On October 22, during a historic community consultation, residents from the municipality of Santa Cruz del Quiché—one of Guatemala's most important hubs and the birthplace of the Maya K'iche' people—unanimously rejected the exploitation of natural goods and resources, in particular through mining and hydroelectric activities.
"Due to the lack of political will demonstrated by the State of Guatemala in carrying out its obligations to consult the local indigenous populations as stated in various accords, particularly Convention 169 from the International Labor Organization, and faced by the proliferation of licenses to explore and exploit their natural resources without consent, local indigenous peoples have organized themselves and carried out their own community consultations. These plebiscites have fortified their will both in the national and international stages, and strengthen their right to auto determination, land tenure, natural resources, health, and life itself."
A Mayan ceremony launched the orientation session for the dozens of national and international observers who participated in the Community Consultation of Good Faith for the Municipality of Santa Cruz del Quiché. Around 175 observers arrived from numerous countries and municipalities within the Republic in order to validate the process.
Lolita Chávez, coordinator of the K'iche' People's Council (Consejo de Pueblos K'iche's, or CPK, in Spanish), read from Municipal Act Number 62-2010, the official document that ratifies the plebiscite. The CPK belongs to the Western People's Council, an umbrella organization that spans several departments in the Guatemalan western highlands and defines itself as a "space where the original peoples of the region can summon local support for relevant struggles and gather their own representatives with the final purpose of strengthening and articulating efforts in response to common issues that affect local communities."
The consultation was carried out in 93 voting centers: 87 rural communities and 6 urban zones within the municipal capital. Members from the organizing committee fine tuned last-minute details before voting began on the 44th consultation of good faith to take place in Guatemala since 2005.
Unfortunately, the army was a menacing presence during the event in a region where its population still suffers from the repercussions of a very recent and bloody war. According to the report by the Inter-Diocesan Project to Recover the Historic Memory (REMHI), "Guatemala: Never Again," the Guatemalan Armed Forces carried out a genocidal campaign in the department of Quiché during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) by killing thousands of civilians through at least 263 registered massacres.
Under a blazing morning sun, roughly 300 residents of El Tabil, mostly K'iche' Mayans, emphatically and unanimously rejected the appropriation and exploitation of the natural goods and resources in their territory. According to members of CPK, El Tabil hamlet is located within an area already licensed for mining exploration by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), without the consent of local residents.
Community members from Las Cafeteras hamlet also rejected the privatization of water, construction of hydroelectric dams, as well as the extraction of oil and minerals. A hand-painted sign on the road read: "No to mining. No to hydroelectric dams. No to the sale of water. Yes to life."
In the voting center for Zone 1 of Santa Cruz del Quiché, those present voted unanimously against the privatization of natural resources and the construction of mega projects.
The final results were resounding: 98 percent of adults voted and 27,778 people rejected the extraction and exploitation of their natural goods and resources, while zero voted in favor. The municipality's population stands at 62,369. Francisco Osmundo Oxlaj, CPK member, declared: "The natural resources were plundered and forcibly taken from our ancestors. Now it is our turn to stand up and make sure our will, as original peoples, is respected—even at the price of our own lives. The consultation's results speak for themselves. We do not want any special privileges. We just want our mountains, rivers, forests…and no one is going to take them from us."
James Rodríguez is an independent documentary photographer based in Guatemala. His website is www.mimundo.org.