Day 8 of the Intercambio: Solidarity in Action
We had a full day of inspiring speakers yesterday and, to see some of the concepts they shared in action, we visited the community of La Puya, which is marking their seventh anniversary of maintaining a permanent blockade to stop a U.S.-owned gold mine on their territory. Starting March 2, 2012, the community has been actively defending life, water, and their land. It is located between two municipalities – one that is Indigenous and one that is Mestiza, and they have built a strong alliance, with the Mestiza community adopting the Mayan cosmovision as a critical part of their work.
Through strong leadership, international solidarity, and savvy media work, the community has garnered a lot of attention. Their dedicated leader, international award winner Miriam Pixtún, welcomed us to share more about the history of the resistance and the strategies they use. It is an intergenerational effort, with elders, young people, and children all participating. Through Keme Producciónes, the youth produced a short video that they showed us, “Somos Semillas”, featuring the children of the community sharing why they have the right to protest and what they are fighting for. One of the youngest children in the video says, “Yo quiero un futura libre” – I want a future that is free.
In the face of the community’s resistance and resilience, the mining company and the Guatemalan government have embarked on an active campaign of aggression, criminalization, defamation, and stigmatization. The activists at La Puya are clear that their resistance is nonviolent, and Miriam shared that they prepared for it through workshops and watching videos of nonviolent leaders like Mahatma Gandhi. They know that they are being deliberately provoked in order to justify a violent police and security force response. Instead, they sing hymns and songs and ring church bells. Women are key leaders in the movement, and they strategically place themselves on the frontlines hand-in-hand when law enforcement arrives to show the strength of their non-violence and because they know men are more likely to be detained.
The risk they all face is serious. Three members have been sentenced to nine years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines have been levied, one leader was shot, and several have been injured. In acts of psychological warfare, helicopters drop fliers into the town with threats and harassment to discourage people from participating. But they are very clear about the purpose of their work. “This isn’t just about La Puya or even Guatemala. Humanity at large is at risk.”
As part of our visit, they held a women’s circle with us to discuss gender issues. Because of the urgency, anyone who shows up to support the resistance, regardless of gender, is put to work. This has created an “equality born out of necessity.” One community member shared that even though she has a lot to do to take care of the home and family, she participates because she has learned so much through the resistance. “Learning nourishes us. I’ve learned to question things. That helps me grow as a person.”
Patriarchy is used as a tool to create divisions within the community, with women who participate being denounced as whores and men being criticized as not being able to control their wives. The harsh impact has created a need for healing practices. Prayers, ceremony, and spiritual energy are critical and they make sure children have time to play. They have noticed that men are less likely to come to the healing sessions and workshops and are not accessing the same level of psychological support, “their wounds are still open.” They also called on women to see their shared struggle, “we need to stop judging each other so much.”
After the women’s circle we drove to see the tailing pond for the mine, this huge structure cut into the earth and filled with contaminated water. The community is clear that they have a right to defend their territory and the land and water they depend on for survival. They are using all of the strategies they can, whether it’s the permanent blockade, legal strategies such as proving that the company did not have the proper permits and did not consult the community in advance, and the media. They show no signs of backing down despite the fact that there is no resolution in sight, “we have to continue maybe the rest of our lives; we know when it started, but we don’t know when it will end.”
When asked how they have the strength to keep going, Miriam responded, “Our grandparents, who didn’t know how to read or write, defended this land. We know how to read and write and we are not going to give it up that easily.”