Opinión: Resulta que…

Hoy quiero rendir tributo a las mujeres constructoras de patria. Solo referiré los nombres de algunas, mencionarlas a todas y decir sus méritos requeriría escribir libros, sin pensar en las heroínas anónimas.


Zury Ríos ha liderado la agenda de salud de las mujeres, Nineth Montenegro abandera los temas de fiscalización que han puesto en aprietos a muchos(as), Roxana Baldetti ha sabido conducir a su bancada con firmeza y ha posicionado su agenda partidaria, Anabella De León, otra política aguerrida. La oficialista Mirza Arriaga, presidenta de la Comisión de la Mujer, quien junto a las otras miembras de esa sala impulsó una acción inédita al viajar a todos los departamentos a socializar la legislación con autoridades y organizaciones, como contribución a que se respeten los derechos de sus congéneres.

Rosa María de Frade, con un excelente desempeño; Otilia Lux levantó la agenda de los derechos de la población indígena, especialmente de las mujeres.

Lo anterior, solo por citar algunas de las naves insignias que nos enorgullecen. Las parlamentarias lograron unirse para la aprobación de la ley contra el femicidio y otras formas de violencia contra la mujer.

La antropóloga y periodista Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, excelente y reconocida académica a nivel internacional; María Teresa Zapeta, ex titular de la Demi y hoy en Unifem; Medarda Castro, quien hizo un buen aporte en el trabajo con partidos políticos en la OEA. La revolucionaria, enamorada de Quiché, Silvia Solórzano Foppa, actualmente en el Parlacen; la ex parlamentaria, comandante Lola; Ruth Del Valle, titular de la Copredeh; Lilly Caravantes, al frente de la Sesan; Adelita de Torrebiarte, política con liderazgo; Yoly Pérez, en el gabinete de Seguridad; María Antonieta de Bonilla y Ana de Molina, connotadas funcionarias de Estado. Rigoberta Menchú, premio Nobel; Rosalina Tuyuc, fundadora de Convavigua; Dominga Vásquez, primera alcaldesa indígena, Helen Mack, incansable luchadora contra corriente; y Raquel Zelaya, abanderada de la paz. Todas son valores nacionales.

La lista es interminable; mencionaré otras, Iduvina Hernández y Claudia Samayoa, en temas de seguridad y derechos humanos; las feministas y académicas Ana Silvia Monzón, Walda Barrios y Miriam Maldonado, picando piedra en la Universidad y en ámbitos intelectuales, y recogiendo sus frutos que nos benefician a todas; mis colegas abogadas y notarias: Anabella Morfín, presidenta del Cedecon; Catalina Soberanis, primera presidenta del Congreso; Raquel Blandón, Carmen Lucía Pellicer y las Eugenias, Mijangos, Morales de Sierra y Solís, necias defensoras de derechos de las mujeres y de las necesarias reformas legales.

En el periodismo y en las letras hay excelencia: Carolina Vásquez Araya, Dina Fernández, Carolina Escobar Sarti, Silvia Tejeda, la jovencita Marcela Gereda, y las ambientalistas Magalí Rey Rosa, Rita María Roesch y Martita Pilón. Las médicas del Observatorio de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva, especialmente Myrna Montenegro, Margarita Lucas y Juana Rivas, presidentas de asociaciones de comadronas de Quetzaltenango y Huehuetenango; Andrea Barrios y Sandra Morán, defensoras de excluidas y abandonadas.

Esta lista es inmensa, invito a continuarla en todos los espacios posibles. Somos indispensables, ¡visibilicémonos! ¿Quién dice que en Guatemala no hay liderazgos nacionales?


Searching for gold at the end of the Guatemalan rainbow: Paradise Lost, the documentary

VIDEOS: Paradise Lost, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Paula Todd, W5, CTV.

