Angélica Choc is a Mayan Q’eqchi’ woman from the community of La Union, in the Guatemalan municipality of El Estor. Adolfo Ich Chamán, her husband and an outspoken critic of the Canadian-owned nickel mine operating in the area, was brutally murdered on the 27th of September, 2009. The security manager of the mine was arrested in connection with the killing. In a precedent-setting decision, Angélica’s lawsuit, as well as two others, have been allowed to be heard in Canadian courts. For more information on the case, see http://www.chocversushudbay.com/ or the documentary Defensora.
The vast majority of mining companies are headquartered in Canada, partly due to the support provided them by the Canadian government, including a climate of impunity for cases such as Angélica’s. The Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), a federal mining institute based at UBC, has attracted much scrutiny for its perceived role in the Canadian diplomatic, academic, and corporate apparatus for prioritizing the interests of the extractive sector over those of communities.
The following is a transcript of a talk given by Angélica Choc at UBC on 26 March 2015. Transcribed and translated by Eviatar Bach.
Good afternoon, I bring you greetings from my dear village of El Estor. I am Maya Q’eqchi’ and a proud indigenous woman.
It is a great honour to be here to share a bit of my experience of struggle and the resistance that we, the indigenous communities of Guatemala, maintain; a very strong resistance against the mining companies that come to our country, like the Canadian mining company Hudbay, and the Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, its subsidiary.
In my country, mining companies are entering and displacing our communities with the support of the government. The government is authorizing the military and the police to displace our communities with the support of the companies’ private security. They have burned down our houses, they have stolen our possessions, they have sexually abused women, and they have committed murder, like they murdered my husband, Maya Q’eqchi’ indigenous leader and teacher at an educational centre.
It’s sad, all of what has happened. I know very well that it’s not only in my country that all this is happening. Not only in Guatemala are the natural resources being stolen, and being defended by us, the indigenous peoples.
And why do we defend them? Because we know that we are native to those soils, and thus that we are the ancestral owners. We come carrying more than 500 years of resistance, from when our ancestors were dispossessed from their lands.
I always say something that they passed down to us: they threw away our branches, they threw away our leaves, they cut our trunks. But our roots remained. And the roots are us, me. I am their daughter, their granddaughter, their great-granddaughter. And today I raise my voice in the streets to demand that our rights be respected as indigenous peoples and as human beings, that we all deserve respect in our territories.
Since I arrived in Vancouver more than two weeks ago, I have visited different places to share my experience of struggle with brothers, indigenous and non-indigenous. And I have told them to be conscious, to protect their territory, because it is a treasure, like Guatemala.
But unfortunately in Guatemala the government is issuing licenses to disappear the richness that we have in our country. They have issued those licenses to have more money to build large buildings. But we, the indigenous peoples, don’t need buildings. We think about our children, we think about our grandchildren, great-grandchildren. What will their future look like? We all drink water, we all eat from Mother Earth, we all breathe fresh air. So why should we permit that these resources be contaminated?
I notice that in all of this, the ones who suffer most are we, the women. Because it is we that go searching for food for our children, running from place to place, to defend ourselves from the police. Like what happened with my compañeras at Lote 8, the eleven women who were sexually abused by ten men to each woman. I ask, where are their hearts, those who hurt those women? They were men. Have they no mother, have they no wife, have they no daughters? I think that they wouldn’t like what they had done to those women.
Because of these violations of our rights, our human rights and our rights as indigenous peoples, we have been able to seek justice, we have been able to file cases, and thank God, we have had successes, because here in Canada the three cases were accepted to be heard in court, and that is an achievement for us, the women. It’s an achievement that we are seeking, that I am seeking, because they have done me a great harm: taking my children’s father away. That is a great injustice. That is what the companies have done in our territory.
When they come to talk about their work in their own country, they say that there they are welcomed, that they are building projects, that they bring employment, that they bring development. What development? What employment? We don’t need the mine. We live well in our communities, with our own crops. I live in front of Izabal Lake. When I don’t have food at home, I run there and fish, and that’s how we have food. But if we don’t protect it today it will get contaminated.
We are maintaining that resistance, but we are running a risk. Because for the company we are rocks, I am a rock in its path. But I, my strength and my struggle, will survive like my husband did. Because I think about my children, about my grandchildren. If it doesn’t suit the company, if they don’t like that I file that case, if someday they disappear me, I will go proudly, because I know that it won’t have been for corruption, for impunity. I will go calmly, leaving my land. But if one leaves, ten remain.
I won’t take any more of your time, our story is long, very long, but unfortunately our time is short. There’s a documentary called Defensora that says everything about what has happened with our communities, and what is happening.
And what to do? It’s not enough to come and listen, it’s not enough to know. We have to unite forces, we have to keep watch, so that Mother Earth’s natural resources are respected. Because not only Guatemala ought to defend its territories, not only Colombia, not only Peru, not only Africa, not only the Philippines. How many are suffering? And the majority are Canadian companies. And? What do you think of that? Let’s analyze this and unite to demand justice and respect for human rights. Thank you very much.