Profits Over Water: 'State of Seige' Declared in Guatemala

Military force enters the town of Jalapa. (Photo: @AndrinoB)

Profits Over Water: 'State of Seige' Declared in Guatemala

Protests over mining project that threatens local water supply met with martial law decree

In a crackdown on mining protests, Guatemala declared a 30-day "state of siege" on Thursday in four areas of the country, suspending people's constitutional rights and sending in hundreds of police officers and thousands of soldiers following weeks of violence.

Reuters reports that

Guatemalan President Otto Perez [Molina] announced the move in an effort to quell protests targeting the mine belonging to Canadian miner Tahoe Resources Inc. Two people have been killed in the demonstrations.

The company's security guards shot and wounded six demonstrators on Saturday, said Mauricio Lopez, Guatemala's security minister.

The next day, protesters, who say the Escobal silver mine near the town of San Rafael Las Flores will contaminate local water supplies, kidnapped 23 police officers, Lopez said.

One police officer and a demonstrator were killed in a shootout on Monday when police went to free the hostages, said Lopez.

BBC adds:

The government said on Thursday it was outlawing gatherings in the towns of Jalapa and Mataquescuinlta, and the areas of Casillas and San Rafael Las Flores.

A decree allows them temporarily to make detentions, conduct searches and question suspects outside the normal legal framework.

The Associated Press reports that the government's decree also restricts "freedom of movement, the right to bear arms, freedom of association and demonstration."

While protest over the mine has been escalating in the past several weks, MICLA (McGill Research Group Investigating Canadian Mining in Latin America), explains that resistance to the mine goes back years to the project's approval, which "triggered a great deal of resentment amongst the local communities who claim they were neither informed nor consulted about the mining project."

Protesters say the Escobal silver mine, owned by Canadian-based Tahoe and located near San Rafael las Flores, threatens their water supply.

Tahoe contests that the project "is being constructed to the highest environmental and social standards and it brings needed employment to the area and millions of dollars in annual royalties and taxes."

"I don't intervene because I'm poor and I have to work to support my family but the truth is that the mine does affect us when it comes to the environment," Xalapan resident Mariano Lopez Escobar told the Associated Press. "Although, it sounds like that with an order from the president for the mine to start working there isn't much one can do."

"Unfortunately this government has been very much pro-business, and most of these businesses are foreign, mostly Spanish, American and Canadian," Rob Mercatante of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission told German news agency Deutsche Welle. "They've received such a warm welcome from the administration that some feel the justice system is now being used to punish community leaders for upholding their rights."

Perez Molina has been been under fire from human rights defenders for being "directly involved in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide during the long civil war in Guatemala--as an 'intellectual author' and as a 'material author.'" And last month, during the trial for U.S.-backed, School of the Americas-trained Efrain Rios Montt, a former soldier testified that "soldiers, on orders from Major 'Tito Arias', better known as Otto Perez Molina ... co-ordinated the burning and looting, in order to later execute people" during Guatemala's dirty wars of the 1980s.

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