W5 Executive Producer Anton Koschany issued a caution as he sent his four-person crew into Central America to investigate questions about Canadian mining companies operating overseas. ‘It’s dangerous there, stay safe.’ The first confirmation comes from the American I meet on the plane en route to the little country squeezed between El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. “What are you? Suicidal?” A former police officer, crew-cut and hard-muscled, he is returning to his job there as a private and “very well-paid” armed security guard — a popular career in skittish Guatemala City.

Uniformed security squads dominate the scenery in the airport, on the streets, ringing the wealthy and the powerful. In the smaller towns, local men in t-shirts and khakis lean against storefronts or pace bank entrances with automatic weapons slung across their chests. Everybody’s alert in a country roiling with murder, drug trafficking, theft, kidnapping and a long-running dispute between those who want to develop Guatemala and ancient Indigenous cultures with mystic ties to the past.

Enter Canadian mining companies, who are spending billions to churn up the mountains in eastern and western Guatemala to uncover valuable gold, silver and nickel. At the Marlin Mine alone, Canadian mining companies, including the current Vancouver-based GoldCorp, have blasted through almost seven million tons of rock since 2005, producing nearly a million ounces of gold.

But it costs more than money to send profits back to shareholders. Local residents, including Mayans clinging proudly to their traditional way of life, alternate between anger and despair. Some claim the massive mining projects leave little value behind while sucking up their water supply, polluting what’s left of it and leaving them ill. They point to skin rashes on their children and huge cracks in the plaster walls of their homes as proof. GoldCorp officials argue the mine is not the source of these problems.

W5 spent almost two weeks bumping along mountain roads, climbing up into the jungle, and touring mine sites and interviewing residents, corporate officials and rights workers. Producer Anne Hainsworth, cameraman Paul Freer and soundman Michael Kennedy and I are accustomed to seeing a difference of opinion; in fact, that’s what we look for as we try to tell a balanced story. But the contrast in Guatemala is particularly marked: both sides insisting they are telling the truth, everyone certain they know how to best protect a country that is as conflicted as it is beautiful.

Pro- and anti-mine sentiments divide communities and families, too, as locals who welcome the mine and its money, align against those who want the land left alone. Tension runs as high as the stakes.

Inside the Marlin Mine compound

In dusty towns outside of Guatemala City, poverty is everywhere: tiny children, often covered in more filth than clothing, play with stones on the sidewalks. Packs of wild dogs scavenge. Homes are cobbled together from old wood and boxes; worn curtains flap on outdoor bathrooms, sometimes nothing more than a hole in the ground. In this country, you carry your own toilet paper, if you are lucky enough to afford it. Sun-crinkled farmers cling to the side of a mountain to harvest a meager onion crop.

Life inside the GoldCorp Marlin Mine compound in San Marcos is so different, it’s almost surreal. If you get past the armed guards at the gate, you’ll see shiny trucks and sparkling buildings, including tidy homes where some employees live while running the mine. Massive mills rumble as the mountain tumbles through them, breaking down the ore before it is soaked in cyanide to leach out the silver and gold. Everywhere there is order and yellow construction helmets.

GoldCorp’s Vice-President for Latin America, Eduardo Villacorta Haddad, says he’s proud of what his company is doing — employing some 1,200 people from surrounding villages, paying good wages, building roads and schools. He shows us an on-site green house where they’re growing trees to refurbish the mountain when they leave. In the modern cafeteria, he cheerfully serves strawberries grown on the mine property and points to the generous meals his employees are fed. He says Canadians can be proud of the way GoldCorp is operating.

Yet, we meet three young Canadian human rights workers here who are anything but proud. Karen Spring and Jackie McVicar from Ontario, and Francois Guindon from Quebec have all stayed in Guatemala longer than they ever planned and have become vocal activists because they are worried about the “damage” they believe mining companies are doing to the people, the land, the Guatemalan culture. It has become an embarrassment, they claim, to admit you are a Canadian in Central America.

