Since March 2012, the people of San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc have successfully managed to maintain their peaceful nonviolent protest, in the form of a human roadblock at the mine’s entrance, despite constant attacks and lies from the federal government, the state municipality, and the American company, Kappes Cassiday & Associates. The struggle began in November of 2011 when the Guatemalan government handed over 20 sq. km. to the mining company without prior community consultation. Angered by the complete disregard for the people living in the area, local environmental leaders demanded more information concerning the effects of the mining. The information eventually discovered revealed contradictory accounts concerning the effect the mining would have on the communities. Located alongside the dry corridor where water access is already limited to once every other week in some communities, the mine would not only drink up this scarce resource, but also most likely pollute what natural streams and rivers that would remain. Though these arguments come from the Environmental Impact Statement, Kappes Cassiday has found it much easier to ignore these truths.
The result of the government and Kappes Cassidy’s actions has been an eleven-month gridlock. Without access to the road on which the human roadblock now operates, Kappes Cassiday has been unable to begin construction of the mine. As the company’s money drains away, their frustration grows leading to increasingly dangerous confrontations. The first attack was made on May 8th, 2012 when 400 riot police pulled in at 1:00 a.m. with twenty-seven pieces of heavy machinery in an attempt to break the roadblock. The last and most recent attack came on December 7, when an estimated 1000 riot police came in from all over Guatemala to break the roadblock. As the women and children lay face down on the ground however, the police were unable to pass. The months in between these confrontations have been filled with smear campaigns, harassment, and even an assassination attempt on Yolanda Oqueli Veliz, a leader of the roadblock. The stress of the confrontations has divided families and pitted friends and neighbors against each other. We witnessed this tension when a local woman threatened Yolanda just after hearing Tono Reyes purposely acknowledge the existence of spies amongst the roadblock participants during our meeting. The altercation occurred as she was driving in to meet us. As she spoke with tears in her eyes, she played with her son who was probably too young at the time of her attempted assassination to ever know his mother was even hurt.
Seeing the effects of Kappes Cassidy’s mining operation on a personal level was extremely moving. Over the course of the past three and a half years, I’ve taken numerous classes that discussed themes like neoliberalism and subalternity. These are terms are so broad and so loaded that they sometimes seem superfluous to me. However, actually seeing the effects on a micro level provided a unique and valuable perspective that I am sure will stay with me for quite a while.