March 6, 2013
Angelica Choc is a Mayan Q'eqchi' woman from El Estor, Guatemala. She is seeking justice as a plaintiff in one of three lawsuits against HudBay Minerals Inc, a Canadian mining company. Her husband Adolfo Ich Chamán was killed by security personnel of the Guatemalan mine which, at that time, was owned by HudBay Minerals. These same security personel are also alleged to have been involved in the shooting of another man, German Chub who is now paralyzed and has lost the use of his right lung. The third lawsuit involves the alleged gang rape of 11 women by security personnel, police and army personnel during the forced eviction of the Q'eqchi' people from their ancestral home. For the first time, a lawsuit against a Canadian mining company over human rights atrocities abroad will be heard by a Canadian court.
I have only just realized Canada's reputation in the global mining industry. Just a couple of weeks ago I saw a report about Gold Corp on Al Jazeera - another Canadian mining company wreaking havoc in Guatemala. Canadian mining companies are often described as some of the worst perpetrators of environmental and human rights abuses in multiple developing countries around the world. It is really quite mind-blowing to read about the atrocities being committed by these mining giants in developing countries from Papa New Guinea to Peru to El Salvador. So when I found out about this mining panel discussion I immediately offered to document the evening (photos and recorded audio) for the students who organized the event from Dalhousie's Social Activist Law Students Association.
Below is a video from 2007 in which a series of forced evictions were undertaken by Skye Resources (which was bought by HudBay Minerals) to clear land for its Fenix Mining Project. The people of an indigenous community near El Estor were forced out of their homes by 650 soldiers and private police. Homes were ripped apart by chainsaws and burned by these forces leaving hundreds of indigenous families homeless. When the video was distributed to raise awareness of the situation, Canada's Ambassador to Guatemala, Kenneth Cook, lied by claiming they used a paid actress and old stock photos. He was sued by the filmaker and found guilty of slander. And not to put too fine a point on this but:
The Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala was found guilty of slander.
We watched this video before Angelica's talk. This is an incredibly tragic story but there is hope because Angelica is telling her story and there are lots of people giving her support. Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors of Toronto are taking on the case. Advocacy groupsBreaking the Silence and Rights Action combined forces with the Dalhousie Student Union Sustainability Office, the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, Cape Breton University International Studies, and IDEAS to bring Angelica Choc to speak in Nova Scotia after she attended a hearing for her case in Toronto.
There were other speeches given by Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, Mi'kmaq Professor and Director of the Transition Year Program at Dalhousie and Kathryn Anderson, former coordinator of Breaking the Silence and author of 'Weaving Relationships: Canada-Guatemala Solidarity'. Then the floor was opened up for questions and discussion.
Angelica is an amazing woman and the Social Activist Law Students Association did a great job in organizing this event. I was more than happy to be involved in the documentation of the intense and emotional evening. It was encouraging that so many people came out to hear her story. I hope that this whole thing gets more coverage and that there will be justice for Angelica and the people from her community when this story comes to an end.
My favorite part of the night was remembering that I had one shot left on my Instax so I was able to take a group photo with Angelica and the folks who participated in the panel. This is why I love instant cameras. I think she was pumped to have the memento! I hope at the very least it reminds her that there are some Canadians who care.
Please take a listen to Angelica's talk and if you feel like digging deeper into this, check out the links at the bottom of the post.