Spring came as a University of Toronto student to study health problems, estimating she’d stay a few months, but a couple years later, she is still here, fluent in Spanish, and determined to continue her work for a social justice organization called ‘Rights Action.’ Like Guindon, who’s known as “Pancho” and works with the ‘Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala,’ Spring is determined to help local people get their message out. Together, they lend their language skills, their connections and their conviction that Canadian mining companies are not being properly held to account.

The young activists introduce W5 to Guatemalans, some of whom confide they are afraid for their lives now that they’ve dared to protest against the Canadian mines. They report ominous phone calls and death threats. We meet a tiny woman with seven children, who says she didn’t agree to huge poles which support the power lines supplying the mine being built on her property. No longer able to plant or enjoy her home, she says she threw a rope over one of the power lines and knocked out a key source of electricity to the mine. There is a warrant out for her arrest and she has since gone into hiding, emerging only to speak with us.

Guatemalans divided over the mining issue

Activist Jackie McVicar, who works for Nova Scotia-based human rights organization ‘Breaking the Silence,’ has interviewed many local people who insist their lives have been ruined by either the mining companies’ takeover of their land, or the violence that has accompanied development as Guatemalans split into pro- and anti-mining camps.

In El Estor, another Canadian mining company named HudBay Minerals is refurbishing the Fenix Project — a moth-balled nickel smelter and mine. But anger is still raw over forced evictions that took place in 2007 when the mine was owned by Canadian company Skye Resources (since acquired by HudBay). A Canadian filmmaker, Steven Schnoor, documented homes being burned and knocked down by police and the military, while McVicar reports widespread allegations that women were sexually abused and raped during the melee — accusations that are strongly denied by HudBay officials.

One evening, the W5 team witnesses a widow in a ramshackle graveyard weep for her dead husband, a popular teacher, who she claims was killed last year by security guarding the same HudBay mine — all, she believes, because he fought the “progress” they don’t want. HudBay officials deny the allegations and any involvement in his death.

In many countries, local and national governments might mediate more. But Guatemala is barely back on its feet after 36 years of violent conflict and civil war. Assassination, frequent rape and murder of women, powerful drug gangs, and government corruption keep the country teetering. There are neighborhoods in Guatemala City so violent and gang-controlled, we could find no one willing to enter.

Meanwhile, key police officials have been arrested for allegedly passing tips to criminals about pending drug raids, while Guatemala’s national police chief is facing charges for drug theft and co-operating with a violent drug gang. Other police and anti-drug officials have also been arrested for allegedly stealing drug money or taking bribes.

Protesters, particularly poor Mayans who are unable to speak English or enlist legal help, say they are vulnerable in the face of powerful North American corporations, especially because the Guatemalan government welcomes the foreign investment and revenues mining produces.

In the end, Indigenous people with a profound connection to the earth are pitted against Canadian mining companies who, with government backing, are digging up the country for profit, with a promise to leave it better than they found it. Along the way they are also affecting how some of our Latin American neighbours see Canadians.

Canary Institute Guatemalan News Summary ~ July 29 – August 4, 2009

Compiled by Patricia Anderson and Santos Tale Tax


The two initial bills were presented to Congress last week by the Guatemalan Migrant Commission. The bills seek to reform the Law of Migration and create a new decentralized entity to oversee migration: the Guatemalan Institute of Migration (IGM). The proposed IGM would have its own director and resources which would be dedicated to better controlling entrances and exits out of Guatemala. The bills also include an initiative that would create electronic visas for foreigners entering the country. These bills are separate from the one that was presented last week by the National Board of Migration which focused more on the protection migrant rights.

The airport is currently undergoing massive remodeling set to be completed within two years. Included in the plans is a special area for receiving Guatemalans who have been deported from the United States.

15,570 Guatemalans have been deported from the United States this year. Most of the deportees come from the departments of San Marcos, Huehuetenango and Retalhulea.

One Guatemalan citizen along with 96 Mexican citizens were detained in the United States after being found in a freight truck in Arizona. The group was traveling among crates of fruit being transported at 34 degrees Fahrenheit. The group was largely comprised of women and children ages 9-12.

