2008-01. Sipakapa: Defending Our Territory from Plunder

Sipakapa. San Marcos, Guatemala.
January 19, 2008.
Issue: Indigenous and Community Rights / Mining / Land

After the historic triumph by the Sipakapa Civic Committee during the general elections of last September (please view the photo-essay: Here in Sipakapa, the People Won), Delfino Tema Bautista took charge as Municipal Mayor of Sipakapa on January 15, 2008.

Nevertheless, a number of celebratory events did not take place until Saturday, January 19.
Without a doubt, a mass given by Monsignor Alvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of San Marcos, turned into the main event: “The reason for our celebration today is to thank the Lord for our new municipal council which is the result of your effort and hard work. Little by little, all of you have been developing a higher conscience regarding your rights, responsibilities, and the need to have local authorities who will truly and continually seek the benefit of the people.”

“I invite you all to join me in prayer so that these men before me will truly become servants of the people, continually seek benefit for all, and that despite the dangers, the threats, the difficulties, the risks, the temptations, they will remain firm. Because the hard work starts now; we must always continue the struggle and not stop now just because we have won.”

“Lord, please accompany these brothers so that together, authorities and the people united can walk the paths towards welfare, increased social and economic development, and peace, in this beloved region of Sipakapa.”
“The Sipakapa Civic Committee was formed three years ago by locals who have continually struggled to peacefully defend their territory and its natural environment from the perils posed by mining activities. Their main goal has always consisted of gaining political power so as to develop policies backed by the majority of the municipality’s population. It was a conscious decision to run under the independent figure of a Civic Committee, as none of the traditional political parties were willing to firmly stand against the presence in Sipakapa of Montana Exploradora, local subsidiary of Canada-based mining giant Goldcorp.” (1)
In his first official interview as Mayor of Sipakapa, Delfino Tema declares: “Our principal goal is to defend our territory from the plunder of our natural resources by international corporations. We will continue our resistance against mining because life is worth much more than gold. Under no circumstances will we negotiate with Montana Exploradora because that would go against the will of the people [of Sipakapa].”
The Sipakapa case has truly become a landmark one as it was the first municipality in Guatemala to organize a community consultation (or plebiscite) with regards to mining activities in its territory. Nearly one hundred percent of the population in Sipakapa rejected the gold mining license given to Montana Exploradora by the Guatemalan Government. “The community consultation is a legal and peaceful process which gathers the population so as to allow them to implement their rights.” Thanks to the example set by Sipakapa in 2005, more than 20 other municipalities nationwide have since organized and carried out mining consultations; all have rejected mining activities in their territories by landslides (please view the photo-essay: Sipakapa’s Legacy). (2)

Nevertheless, Guatemala’s highest judicial power, the Constitutionality Court, deemed the landmark Sipakapa community consultation as legal yet not binding in May 2007. (3)

“The [federal] government protects the company rather than its own people… But the municipality of Sipakapa has a land title for all its territory. Hence, the land negotiations between company and individuals can occur, but such document empowers us above all and allows us to negate the permit… We have begun a legal process through the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) so that our land titles are made valid.” (4)
“This document is the land title of Sipakapa as a whole. It is proven that Sipakapa is the sole owner of its own territory. The political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala declares that all documents issued before 1956 are untouchable. Therefore, both titles available, one written in 1816 and the most recent one of 1918 are very important documents for the inhabitants of Sipakapa and its territory. The State of Guatemala has violated the private property right of all the people of Sipakapa by granting a mining license without previously consulting with the rightful owners.” (5)
Regarding the alternative plan for development proposed by the Civic Committee during its campaign, Delfino Tema explained that despite the problematic municipal budget, they hope to begin the development of alternative projects this first year “but without the use of municipal funds and instead with the aid of foreign or national cooperation and development agencies. We are focused on providing support for our agricultural sector because most of the people in Sipakapa depend on it for a living.”
“We particularly seek to develop a fair-trade coffee brand, as well as the production of peaches and avocado. And, we are hopeful to find a market for our products, whether it is an international market or even industrialize our products at national level.” (6)
One of the first achievements by Delfino Tema’s newly elected municipal council has been the inclusion of residents of Sipakapa in the so-called Miracle Mission. “A health program created and ran by the Venezuelan Government of Hugo Chavez, it offers free eye surgeries of several degrees to low-income Latin Americans throughout the continent.” The first group from Sipakapa, consisting of 26 patients, returned successfully from Venezuelan territory on March 9, 2008. Roughly, 125 more residents of Sipakapa are slated to participate in the Miracle Mission within the next few months. (7)
“For us, development consists in protecting our natural wealth. And in particular, I believe good health is the most precious wealth one can have in the world”, continues Delfino Tema. “What good is it to have lots of money if one has an incurable disease? Even money can not buy another life. Good health is the most precious treasure we can possess. The main goal [these next four years] is to protect our territory and safeguard our health.”

Versión en español aquí.
In Japanese: 日本語で

1 Comisión Pastoral Paz y Ecología (COPAE). “El Comité Cívico toma posesión de la alcaldía de Sipacapa, San Marcos”. El Robre Vigoroso, No. 14. San Marcos, Guatemala. February 6, 2008.
2 Cofiño, Anamaría. “Sipakapa no se vende: El Estado no tiene capacidad para verificar los daños de las mineras”. elPeriodico, Guatemala, June 24, 2006. (http://www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20060624/opinion/29095/)
3 Comisión Pastoral Paz y Ecología (COPAE). “Resolución de la Corte de Constitucionalidad ratifica la legitimidad de la consulta comunitaria”. El Robre Vigoroso, No. 9. San Marcos, Guatemala. June 19, 2007.
4 Interview with Delfino Tema Bautista; Municipal Mayor of Sipakapa, San Marcos, Guatemala. January 19, 2008.
5 Interview with Mario Tema Bautista; Sipakapa, San Marcos, Guatemala. January 20, 2008.
6 Delfino Tema Bautista. Op. Cit.
7 “Mayas Apuestan a Milagro de Venezuela para Ver” (http://www.terra.com/salud/articulo/html/sal4454.htm).