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Canadian Mining Company Accused of Atrocities in Guatemala: Lawsuit Alleges Killing, Gang Rapes of Indigenous People

By Asad Ismi

“Dandy!” said U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower when informed in June 1954 that the CIA had overthrown the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. The U.S. toppled Arbenz for daring to implement land reform and replaced him with a string of military dictators who ensured that life for most Guatemalans would be far from dandy. Four decades of genocidal military rule followed the 1954 coup. The murderous peak was reached under General Rios Montt (1982-1983), who wiped out 400 villages.

State terror spurred the rise of a revolutionary guerrilla movement and a 36-year civil war, during which the army murdered about 250,000 Guatemalans. A peace accord was signed in 1996. The extreme repression was mainly aimed at denying land to Guatemala’s indigenous majority, which comprises 80% of the population. Instead, the army and the Guatemalan élite handed much of the land over to Canadian mining companies and other Western multinationals who financially supported their barbarous reign. This situation continues today. Governments are now formally elected, but they remain weak and unable to check military, élite, and corporate domination.

HudBay Minerals, a Toronto-based mining company, is currently being sued in Ontario by indigenous Guatemalans for involvement in murder and gang rapes, and for causing them severe injuries. In November 2012, some of the plaintiffs came to Toronto to testify against the company in court and to inform Canadians about their struggle in speeches given at the University of Toronto.

Eleven Mayan Q’eqchi women are suing HudBay for their gang rapes. They allege there was “negligence and carelessness causing physical and psychological harm.” The women claim that, on January 17, 2007, they “were gang-raped by uniformed mining company security personnel, as well as police and military, during the forceful expulsion of Mayan Q’eqchi families from their farms and homes in the remote community of Lote Ocho. These armed evictions were sought by Canadian mining company Skye Resources in relation to its Fenix mining project, located on the north shores of Lake Izabal, which it operated through its Guatemalan subsidiary, Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN). The communities believe these evictions were illegal.”

In 2008, HudBay Minerals bought Skye Resources, along with CGN and the Fenix Project. Skye Resources was renamed HMI Nickel and later merged with HudBay Minerals. The merger makes HudBay legally responsible for HMI/Skye’s liabilities and past actions.

Rosa Elbira Coc Ich is one of the women suing HudBay for her rape. In her speech at the University of Toronto, she said: “I bring in my heart no happiness and no joy. I bring great sadness because of HudBay Minerals, a Canadian mining company in my country. No one would be able to live through what I have lived through. I was at home. There were nine men who came to me — members of the police and security forces. They threw me on the ground and sexually abused me. They did things to me that are unmentionable.

“You, especially the women, would you be able to live through that? I struggle for my land, and it is for my land that I have been raped. I am here because I am strong despite everything that has happened to me. I’m here in Canada seeking justice. I cannot seek justice in Guatemala because the only people there who can expect justice are those who have money. I ask you to please help me as though these injustices had happened to you.

“Maybe companies like Hudbay have been telling people in Canada that they bring development and benefits to Guatemala. Those are all lies. We have got no benefits from Hudbay. We are here as victims of the abuse of our human rights by this company.”

The rape alleged by Elbira took place during a mass eviction (called for by HMI/Sky) of the Q’eqchi community at Lote Ocho by hundreds of police, military, and Fenix security personnel. Hundreds of indigenous families were violently evicted. According to Elbira, she “was assaulted by nine men, including police, soldiers, and company security personnel wearing uniforms bearing the initials and logo of CGN. At first, a policeman drew a pistol and put it to my head and asked me where my husband was. When I was unable to tell him, he said that they were going to kill me. Then all nine men, including uniformed members of the Fenix security personnel, held me down, ripped my clothes off, covered my mouth, and raped me. They left me completely battered. I was in deep pain. I could barely get up.”

Elbira is now unable to have children almost certainly because of the injuries inflicted on me during the gang rape.

The other ten women were also reportedly attacked and raped. Some of the women were pregnant when they were assaulted and later suffered miscarriages. On January 17, 2007, the same day the women were allegedly raped during the forced evictions sought by HMI/Skye, the company’s President, Ian Austin, stated in a public letter: “[T]he company did everything in its power to ensure that the evictions were carried out in the best possible manner while respecting human rights.”

The women’s lawsuit against HudBay alleges that the harm suffered by them was caused by the “legal negligence and carelessness of the company’s operation of the Fenix project, and therefore HMI/Skye is legally responsible for this harm.” According to the plaintiffs, HMI/Skye was “negligent and careless in directing, controlling, and supervising the mining security personnel who committed the rapes.” The plaintiffs further allege that HMI/Skye was “negligent and careless in seeking, requesting, and authorizing the forced evictions of Lote Ocho without taking reasonable steps to protect the community from the use of violence during this eviction.

