2014-11. Mayan Communities use Democracy as a Tool to Safeguard their Territory
Santa Maria Chiquimula, Totonicapán, Guatemala.
October 25-26, 2014.
The ballot reads: “Are you in favor of metal mining exploitation, the installation of geothermal energy generators, construction of hydro-electric projects, installation of energy distribution and telecommunication towers within the territory of the municipality of Santa Maria Chiquimula?” On October 26, 2014, Kiché Mayan members from the highland town in Totonicapan, Guatemala, overwhelmingly voted against these extractive projects: 39,198 voted no, while 300 voted yes.
Members from the Permanent Council for the Defense of Life and Territory from the Kiché Mayan municipality of Santa Maria Chiquimula gather on the eve before the community consultation on extractive and energy industries.
Some may wonder whether a rejection of these projects should be considered a step backwards from the path to progress and development. Santa Maria Chiquimula ranks as one of the most economically desolate municipalities in the country. Yet, the 74th community consultation in Guatemala since 2005 maintains an unequivocal trend in what local Mayan communities view as a preventive measure in the struggle to protect indigenous territories and their cultures from industrial projects.
A girl stands on a plastic crate as she votes during the community consultation on extractive and energy industries in Santa Maria Chiquimula. Votes from minors under 18 are not counted in the final tally, nevertheless, their participation is valued in the Kiche Mayan community as an exercise in democracy.
Juan Carlos Carrillo, secretary for the Permanent Council for the Defense of Life and Territory of Santa Maria Chiquimula, declares: “We are convinced that extractive activities and the imposition of mega-projects by the government are a cause of numerous social ills. The government, working together with national and transnational capital, is attempting to forcibly impose projects that pretend to plunder our territories, generate division amongst our people, and further increase social and economic inequalities. These extractive projects do not bring development here to our communities.”
Panorama of the municipality of Santa Maria Chiquimula from Chuisiguan de Xesaná on the morning of the community consultation on extractive and energy industries. Local officials state that a request has been placed in the Ministry of Energy and Mining for an exploratory mining license on the community’s sacred peak of Ikilaja, the largest mountain seen on the left of the image.
Version en español aquí.