Residents of San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, about an hour north of Guatemala City, have been steadfast in their rejection of a gold mine in the region. They are concerned about the mine's health, social and environmental impacts, which will last for generations to come so much so that one woman's spontaneous act of civil disobedience quickly grew into a community-based, peaceful resistance movement. Organizers of the campaign that has come to be known as Communities in Resistance maintain that the government has not complied with legal obligations to consult with communities about projects that would affect them. At the same time, a series of attacks against community leaders some with deadly intent have not been fully investigated.After the company acquired the land in 2000, almost a decade passed while experts tested different locations for gold all without the local communities' knowledge. The next day, Reyes was joined by more community members, who placed themselves in front of the gated entrance to the mine.It was the beginning of Communities in Resistance, or the Puya, as the human blockade has since come to be known.As community members settled into their shifts, the roadblock became a routine. Over the last 10 months, the communities have received numerous delegations, including three with my organization, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC), as well as other national and international solidarity visits.
As early as mid-2011, those who stood out as community leaders began to receive telephone threats and intimidating comments.On June 13, community leader Yolanda Oqueli was ambushed by two men on motorcycles just as she was leaving her shift at the Puya. Oqueli, a mother of two young children, had been involved in the movement since the beginning and speaks passionately about the communities' deep commitment to nonviolent resistance. As hundreds participated in the community forum, the Guatemalan mining subsidiary of KCA, EXMINGUA, had organized a loud party across the street with live music and free T-shirts that read "EXMINGUA Mineria Responsable" (EXMINGUA Responsible Mining). By the end of the day, a tenuous agreement had been reached: Eight police would remain at the gate to the mine with the protesters, and the government would initiate a formal dialogue process the following week.While communities across Guatemala resist similar projects gold mines, nickel mines, hydroelectric dams, among others few have so successfully halted a project in its tracks. In a country where disputes often escalate into violence, the enduring nonviolent community resistance in San Jose and San Pedro has earned a great deal of support from the international community.Oqueli and Communities in Resistance will need such encouragement as they continue to wait for the promised dialogue to begin.