Seeking to understand the perspective of indigenous communities in Guatemala
Nate Howard and David Janzen
"In recent weeks we have been visiting communities in and around San Miguel, Guatemala, and have had the opportunity to interview around thirty individuals involved in resisting the Marlin Mine, a large gold mine operated by the Canadian-based company Goldcorp.
Given recent incidents of violence and the international attention the situation has attracted, we have been surprised at the openness with which people have shared with us. Some of what we have heard has been painful and disorienting—indeed, the situation is direr than we had anticipated—and yet, in spite of the fear, violence, and threats faced by local people, we have encountered a profound sense of hope in these communities.
The resistance movement seems to be fundamentally about the freedom to live in community with one another and with creation in a way that is not compatible with the logic of transnational corporations. We do not purport to understand the worldview of the San Miguelense people, but in our many conversations with local people several significant ideas have consistently come through:
(1) Land is both an inheritance to be passed on to future generations, and a gift from God entrusted to a certain group of people. As an inherited gift, land is to be used to support the subsistence and well being of the present and future of the community. To exploit land for purposes beyond this is excessive, thoughtless and unnecessarily destructive.
(2) Environment is inseparable from community. Hence, “contamination” refers to something beyond the measurable negative effects on the land; contamination also includes societal imbalance, a disregard for tradition, and, ultimately, a failure of human communities to assume their role in creation as co-creators and caretakers.
(3) Development occurs when it is spread across the community, not when it is experienced by a small number of individuals, and especially not when it leads to inequality and conflict between people and land.
(4) Community is based on direct relationships of mutual respect between people. Mutual respect implies creating space for each person to voice his or her own perspective. This notion of respect is embodied in Mayan forms of democratic decision-making, which are based not on the rule of the majority but rather on a form of conversation that aims to build community-wide consensus. Stressing the inherent value of land, the importance of tradition, and direct relationships built on respect, these norms are clearly at odds with those of mining companies, which operate on efficiency, hierarchy and, ultimately, economic profit."
Nathaniel Howard has been serving as a community development worker with MCC Guatemala since 2006; David Janzen served in Guatemala through MCC's SALT program in 2008, and is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Western Ontario
As with the majority of our groups this year, Enlace spent a week in San Marcos learning about this complex issue and Canada's influence in the region. They also heard a lot about what they (and you!) can do at home, things such as supporting Bill C-300; join the Facebook group "I Support Bill C-300 (the Responsible Mining Bill)" to learn more.
"We have a whole new perspective on multiple things including consumerism, the projects of MCC, wealth disparity, natural disasters, and mining. Ask us about them. We've come home to share with you about things we have experienced first hand, and advocate about issues that have become very dear to us. I encourage you to listen and learn." Enlace 2010 co-leader Hannah