Sunday, July 10, 2005

From Guatemala: Mining, Genocide and Human Rights

The following blog entry is from assistant editor Cyril Mychalejko, who is currently in Guatemala and will be there for the next few weeks. He’ll be writing for this blog regularly:

I arrived in Guatemala City on Friday, July 8th as a member of an Environmental, Development and Human rights delegation sponsored by Rights Action. RA, with offices in Canada, Washington DC and Guatemala City, raises funds for Grassroots organizations and local development projects primarily in Guatemala, but also in Honduras and Mexico. RA also sponsors human rights accompaniments, helps with volunteer and intern placements in the region, and does education and activism, focusing much of it on the way the north contributes directly and indirectly to the economic problems of the global south. There is a diverse group of participants in the group I am in. In addition to myself we have a mining executive, a man who works at the national archives in D.C., a lawyer, and the director of the Marin Interfaith Task Force of the name a few.

Saturday morning we met with Magali Rey Rosa, who works with the environmental and human rights organization de Madre Selva. Magali also writes an independent column for the paper Pense Libre. She wrote an excellent column some months ago in response to an op-ed written by Canadian Ambassador Lambert, who disingenuously tried to champion the alleged virtues of the Marlin Mine, funded by the World Bank and run by Glamis Gold. Magali and de Madre Selva has been very active in organizing and campaigning against the marlin project. Magali traveled to Honduras in December 2003 to attend a conference on mining and to visit that country’s Glamis Mine. She said the site of the environmental and social devastation changed her life. De Madre Selva is a small grassroots group funded by churches. Magali spoke about the lack of environmental laws and protections in Guatemala, how President Berger is dismantling what little environmental institutionalism there is and how the head of the environmental ministry serves the interests of the ruling oligarchy. She criticized large NGOs and other mainstream environmentalists who bow to the interests of the ruling elite by never speaking out politically and who don’t touch on subjects that are deemed taboo such as oil and mining, just so that they can preserve their funding. She said she was approached by the World Bank with an offer for her group to monitor of the Marlin Mine. She said her response was that they will monitor it, but never will never accept one cent from the World Bank. One group member asked - “why not?” - an excellent question. “Wouldn’t this be an opportunity?” Magali’s response: “Well then the World Bank wouldn’t have to accept the conclusions, it could possibly alter them and if a group like De Madre Selva agreed to this it would lend legitimacy to an illegitimate project, given the WB and Glamis failure to comply with ILO covenant 169 and both groups failure to gain consent from the local area, made up of largely indigenous communities. Unfortunately there is not a mechanism in place yet to hold global acts accountable.

In the afternoon we met with Alan Robinson, the forensic anthropology lab director of FAFG (Guatemala Forensic Anthroplogy Team) and Fernando Lopez, a lawyer with CALDH (Central of Legal Action for Human Rights), who is involved with genocide cases.
We saw a brief movie about the exhumations of mass graves left by the genocide campaign conducted by the state against the indigenous population of Guatemala in the 1970s and 80s. The movie also contained witness testimony from those who lost loved ones, which was heart wrenching. The exhumations and the testimony are gathered as evidence used to build legal cases against the intellectual and material authors of the genocide campaign. During the exhumation there is the use of archeology, physical and social anthropology along with forensics to help determine profiles of the dead, sex, age height, biological history, and race (which is mostly determined through articles of clothing found along with testimony from loved ones describing physical traits which are then matched with recovered remains.

During the genocide campaign, its worst years were under the regime of Rios Montt, a former CIA asset, graduate of the School of the Americas, and close ally of Reagan who subsequently still lives in Guatemala and who ran in the last presidential election. It is estimated that over 200,000 indigenous people were killed with some 50,000 disappeared. Thus far there have been 516 exhumations from mass grave sites. The forensic lab we visited currently has 700 individuals on site. According to Alan Robinson they have about a 60 percent positive ID rate, which helps give closure to loved ones and dignity to the dead. After evidence is taken, analyzed, documented and reports are written, it is determined shortly there after that the bodies can be returned to their families for proper burial. Someone asked if there was resistance from Mayans about the remains being taken to a lab due to cultural or other reasons. The answer was that every single exhumation is initiated by local communities. The group looked at the remains from a victim pulled from a mass grave located at an old military barracks in Chimaltenango. It was of a woman, estimated to be in her thirties, who was shot from behind, once in the back of the head and a couple of more times close to the rib cage and spinal column. She was number 5 from the site, so Alan said that there was at least five people buried there but there very well could be more. For instance, on March 13, 1982, in Rio Negro there were 107 women and 70 children massacred by the military. The army’s response was that it was a result of an excursion they had with guerrilla fighters.

The prosecution and ability to have the government accept legal cases against those responsible for the genocide has been frustrating and not as fruitful as it should be. One reason explained is that many of the guilty people are involved with the main political parties, which is why no one in the Guatemalan congress is championing this cause.... The U.S. played a big role in the genocide through military aid and training, among other things, how can we build a legal case against the US government and under what jurisdiction?

Stay tuned for more…