Churches in solidarity with campesinos arrested during protest against mining project in Guatemala

April 26, 2013

GUATEMALA CITY

The churches lament the excessive force used by the police authorities against the 29 campesinos in San Rafael Las Flores, who were peacefully protesting against the establishing of the El Escobal mining project there.

Along with Lutheran pastor José Pilar Álvarez, Pastor Vitorino Similox of the Ecumenical Christian Council of Guatemala, visited the area on April 12 and encouraged the campesinos to peacefully resist the project and not fall into provocations, so that the authorities not criminalize their struggle in favor of the environment.  

Similox also criticized the news media for generating misinformation and fear among the people. More than 150 campesinos took part in the protest but only 29 were arrested.  

The police invaded the private property where the campesinos were gathered, apprehended nine vehicles and took away grain foods and personal belongings and mattresses of the demonstrators.

Since April 11, the protesting campesinos have suffered reprisals, including tear gas bombs thrown by the police, with no consideration for the women and children present. 

In spite of the community’s rejection of the mining project made known in a public consultation, the government granted a 20-year license for mining exploration in San Rafael Las Flores to the San Rafael Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian Tahoe Resources.

Gustavo Martínez, of the Catholic Church, said that most of the campesinos who are peacefully resisting the mining project are Christian, and that they are defending the life and what God has given them.

According to Similox, the churches are accompanying the campesinos’ peaceful protest and ask of the authorities that they respect the human rights of the demonstrators, listen to what they are asking for, and take into account their anxiety. 

Álvarez and Similox met with the local priest, Néstor Melgar. “It is saddening that our governments do not look after the common good, it is an injustice,” said Melgar. An ecumenical service is to be held with the campesinos.    

The Observatory of Indigenous Peoples points has recorded 1,200 separate conflicts in Guatemala caused by the establishment of mining operations, the building of hydroelectric plants, and practices of single crop agriculture.

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