Story and photo by Theresa Wolfwood
Angélica Choc, a small Mayan woman, dressed in her beautiful traditional dress, stood before over one hundred people in Victoria in March to tell her story of murder, rape, destruction and a Canadian mining company. As she wiped away her tears she told us that her husband, Adolfo Ich Chamá, a community leader, was murdered on Sept. 30, 2009 by a private security guard employed by Compania Guatemalteca de Niquel, a subsidiary of Manitoba’s Hudbay Minerals. The guard has been charged and the murder case is now before the court in Guatemala.
High in the remote hills of Guatemala, Hudbay reopened the largest nickel mine in the region with the blessing of the President of Guatemala, a former army general, Otto Pérez, But the communities of Mayan people around the Fenix Mine were not consulted. Most local residents do not want the mine, outside workers are brought into to work for the company and local activists are threatened and abused.
Angélica, featured in the film, La Defensora, told us of the environmental destruction to the land and water caused by the mining process; she said that all Guatemalans drink the same water. Rooted in her ancient culture, she said that her ancestors expect her to defend the land for the Mayan people and their descendants. She is strengthened in her struggle for justice by their presence around her even when her son was injured, she believes, by those who support the mine. When she faced a phalanx of Canadian corporate lawyers who cross-examined her at a preliminary hearing, she was not afraid; her grandparents were beside her.
She has charged Hudbay in an Ontario court in a civil case for her husband’s murder. Also part of the case is his companion, German Chub, who was shot when Adolfo was killed and is now a paraplegic with permanent lung damage, and eleven local Mayan women who say they were gang-raped when they resisted eviction from their homes. In a precedent setting decision, the courts decided to hear the cases against a Canadian company’s actions in another country, deciding that it was a Canadian legal responsibility to hear cases against Canadian companies operating outside Canada.. In all three cases, Hudbay is accused of negligence, Hudbay denies all the accusations. This is indeed a very Canadian concern; the Canada Pension Plan and most mutual funds in Canada haves shares in Hudbay: Canadians are complicit in any violence and injustice inflicted abroad by Canadian company.
The events and court case have gained world attention; Hudbay sold the Fenix Mine in September 2011 for $170 million to the Russian owned Solway Group, headquartered in Cyprus. But these violent acts happened under the ownership of Hudbay.
As well as the film La Defensora which is available in Canada and has been widely viewed; on a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSGuDk4cnz4 Rosa Elbira Coc Ich tells her story of gang rape. Speaking near the community of Lote Ocho in her native Mayan Q’eqchi’ language, she says, “I thought only one of them would rape me but it was all nine men,” she says. “They left me completely battered, like a crushed orange.”
These women were some of the many local citizens forcibly evicted from their lands and homes at the request of Skye Resources (a previous owner of Fenix which later merged with Hudbay).
The Guatemalans are supported in their case by many human rights and solidarity groups in Canada, including Victoria’s Mining Justice Action Committee. It is a hard struggle for these people, constantly threatened and mistreated in their own community. But as Angélica says, she has told her ancestors she is a stone in the road of injustice and environmental and social destruction. She will continue to be that stone with support and solidarity of many. She thanked her Victoria supporters saying that all our struggles are related and it is important to her and to us that we stay united and determined.
Update 2018: Hudbay will stand trial in Canada for crimes in Guatemala.
La Lucha Continua!