the head, after which they were thrown into the mass grave.

Both witnesses and FAMDEGUA have received numerous threats for bringing this case forward. Still visibly affected by the case, Farfan says that “[Sosa Orantes] did not have compassion for the victims who were asking not to be killed, not to be tortured.” She expresses the weight of the blood that was spilled in Guatemala, stating that the bodies of the young children and pregnant women should tip the scales of justice further than the lie Sosa Orantes told to gain US citizenship.

“If victims are to be satisfied and if we are to provide deterrence against such abuses happening in the future, perpetrators must be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible,” says Eisenhart.

Sosa Orantes was denied bail on March 9, 2011, by Albertan judge Suzanne Bensler who deemed him too much of a flight risk. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 20, 2011.

Valerie Croft is living in Guatemala, completing a CIDA internship with CEIBA - a Guatemalan environmental advocacy organization that works on issues related to climate justice, food sovereignty, and the defense of territory.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Update from CCDA by Rebecca MacDonald

Rebecca MacDonald is a current Breaking the Silence intern with the Highlands Small Farmer's Committee (CCDA) in Colonia Santa Cruz Quixaya, in Guatemala.

During my time so far with the CCDA, I have had the great privilege of participating in various CCDA workshops, hearing from campesinos and campesinas about the day to day struggles of life in Guatemala. One woman spoke of the devastation of Agatha in June 2010, lamenting the fact that many people's homes are still without roofs. Numerous families were left without homes as a result of this storm, or tormenta as it is called here; of the people who are lucky enough to own a piece of land to plant on, the majority of their crops were washed away. This has already affected food prices around the country, particularly here in the region where I am living. As we go further into the dry season, which runs from late November to April, food scarcity will become a major issue; indeed already the price of the basic food basket (a grouping of the most basic foodstuffs, clothes and consumer goods per month necessary to survive) has begun to rise.

One of the most disheartening factors with this issue is the fact that many campesino families do not have land to plant on in the first place. It is the same issue that has plagued Guatemala since the Spanish invasion centuries ago; during the 1870s, the government began expropriating Mayan communal lands and selling them off to foreign investors, eager to cash in on the growing global coffee industry. This accumulation of vast tracts of land in the hands of the few is also known as the latifundia system; in Latin America in the 1960s, latifundistas (large landowners) made up about 5 percent of the population and held 80 percent of land. Minifundistas (small landowners) made up about 80 percent of the population but only owned about 5 percent of land. Around one third of the agricultural labour force was landless in this period, and the majority of minifundistas and the landless worked in latifundia as permanent or seasonal workers (1).

This is only one of the multitude of factors that has led to and maintained the huge gap in land ownership in this country: the latifundia (finca) system, the armed conflict, and structural issues built into past and current government systems have all helped to maintain the majority of the land in Guatemala in very few hands. According to the Land Research Action Network, less than 1% of landowners hold 75% of the best agricultural land (2). This land is mainly used in the latifundia system - huge tracts of land which are used to cultivate a single crop, such as sugar cane. You can drive for hours near the west coast and see nothing but vast fields of sugar cane, and these crops are mainly for export. This all maintains a status quo, allowing the dominant land-owning minority of the population to maintain their status while, according to the United Nations Development Program report released last month, 50% of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition (3). The introduction of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), signed in 2005, has only aggravated the issue of malnutrition, driving the price of basic grains up and in doing so affecting food security; Guatemala was once known as the "granary of Central America", but now, because of reductions in tariffs, the market has been flooded with subsidized food crops from the north and cheaper imports. This has led to a significant increase in the price of corn, a staple in the diet of the majority of Guatemalans (4). Furthermore, it has concreted the power of large landowners through facilitating exports of large-scale crops (5), excluding from the process small producers.

One of the major factors that led to the 36 year civil war in Guatemala was the issue of land ownership. Many Guatemalans remember fondly the "ten years of spring", from 1944 to 1954, during which the government of Jacobo Arbenz set in motion major land reforms aimed at decreasing the gap in land ownership in Guatemala. Elected in 1951, he redistributed land to 100,000 peasant families within 18 months of his inauguration (6). As Indigenous peoples and peasants had been forced off of their lands en masse since the Spanish invasion, increasing the land ownership gap, these land reforms were urgently needed. But Arbenz became a threat to the latifundistas, and in 1954 a US-supported military coup removed Arbenz from rule, sending him into exile and forcing the recipients of expropriated land off of what had become the beginning of a livelihood, reinstating the latifundia system, and effectively sending the country spiralling into a civil war that would last 36 years. At the beginning of the civil war, when peasants and indigenous peoples who owned land tried to defend it, they were faced with tremendous oppression. Hundreds of thousands of mainly indigenous peoples were tortured, killed, or disappeared for defending their lands, or simply for being a part of an indigenous community during this war.

