"In my community we are fighting for our lands and we will protect them until we die." Margarita Caal Caal explained to over 150 people who had packed into the Toronto Friends' House on November 23. "I am here to tell you the truth."
Margarita is one of 11 Mayan Q'eqchi' women from the tiny Guatemalan community of Lote Ocho at the frontlines of the struggle against Hudbay Minerals. The women had traveled to Toronto to be cross-examined as part of the lawsuit they launched against the Canadian mining company in 2010. The suit addresses the gang-rape of 11 women from Lote Ocho by mining company security personnel, police, and military during the forced eviction of their village and families from their ancestral lands on January 17, 2007. The company is also being sued for the murder of community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán and the shooting and paralyzing of German Chub.
I first traveled to Lote Ocho in 2009. The entire community gathered in an open air structure at the centre of their land to share with me, via a Q'eqchi'-Spanish translator, how all of their buildings were burned down during violent evictions carried out by the mining company, the police, and the army. However it was only when I met with some of the women individually that I learned about the terrible gang rapes many had suffered during these evictions. To say that these women were nervous to be sharing these stories with me -- an outsider and a Canadian no less -- would be an understatement. None spoke a language other than their native Q'eqchi' or had ever left Guatemala. At the time, the idea that within a few years they would stand up defiantly before Hudbay's lawyers in a board room on the 20th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Toronto was nearly inconceivable.
These landmark lawsuits launched against Hudbay seemed unlikely for other reasons as well. They are in fact the first cases to hold a Canadian company to account in Canadian courts for violence committed overseas. Historically, Canadian judges have typically sent such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged crimes took place. Communities impacted by Canadian mining around the world as well as the Canadian extractive industry itself are watching these cases closely to see what new precedent will be set. If the claimants are able to find some measure of justice in court that will mark a tide-changing moment in the corporate accountability landscape in Canada.
But any verdict in these cases is still years away. And when the claimants return to their communities they know very well the dangers they will continue to face. "Because of all that happened to me I must look for justice," Elvira Choc Chub explained. "But because we are seeking justice, the company continues to intimidate and threaten us." The plaintiffs have documented multiple instances of being threateningly stalked by unidentified men. And in the early hours of September 17, 2016, shots were fired outside the home of Angélica Choc in El Estor, where she slept with her two children. Bullet marks were found the next morning on the walls of her house, and 12-gauge shotgun and 22-calibre bullet casings were found nearby.
Angelica's husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, former President of the Community of La Uníon and a respected Mayan Q'eqchi' community leader, was killed in 2009 due to his leadership role in speaking out about the rights violations caused by Canadian mining in Guatemala. Adolfo was hacked with a machete and shot in the head, allegedly by the private security forces contracted by the mining company. In Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc., Angélica Choc personally sued Hudbay Minerals and its Guatemalan subsidiaries in Canadian courts for the death of her husband. She will undergo a similar process of cross examination in Toronto in early 2018 as the women of Lote Ocho have just done. It is crucial that those of us here in Canada who support their struggle for justice continue to show up in solidarity.
More of the Council of Canadian's writing about this here.
Photo: "13 Brave Giants vs Hudbay Minerals," a painting by Pati Flores
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