Attacks on the rise during COVID-19 against Xinka leaders opposed to the Escobal mine

More than 90 Guatemalan and international organizations signed a letter calling on Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor to fully investigate an increase in attacks against members of the Xinka Parliament and the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, and Jutiapa, since the COVID-19 lockdown began in March. The letter also highlights the ongoing impunity in cases of attacks against environmental defenders in the region dating back to 2014, when the Escobal silver mine was put into production despite widespread opposition and violent repression. 

For the last decade, the Xinka Parliament and the Peaceful Resistance have organized to assert their rights to self-determination and protect their lands from the Escobal silver mine, now owned by Canadian company Pan American Silver. Since March, they have documented a sharp increase in defamation against leaders on social media, while threats and acts of intimidation against Xinka Parliament legal representative, Quelvin Jiménez, have remained steady, despite precautionary measures granted to him by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last year. Most recently, eight Xinka men from Santa Maria Xalapán — all active in the Peaceful Resistance — were hit with questionable legal charges, part of a pattern of criminalization that community leaders have experienced since well before the mine was put into operation. 

Since the Constitutional Court (CC) decision in 2018 confirming the suspension of the Escobal mine over the lack of prior consultation with affected Indigenous communities, the Court has issued two additional rulings on similar grounds, effectively suspending all of Guatemala’s operational mines. Now, the country’s elite, with support from the legislature, are attempting to topple the CC’s top judges, in what many are calling a technical coup and a constitutional crisis. The Constitutional Court is a critical backstop for Indigenous communities, including the Xinka people, to ensure respect for their rights.

These attacks on environmental defenders, and the country’s highest court, take place within a broader context of increased government repression since the COVID-19 lockdown went into effect. In July, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammettei declared martial law in the northeastern department of Izabal, militarizing the communities surrounding the Fenix nickel mine. The mine has been the site of human rights abuses which are the subject of a civil suit in Canada, and has been suspended by the Constitutional Court since 2019 over lack of consultation with the Maya Q’eqchi Indigenous population.

The deteriorating situation in Guatemala follows the disturbing pattern reported by Global Witness which found that mining was the deadliest sector for environmental defenders in 2019. Read the full letter signed by more than 90 Guatemalan and international organizations denouncing the latest threats and acts of defamation, intimidation, and criminalization against members of the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, and Jutiapa. 

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Banner photo: Demonstrations against the Escobal mine in Guatemala. Source: Servindi