In 1996, when the Peace Accords were finally signed, two separate accords, the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Agreement on Social and Economic Aspects and the Agrarian Situation put responsibility on the government to either restore or pay compensation for land taken from indigenous peoples, as well as to provide land access to small-scale farmers. Sadly, almost 15 years later, the issue of land ownership has not been properly addressed, and the gap in land ownership has not decreased by any significant amount.

Although this powerful landowning minority holds sway over many government decisions (evident in the power held by CACIF, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Comercial, Industrial and Financial Associations), the CCDA, along with a number of other peasant organizations, have been working diligently for ten years to address this land gap with proposed Bill 40-84, the Integral Rural Development Law. This law has as its main subjects rural populations living in poverty and extreme poverty, indigenous and peasant peoples with little or no land, indigenous and peasant women, day labourers, small producers and small business owners. Some of the major reforms outlined in the policies of this bill are the reform of land ownership and land use, guarantees for technical and financial assistance to increase rural production, guarantees of basic social services, the assurance of labor benefits, iniciatives to combat malnutrition by means of food sovereignty iniciatives, and actions to protect and improve the environment. These are a few of many iniciatives contained in the law, but even these few points would make a huge difference to the 43 percent of children under 5 who suffer from malnutrition, or the 70 percent of indigenous labourers who are paid under minimum wage (7).

The current government clearly favours the corporate citizens of the country, exporters of coffee, sugar and fruit, for example. These companies have bulging profit margins, as the entire system of production is based on wage slavery. In a country where the minimum wage doesn't even cover the basic food basket, those working for under minimum wage have few options; the government does nothing to monitor wage standards, and anyone speaking up for their labour rights is sure to find out just how expendable they are to the finca owner. The government hides from these problems of labour and hunger behind Mi Familia Progresa, a program that provides "solidarity bags" of food, "solidarity foodbanks" and scholarships to children in poor families. What this program does not address is the underlying problem of land ownership and unchecked labour violations, attempting to put a bandaid on a grave flesh wound. Furthermore, the president's wife is the coordinator of the program, and it is widely seen as a tactic to get her elected in the upcoming presidential elections.

Attacking the structural issues of endemic poverty, malnourishment, labour issues and rampant violence within the country cannot be accomplished within a government corrupted by business interests; what is needed is a redistribution of land, as mandated in Bill 4084; despite the fact that the majority of Guatemalans practice subsistence agriculture on little or inadecuate land, they still produce 80 percent of the food consumed in the country, and even with what they are able to produce the majority are barely surviving (8). The sad truth is that without land it is impossible to produce - with fair land distribution, the structural problems of hunger would begin to improve, and the surplus of the harvests to come would begin to put and end to the cycles of poverty, slavery, and malnourishment, perhaps allowing for a child to attend school, instead of working with their parents in the finca to help feed the rest of the family.

(1) Griffin, Khan and Ickowitz. "Poverty and the Distribution of Land". Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 2 No. 3, July 2002, p. 295.
(2) http://www.landaction.org/display.php?article=54
(3) http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/national/latinamericathecaribbean/guatemala/name,20685,en.html
(4) Guatemalan Human Rights Commission Factsheet on Neoliberalism. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/Programs/Immigration_Trade/factsheet_neoliberalism.pdf
(5) "CAFTA Impacts Year Two" - Stop CAFTA Coaliton Report - DR-CAFTA's Impact on the Guatemalan Agricultural and Food Sector, Susan Gauster, 2007
(6) Gleijeses. "The Agrarian Reform of Jacobo Arbenz". Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 21 No 3, Oct. 1989, p. 453.
(7) http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/national/latinamericathecaribbean/guatemala/name,20685,en.html
(8) "El Comercio Justo Plus: Un Aporte a la Economia Campesina en Resistencia al T.L.C", CCDA, October 2008

Violent (& Deadly) Evictions of Campesino & Mayan Qeqchi Communities

From Rights Action www.rightsaction.org:


IN MEMORY OF ANTONIO BEB AC, ...