In response to North American bishops decision to call on President Obama for migration reform, Central American bishops gathered last week to make the same call to the US president in the form of letters and calls to their parishioners on both sides of the border.

In an effort to tighten security along the Mexico-Guatemala border, stricter documentation requirements are being asked of Guatemalan citizens. Rather than using local passes, as border residents were allowed before, citizens residing in border departments are required to apply for a formal migration visa. All other Guatemalan residents must have their passport. These new requirements have hurt Chiapas economy as tourism from Guatemala has been down substantially since the requirements were enacted.


Thirty one new cases of H1N1 (gripe A) were identified last week, bringing the national H1N1 count to 528 cases. The death of a one year old boy brings the flu’s death toll to 10. There are now 30,000 doses of Tamiflu in the country, though the Ministry of Health has declined to comment on the possibility of a much larger outbreak, as there has been in the countries Mexico and El Salvador.


Regional commerce has fallen 17 percent since the Honduran coup. Part of this drop has been attributed to the difficultly trucks have had crossing the Honduran border. But the European Union has announced that it will restart commerce with Central America, minus Honduras, in September.

Climate Change

El Niño has begun to form over the Pacific Ocean. The weather phenomenon is expected to bring storms, floods and drought. The upside of El Niño is that its presence lowers the frequency of hurricanes, say experts. The effects of El Niño will likely not been seen until late October. Agricultural production will be severely affected by the droughts and floods produced by El Niño.

Community Consultation

The population of Churrancho in the department Guatemala voted 87.2 percent against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in a nearby river. Residents believe the dam will negatively impact their community and leave them with no water. Generdora Nacional, the owner of the proposed dam, complains that they were notified only two weeks before that the consult was going to take place. Generador Nacional already has the permission of the Ministry of Environment to construct the dam as the company has already turned in its required environmental impact study.

Food and Nutrition

The Canadian activist group Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) warns that Guatemala and other countries like it are in danger of losing their native corn plants to genetically-modified super breeds. Guatemala has come under a lot of pressure to completely switch to genetically-modified seed since the largest seed was bought out by transnational company Monsanto’s Seed last year. ETC says genetically-altered crops and use of petrochemicals is a false solution to the food shortages caused by global warming. Agroindustry consumes 14 percent of the world’s fuel consumption, the same amount as cars and other forms transportation.


The Ministry of the Environment prohibited the mining company Montana Exploradora from importing cyanide as it has failed to pay proper import taxes for the last two years. Montana has been paying 3 Quetzales per kilogram where the tax is at 5 Q/kg. The Ministry has banned Montana from importing the chemical until it pays the difference. A Montana spokesperson has said that the company is preparing its lawyers for legal countermeasures.

Montana Exploradora S.A. Guatemala is a wholly-owned subsidiary of GoldCorp, a Canadian company that mines precious metals. Montana currently has several projects active in the Western highlands of Guatemala. It’s most notorious project is the Marlin mine in the department San Marcos. The Marlin mine has been opposed by local communities since its inception in 2005. Several community members have been jailed and threatened over the course of the mine’s operation and several protests of the mine have turn brutally violent. Montana is currently the largest bidder for exploration licenses in another region of San Marcos, which has sparked protests, marches and roadblocks nationwide.

The Pastoral Commission of Peace and Ecology (Copae) of the Catholic diocese of San Macos recently undertook a study of five rivers around the Marlin Mine. Copea, using its own equipment and laboratory, found large concentrations of metals near mining disposal sites.

The Mining Guild denounced Copea’s methods unscientific and declared its finding unreliable. Montana Exploradora assured the press the rivers near Marlin mine are not contaminated.

Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini of San Marcos diocese said he hopes the study serves an alert to environmental authorities and that it moves authorities to conduct more extensive environmental impact studies. Bishop Ramazzini has spoken out against the mine both from the pulpit and in public forums since the mine’s beginning, for which he has received death threats and law suits for ‘provoking violence among peasants toward mining activity.’

