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Tear gas bombs and bullets targeting adults, children and older people, by the public security forces. This is a scene that can be seen more and more often in Latin American countries. The shameful use of this type of violence shares a common end: remove communities from territories seen as a business opportunity and source of profit by big transnational companies.
This is the case of La Puya, in Guatemala department. Two years and three months ago, the communities decided to begin a process of peaceful resistance against the implementation of the open pit gold mining project Progreso VII Derivada, of US mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates and subsidiary companies Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala (EXMINGUA) and Servicios MIneros de Centro de América: A project the communities were not informed about, let alone consulted about its convenience.
Despite the peaceful nature of the resistance, the threats and attacks against community leaders have been constant. The members of La Puya are defending themselves by blocking the entrance to the area planned for mining exploitation, carried out in shifts by dozens of people day and night.
On Friday May 23, 200 officers of the National Civilian Police of the Anti-Riot department advanced over the blockade, guarding the machines that aimed to enter the mine. "After 7 failed attempts to enter the territory, this time they managed to get in, but did so with abuse of authority, with police officers used by the government to support the business sector" said the leader Yolanda Oquelí in an interview with Real World Radio.
"There are several people who had to be hospitalized; a young friend of ours had her skull broken by a tear gas can, because the police didn´t throw them in the air, they threw them at the bodies and faces of the people resisting", said Oquelí, who was also victim of an attack on June 13, 2012, that left a bullet in her body.
The police officers remain in the area. "They are 45 officers of the anti-riot department who are there, intimidating us", said Oquelí, and she added: "despite this, we remain calm and stronger than ever". The shifts to block the access to the mine went from having 50 to 300 people, according to the leader.
But violence is not the only weapon used by the government and the company to implement the mining project. The interview with Oquelí was carried out after she left the Court´s Building of Guatemala City. Yolanda and several other leaders are facing charges of "coercion, threats and illegal retention", a legal process started by the mining company.
"Three people were sentenced to nine years, with excessive fines and compensations: each of them have to pay 32 thousand quetzales in bail. They are peasants with no income, but the companies don´t care about that", said the leader. "The judge acquitted me based on lack of admissible evidence, although he gave the company three days to appeal".
The other four community members weren´t so lucky and were sentenced to house arrest".
Oquelí highlighted that despite all these measures by the company, the resistance will continue: "We will keep standing, the fight is not over and is stronger than ever. Yesterday there was a caravan wth over 1200 people from San José del Golfo to join La Puya. Their actions make us stronger".
A video with images from the eviction:
La oposición a la minería debe entenderse como la lucha por los derechos que esa actividad no respeta, pues “cada derecho que se le otorga a una empresa, es un derecho que se le resta a una comunidad”, asegura el coordinador del Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de América Latina (OCMAL), César Padilla.
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