... one more Mayan campesino assassinated by wealthy land-owners who exploit slave-like labor and the best lands to produce sugar and African Palm Oil for export.

POLOCHIC - 1

(Antonio Beb Ac, killed March 15, 2011, during the illegal, violent eviction of the Miralvalle community)


On March 15, 2011, hundreds of Guatemalan police, soldiers and armed civilians (hired by the self-claimed landowner, the Widmann family, owner of the Chabil Utzaj sugar refinery) carried out violent, illegal evictions of the Agua Caliente and Miralvalle communties of poor Mayan Qeqchi villagers, in the Polochic Valley, department of Alta Verapaz.


These violent evictions, and this most recent killing, were not 'an accident', not 'a crisis', not 'a tragedy'. Systemic repression against, and violent evictions of poor, landless campesinos is how "free trade" and the global "development" model works in Guatemala.

This is the global "free trade" economic model supported by the Guatemalan regime and the governments of Canada and the USA, that benefits global corporations and investors, and consumers of sugar products and African Palm tree products (cooking oils, soaps, bio-diesel fuels).


POLOCHIC

(Soldiers and police, by the Agua Caliente community)

POLO

(Tear gas being fired in Agua Caliente)

POLO

(Company tractors destroying corn and bean crops, in Agua Caliente. This is a brutal way of further repressing and indeed starving impoverished communities by destroying their subsistence and survival crops)


* * *


We will provide more analyisis and information, in the near future, about this most recent example of State repression on behalf of the economic interests of the wealthy elites in the export sector, at the expense of the rights and development needs of a majority of the Guatemalan population.


HUMANITARIAN RELEIF FUNDS NEEDED


Rights Action is again sending emergency funds to victims of repression in Guatemala and Honduras, this time to the Polochic Valley region to help the hundreds of families from Miralvalle and Agua Caliente now left homeless and without their corn and bean survival crops.


To help homeless and landless families forcibly evicted in the Polochic Valley, make tax-deductible check payable to "Rights Action" and mail to:


CANADA: 552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8

UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887

CREDIT-CARD DONATIONS: Go to www.rightsaction.org, or directly to: http://rightsaction.org/contributions.htm


DONATION OF STOCK?: Contact Grahame Russell, info@rightsaction.org


SEND COPIES OF THIS REPORT

To your own government officials and elected politicians in Canada and the USA, reminding them - again and again - that this is how the "free trade" model works in places like Guatemala.


FOR MORE INFORMATION

  • Luis Solano, a Guatemalan economist and journalist, and analyst with the El Observador/Guatemala: luisesolano@yahoo.com
  • Rights Action: Annie Bird (annie@rightsaction.org) and Grahame Russell (info@rightsaction.org)

Thank-you for your continued support for these hard and amazing struggles and for your activism.


info@rightsaction.org / www.rightsaction.org


* Please re-publish this information, citing author and source

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tribute to Roberto Miranda on CKCU

http://education-in-action.squarespace.com/

Anne Roy would like to share some words:
Please join me now and take a moment to pray for Roberto, Yolanda, Daniel and Flor, and hold them in your thoughts as we remember Roberto for his strength, courage, wisdom, love for all People and his strong vision for a better world.

"He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man." — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Peace, Prayers and Blessings

If you wish to post a comment about Roberto, click HERE.

Anexo audio Saludo de condolencia CHHA para familia Miranda

If you wish to make a donation to Education in Action, please make cheque payable to "Education in Action" and mail to

Education in Action
21 1/2 Chauveau,
Gatineau, QC
Canada
J8Y 3A8

Thank you for your support,
The Education in Action executives.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Guatemala Must Act to Stop the Killing of Women

From Amnesty International:

7 March 2011

Amnesty International today urged the Guatemalan authorities to act to stop the high numbers of women being killed across the country and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

According to official figures, 685 women were killed in 2010 alone in Guatemala amid a culture of impunity, a legacy of the 1960-96 internal armed conflict which led to hundreds of thousands human rights violations which remain unaccounted for.

“Women in Guatemala are dying as a consequence of the State's failure to protect them," said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.