“As a result of HMI/Skye’s careless conduct and the resulting assaults and gang-rapes, the plaintiffs suffered physical and psychological harm for which the plaintiffs claim damages. In particular, the plaintiffs claim damages for pain and suffering, as well as traumatic, emotional, and mental distress. Each plaintiff claims $1 million in compensatory damages for their pain and suffering, and $4 million in punitive damages owing to the extreme and heinous nature of the attacks against them.”

HudBay is also being sued by Angelica Choc, the widow of Adolfo Ich Chamán, for his murder. Adolfo Ich was hacked and shot dead by private security forces employed at the Fenix mining project near the town of El Estor in Guatemala. The lawsuit asks for $2 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages. Adolfo Ich Chamán was the president of the Community of La Uníon, a respected Mayan Q’eqchi’ community leader, a school teacher, and father of five children. He was an outspoken critic of the harmful effects of Canadian mining activities in his community.

On September 27, 2009, Adolfo Ich was with Angelica at his house in La Uníon when he heard gunshots being fired from the direction of mine buildings, located nearby. Adolfo went to find out what was going on. “When he arrived, private security forces of the mine recognized him as a prominent community leader and appeared to invite him to speak with them about the community protests. As Adolfo approached, approximately a dozen armed security forces surrounded him, beat him, and hacked at him with machetes, before shooting him in the head at close range. Adolfo Ich died of his wounds shortly after.”

Angelica Choc, who, like her late husband, is a community leader in La Union, also spoke at the University of Toronto before Rosa Elbira did, saying: “Adolfo was assassinated because of the actions of HudBay Minerals. I carry a huge sadness. My heart has been destroyed because of my husband’s murder and all that this monster, HudBay Minerals, has done to our community. I am afraid of no one and I am not shutting up. I’ve been told ‘your husband is dead now so why don’t you leave your land?’ I reply that the ones who should leave are the assassins, which is HudBay.

“To the students here who study law and the environment, I say to them, take your studies seriously and don’t be corrupted by these companies. I never had any formal education and they call me illiterate, but I know my rights. We are defenders of our own rights. We are obstacles in their path.

“HudBay Minerals are thieves trying to steal our wealth. They invaded our lands and are occupying it illegally. My husband is dead and here are the women who were gang-raped. The company should pay for the enormous harm it has done. So, through these three civil lawsuits against HudBay, what we want is justice, but also we want to be left to live in peace in our communities and in our own land. That is what this is all about. In Guatemala, the indigenous people are simply not taken into consideration and are constantly discriminated against. This is why we are here in Canada. HudBay is a Canadian company, and this where we need to demand justice.”

Angelica Choc sobbed when she added, “I’ll never forget that moment when my son knelt down in front of me and said ‘Mamita, they’ve killed my father,’ and I cry all the time. Those at HudBay mock us, but the tears that we shed here are our strength. They are the strength also for our children. I invite you to unite with us in our struggle. Only together can we win.”

German Chub Choc, who spoke before Angelica, is bringing the third lawsuit against HudBay Minerals. The lawsuit alleges that, on September 27, 2009, Chub Choc, a 23-year old father, “was shot at close range in an unprovoked attack by the head of security personnel for HudBay’s Fenix Mining Project.” Due to the shooting, “German Chub suffered catastrophic and life-threatening injuries.” He is now paralyzed in a wheelchair, and cannot breathe through his right lung.

According to the lawsuit, “the brutal and arbitrary shooting of German Chub was caused by the negligent management of HudBay Minerals, both in Canada and in Guatemala… HudBay Minerals negligently authorized the reckless and provocative deployment of heavily armed security personnel into Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities on September 27, 2009, and negligently authorized the excessive use of force by its security personnel.”

Said German, “You can see that I am sitting in a wheelchair before you tonight, and this is because of HudBay Minerals. What HudBay has brought to us is pain and suffering. What happened to us, to me, to the raped women, and to Angelica is all pain. We have not seen anything but pain. I am still suffering, and so is my five-year-old son, and HudBay is responsible for this.”

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Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, February 2013

Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He is author of the radio documentary The Latin American Revolution which has been aired on 40 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 33 million people. He is also author of the anthology with the same title which can be ordered from the CCPA. This article is the 17th in a series on the Latin American Revolution.

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