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Canary Institute Guatemalan News Summary ~ August 5-11, 2009

Compiled by Patricia Anderson and Santos Tale Tax


Experts and community leaders from around the world met held an International Conference on Mining in Antigua, Guatemala last week. Members of communities affected by mining gave testament to the contaminated water, desertification and general community conflict caused by mines. Pedro Pinto, of Honduras, commented: “The extraction of gold in my country has been going on for five years and has caused the death of several animals on two occasions because the cyanide used to extract the metal has contaminated the rivers.” Guatemalan delegates emphasized the importance of respecting community voices in the mining process.

On its closing day, the International Conference published a declaration detailing the ways in which mining companies enjoy impunity. The statement notes how mining companies damage the environment and the health of their workers and surrounding communities with rare regulations or sanctions from Latin American governments.

In response to the Conference, Douglas González, director of the Mining Guild, said: “In Guatemala we have no cases of environmental catastrophe due to mining; and since the technology used has advanced considerably, the impact on the environment has been mitigated. The population of Guatemala has no reason to worry.”


An outbreak of dengue in the Eastern department of Izabal has caused 170 people to be hospitalized. Ninety-two of the cases have been reported by the department as hemorrhaging dengue, all of which are children under the age of 13. However, the Ministry of Health has only reported 18 hemorrhaging cases. Hospital workers have denounced the Ministry of Health for its unwillingness to confirm all hemorrhaging cases, its lack of preventative measures and its overall poor management of the outbreak. Nine children died due to dengue last week.

The number of gripe A cases (H1N1)—Swine Flu — has risen to 624, an increase of 92 people since July 31.


In the department of Izabal, 5,197 square kilometers of virgin forests are cut down per year to make way for expanding agriculture and growing urban areas. Forty percent of the department’s lands are protected, making a portion of the deforestation illegal. The National Counsel of Protected Areas has urged vigilance, control and community education to prevent illicit deforestation.

Climate Change

An exceptionally dry rainy season with unseasonable frost has caused wide-spread crop damage – the estimated at crop loss totals 38,000 quetzales. These uncharacteristic weather patterns have been attributed to overall climate change. More than 16,000 families have been affected, and corn production is down 40%. Crop production is not expected to better in 2010 due to the long draughts and characteristic cold of El Niño.


Due to the long dry spell, three thousand communities are in risk of hunger and starvation. In the department of Zacapa 17 children have died this year from severe malnutrition and related diseases such as diarrhea.


The Basic Cost of Living has risen 2.8 quetzales in the last month and 18.99 quetzales in the last year. The director of the National Institute of Statistics emphasized that only 7 of the 26 crops that make up the calculation have risen, and that 17 crops have actually dropped in price. The price of onions has increased the most, 16.5 percent since 2008.

Analysts from the Association of Investigation and Social Studies say that the government of Guatemala had too small of a vision and invested too late in the economy when faced with last fall’s economic crisis. While time was being spent coming to an agreement about inversion, commerce and consumption fell by 8 percent. In relation to last year, commerce has fallen by 1.7 percent overall in Central America, compared to the 1 percent decrease in the United States.

Women’s Rights

400 women have been violently killed since the start of the year, 6 in the last week. Human rights attorney Sergio Morales says that 82 percent of the women were killed strictly because they were women. However under the current laws, only 19 can be classified and charged as femicide. 56 of the women were under the age 18. A large number of the victims were raped, tortured or dismembered.

Migration and the Economy

Remittances have fallen 9.5 percent in the first seven months of 2009, a difference of 248.2 million USD. Remittances were highest in July of this year, with 365.3 million USD entering the country. However, this number still falls sort of the 409.66 million USD seen in July 2008.

In 2008, more than 4 billion dollars were sent back to Guatemala in the form of remittances. Remittances make up 12 percent of Guatemala’s GDP and sustain at least 1 million Guatemalan households.