"High levels of violence and a lack of political will along with a track record of impunity, mean authorities are both unable to pursue perpetrators, or just don't care. Perpetrators know they will not be punished."

"This culture of violence and impunity must end and women's human rights be respected and protected.

“Passing laws is not enough. The government must initiate effective investigations into killings, improve police training and ensure prosecutions are effective.”

Less than 4% of all homicide cases result in perpetrators being convicted, despite the Guatemalan congress passing a law in 2008 that typified various crimes of violence against women and established special tribunals and sentencing guidelines.

The gender of the woman is often a determining factor in the motive of the crime, the way in which the authorities respond to the case and the way women are killed (female victims often suffering exceptional brutality before being killed, including rape, mutilation and dismemberment).

Described by the UN as witnessing genocide, Guatemala's internal armed conflict left 200,000 people dead.

Systematic human rights violations, including targeted sexual violence against women, committed by State forces were not properly investigated and perpetrators never held to account, encouraging a climate of impunity and indifference to violent crime that continues to blight Guatemalan society.

In December 2009, 22-year-old domestic worker Mindi Rodas, was violently attacked by her husband, who seriously injured her face. The man was charged and sentenced but not sent to jail.

With the help of local organizations, Rodas was given assistance in Mexico to obtain surgery and later moved to a women’s shelter in Guatemala.

In July 2010, Rodas left the shelter because she wanted to live closer to her community. A few months later, on 17 January 2011, her relatives were informed her dead body had been found by the authorities in the capital on 18 December.

The authorities have not as yet initiated an effective investigation into her killing.

In another case, 15-year old Maria Isabel Franco was raped and brutally killed in December 2001.

Her mother, Rosa Franco has been fighting for justice ever since, but the Guatemalan authorities have not brought the perpetrators to justice.

Rosa has faced death threats and harassment by unknown individuals in the struggle to find those responsible for her daughter’s killing,

In October 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights admitted the case on the grounds of unjustified delay in the investigation by the Guatemalan State.

The case is now pending before the Commission: the Guatemalan authorities have been slow in responding to the Commission’s request for information.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

AI Urgent Action: Guatemala - Mine Activists Beaten and Threatened

From Amnesty International:


On 28 February, protesters against the Marlin Mine in south-western Guatemala were attacked. One protester, Aniceto López, was taken to the office of the local mayor, where he was allegedly beaten and threatened with death for speaking out against the mine.


On 28 February, 200 members of the communities of San Miguel Ixtahuacán municipality were protesting against the Guatemalan state's failure to suspend extraction activities in the Marlin mine. The mine is located in the San Miguel Ixtahuacán municipality, in the San Marcos department of south-western Guatemala. Activities have continued at the Marlin Mine, owned by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, S.A., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldcorp, despite an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that activities be suspended until the effects of the mine on local indigenous communities are properly assessed.


The protests, organized by the Front in Defense of San Miguel Ixtahuacán (FREDEMI), lasted around 12 hours. When the protesters left, the bus they were travelling in was stopped and the protesters were forced to get off the bus and were beaten and robbed. Some protesters were taken from the group and attacked individually. Miguel Bamacá, who the IACHR has already requested the Guatemalan government protects, and Aniceto López were singled out. Aniceto López was reportedly taken to the office of the local mayor where he was beaten in the face, robbed of his documents and possessions, and threatened with death. Others were seriously injured, such as Fredy González, who was hospitalized due to an injury caused by being hit by a firearm.


Miguel Bámaca and Aniceto López were released later that evening, seriously injured, and are in fear for their safety and the safety of their families. The Ministry of the Interior has already been asked to ensure that the Police protect these individuals.


PLEASE ACT QUICKLY.


* Call for an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats and attacks on Aniceto López and Miguel Bámaca, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice.

* Urge the authorities to take immediate steps to provide appropriate protection to members of the 18 Mayan communities who were granted protective measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and to activists working on alleged human rights violations as a result of mining operations.

* Urge them to comply with the precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to suspend activities in the Marlin mine.


