The president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammatei, declared a state of siege in the municipality of El Estor, in the eastern state of Izabal, last Sunday (24), after 17 days of indigenous protests. The Q’eqcxhis Mayan community has been protesting for more than two weeks against a mining project that seeks to evict them from their territory.
The measure must still go through Legislative approval within three days to be valid. This afternoon, Congress is discussing whether or not it endorses the Executive’s decision. The opposition caucus, composed of the Winaq, Semilla and Movement for Liberation parties, opposed the state of emergency, accusing the criminalization of community resistance.
“It is unlikely that Congress will invalidate the decision, because it has a totally pro-government direction,” says Carlos Barrientos, director of the Committee for Peasant Unity of Guatemala (CUC), to the Brazil in fact.
The Vamos ruling party has the second largest parliamentary bench with 17 of the total 160 deputies.
O decree it prohibits any kind of public demonstration, provides that the Army controls the municipality and can carry out arrests without a prior court order. According to local media, this Monday (25), a contingent of 500 soldiers and 350 police officers has already arrived at the scene, while agents of the Public Ministry are carrying out search and seizure warrants.
“We consider it unconstitutional because it is a disproportionate action. The state of siege is a state of emergency prior to entering a state of war, according to the Constitution. What happened in the region are demonstrations by government and business decisions”, declares Carlos Barrientos.
The peasant leader also emphasizes that the regulation of states of exception is a legacy of the 1965 Constitution, which is no longer in force and was approved during the Guatemalan military dictatorship.
The indigenous movements have been denouncing for days the presence of people infiltrated in the protests that generated disturbances to justify the subsequent control of the State.
Videos published on social networks show the violence of Guatemalan police forces against the indigenous community.
Repressive forces of the State of #Guatemala directly attacked the Mayan village of the communities of the municipality of El Estor, Izabal, who were in resistance to reject the mining exploitation; Intoxicated personas register. pic.twitter.com/YlriU2GEKR
— Santiago Botón 🇬🇹 (@SantiagoteleSUR) October 22, 2021
The Mayan community Q’eqcxhis rejects the Fenix mining project of the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), which has been paralyzed since February this year by a resolution of the Constitutional Court – an independent court -, precisely because it does not comply with the requirement of public consultation. In June of this year, the Ministry of Energy and Mines carried out a public consultation, complying with the Court’s decision, however, without including the fishermen’s unions and the indigenous authorities.
The sentence also reduced the exploration zone from 247 km² to 6.29 km². According to CGN, it would be possible to extract around 120 thousand tons of nickel per month from the region.
Despite the court decision, the indigenous people claim that companies CGN Pronico and Mayaniquel, who were in dispute with CGN for the concession, are illegally extracting nickel in their territory, contaminating the only source of fresh water in the region.
For 17 days, indigenous leaders have been blocking the main access roads to the municipality, preventing the trafficking of mining trucks and demanding that the State comply with Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which provides that any action in indigenous territory must pass by authorization of the original peoples according to their own customs and hierarchy.
In July 2021, the head of the Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity was removed from office. Later, in political asylum, Juan Francisco Sandoval claimed that he had collected evidence that showed that President Alejandro Giammatei had received a bribe in January from one of the companies that would carry out the Fenix project and for that reason was persecuted by the state.
* With information from Prensa Libre, Quorum, Telesur and La Hora.
Edition: Thales Schmidt