PLEASE SEND APPEALS TO:


Attorney General:

Licda. Claudia Paz y paz Bailey

Fiscal General de la República y Jefa del Ministerio Público

8ª Avenida 10-67, Zona 1

Antiguo Edificio del Banco de los Trabajadores

Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA

Fax: 011 502 2411 9124

Salutation: Dear Attorney General / Estimada Sra. Fiscal General


Minister of the Interior:

Lic. Carlos Menocal

Ministro de Gobernación

6ª Avenida 13-71, Zona 1

Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA

Fax: 011 502 2413 8658

Salutation: Dear Minister / Estimado Sr. Ministro


AND COPIES TO:


His Excellency Georges de la Roche Plihal

Ambassador for the Republic of Guatemala

130 Albert Street, Suite 1010

Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4

Fax: (613) 233-0135

Email : consular@embaguate-canada.com


UDEFEGUA

1 Calle 7-45 Zona 1

Oficina 2-b

Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


The request for precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on 20 May 2010 asked that the Guatemalan government suspend operation of the Marlin mine, owned by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala, S.A., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goldcorp, and implement measures to prevent environmental contamination until the IACHR reaches a final decision on the petition presented by the communities to the IACHR. The IACHR also requested that the Guatemalan government take any necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the members of the 18 Indigenous communities.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous People (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/indigenous/rapporteur/) visited Guatemala from 14-18 June 2010 in order to analyze the application of the principles of consultation with Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala, in particular with relation to extractive industries, and with a special focus on the situation of Indigenous Peoples living near to the mining operations in San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Sipacapa. At the end of his visit, the Special Rapporteur stated that he had received allegations that on many occasions the Guatemalan government had granted licenses for the exploitation of natural resources in Indigenous territories without the necessary consultations with local Indigenous Peoples. He added that he had received testimonies alleging that there had been harassment and attacks against community leaders, and that the testimonies imply that the security forces and private companies could be behind such incidents.


On 23 June 2010, the Guatemalan government announced that they would comply with the IACHR request to suspend the mining company's operations, but added the next day that this would take some time as legal and administrative processes would have to be followed. The mining company's operations continue to date.


The defense of human rights is a legitimate activity, fundamental for the advancement of human rights for all. The authorities in Guatemala have demonstrated an unjustified delay in adopting and implementing a Program of Protection for human rights defenders at risk and a Protocol of Investigation for cases of abuses against them. It is essential that the Guatemalan authorities take seriously their responsibility to ensure that human rights defenders are effectively protected so that they can carry out their work safely and free from fear, as established in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the Organization of the United Nations in 1998. (See Public Statement Index Number: AMR 34/005/2010 and open letter to the President of Guatemala Index Number: AMR 34/004/2010: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR34/005/2010/es and http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR34/004/2010/es )


The Front for the Defence of San Miguel is an alliance of diverse communities and organizations that resist the extractive work of the Marlin Mine. The Front aims to carry out legal and resistance actions around the mining activity in San Miguel Ixtahuacán. The Front represents the people that presented the petition to the IACHR.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Adolfo Ich and Canada's HudBay Minerals

By Project Accompaniment Quebec Guatemala

The extractive industry in Guatemala has long been a source of controversy and the role of Canadian companies in the ongoing situation is widely known. Canadian companies in the region are numerous, from Goldcorp's Marlin mine, to iron exploration on the southern coast by G4G Resources, to the work-in-progress silver mine near San Rafael de las Flores by Tahoe Resources. Questions of indigenous autonomy, land rights, environmental effects and community conflict surround nearly every mining project in the country.

It is Canadian company HudBay Minerals in the municipality of El Estor, department of Izabal however that is the source of the latest development in the ongoing story of the mining industry in Guatemala. On December 1st of last year, Angelica Choc, the wife of murdered indigenous leader Adolfo Ich Chamán filed a lawsuit in a Toronto court against HudBay Minerals seeking general and punitive damages in the amount of $12 million for the death of her husband. The civil suit which is being represented by Toronto's Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors alleges that wrongful actions and omissions by HudBay Minerals and its Guatemalan subsidiary Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel (CGN) led to Adolfo Ich's death on September 27, 2009. The company has denied involvement in the death but has insisted that they are cooperating fully with the investigation in order to apprehend those responsible.

Since the 1960s the Canadian mining industry has been active in the El Estor region when Inco was first granted nickel mining rights to the area. But there has been conflict over land ownership since the beginning, with local indigenous communities expressing outrage over claims by the Guatemalan government and Canadian companies that the lands they are living on do not belong to them. Although the evictions began in the 1960s with the opening of the mine, more recently in 2006 and 2007 Skye Resources (now HMI Nickel Inc., a Canadian shell company and subsidiary of HudBay) was accused in conjunction with Guatemalan police and military forces of having evicted hundreds of indigenous peasants from a number of communities in the El Estor region. Homes were burned during the evictions and in one community there are allegations of gang rape by the governmental and private security forces.

Whether the company owns legal title to the lands also remains unclear but according to a 2007 report by the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO) the Guatemalan government had broken international law by granting Skye Resources their mining rights to the area in the first place, without first consulting the local population (a violation of the ILO's convention 169, concerning indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries). Despite the ruling however, government forces have continued to pressure local communities to leave the lands in question in order to open them up for mining activities.

The current court case however focuses solely on events that occurred on Sunday, September 27, 2009. According to reports, the governor of the department of Izabal, Luz Maribel Ramos, accompanied by members of the National Civilian Police and members of a private security company employed by CGN arrived in the community of Las Nubes that day. Residents claim that despite the lack of any legal documentation or an eviction order, they insisted that the families leave the community immediately. Company officials say that the governor had arrived only to dialogue with the community about how to resolve their illegal occupation of the lands. Regardless of intent, the presence of the officials resulted in protests by members of neighbouring communities in El Estor in favour of their land rights and against the public officials and security personnel.

Adolfo Ich, a well-known teacher and community leader from the neighbouring community of La Union, was already known to the government authorities and to CGN as approximately two weeks earlier he had organized a meeting between municipal, departmental, and national governments with local communities in El Estor to discuss their land rights. When in the afternoon gunshots were heard coming from a CGN-owned building close to his home, Adolfo Ich went to investigate and tell those nearby to evacuate the area, including several children. On arrival he was recognized as a community leader by the head of security for CGN, Mynor Padilla. Padilla said they'd been looking for him and invited him to come and talk with them in order to restore calm. Witnesses then allege that as Adolfo Ich approached the security forces several grabbed him and started beating him, while others attacked him with machetes. Following that, they allege that Mynor Padilla approached and shot him in the head at close range. He later died of his wounds. Seven other members of the neighbouring communities were also injured by gunfire that day and the following day as they drove to denounce the situation in Coban, some seriously.

According to Sergio Belteton, lawyer with the Comite de Unidad Campesina (CUC) and Angelica Choc's legal representative in Guatemala, an official from the public prosecutor's office arrived in the community the day after the death. Following the investigation, in December 2009 an arrest warrant was issued for Mynor Padilla. However despite five material witnesses to the crime and the outstanding arrest warrant, not only is Padilla still free but he remains employed by CGN. Sadly, this is an all-too-common occurrence in Guatemala where the impunity rate for crime is a staggering 98% according to the UN appointed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). In a country where only 2% of crimes even make it to court it is not surprising that the Ich/Choc family has been forced to seek an alternative venue for justice in the death of Adolfo Ich.

While the lawyers from Klippensteins hope that this will be a precedent-setting legal case for Canada, the events underline the pressing need for Canadian legislation to monitor and regulate the activities of Canadian corporations operating in countries where the existing legal framework may be incapable of bringing justice to victims of abuse. They expect the case to take years to make its way through the courts and in the meantime there is still no effective means for affected communities in developing countries to make their voices heard when their rights are put at risk.

With the narrow defeat in the fall of John McKay's Bill C-300, which would have provided a forum for foreign citizens to bring claims against Canadian extractive companies for abuses committed in the host country, attention is now passing to Peter Julian's Bill C-354. The aim of this bill is to hold all Canadian-based companies accountable for human rights violations, regardless of where they occur. However just as there was significant opposition from mining industry representatives to Bill C-300, there will surely be opposition to Bill C-354. The industry insists that corporate social responsibility initiatives are the way to achieve justice and respect for human rights in foreign countries, a claim which remains hotly contested by the proponents of government-imposed legal measures.

It remains to be seen what will come of the Adolfo Ich case in Toronto courts. HudBay's response to the suit has been to request that the Ontario courts have the case transferred to Guatemala. However with the endemic problems in Guatemala's judicial system and the stagnation of the existing legal case there, it is a near certainty that if the Ontario courts agree to transfer the case it will mark its end. In the meantime, HudBay and CGN will continue towards establishing their nickel mining presence in the area.

For more information, visit the website set up by Klippensteins regarding the case:
www.chocversushudbay.com