Coming Face to Face with the Victims of Mining Oppression

It was an interesting situation, one I don’t often find myself in. A few of my colleagues from Operation Groundswell and I were having dinner with five Mayan Q’eqchi people from the communities of El Estor, Guatemala. I don’t speak Spanish nor do our guests speak English. And yet, there we were, sharing a meal together. Through awkward smiles and broken Spanish (on my part, at least), we exchanged names and warm greetings. We dug into pupusas, burritos, black bean soup while trying to converse through a mix of hand gestures, our translators, and more smiles. As lovely as the encounter was, I wish I had met these wonderful people under very different circumstances…

Angelica, German, Margarita, Maria, and Rosa were not in Toronto as part of some citywide tour or vacation. They were not here to enjoy the culture and sights our city has to offer. No. They are all victims of extreme human rights violations by Canadian company Hudbay Minerals—a company accused of forcibly evicting local indigenous communities in Guatemala. And they were here to give testimony on three precedent-setting civil negligence suits concerning the gang rape of eleven Q’eqchi women, the assassination of community leader Adolfo Ich (Angelica’s husband), and the shooting and paralyzing of German.

They shared their pained experiences with us, explaining their purpose for coming to Canada as just one step in their long and bitter fight for justice. Though a colleague spoke enough Spanish to translate, we really didn’t need an interpreter to feel the grief and sorrow these people had endured and carried everyday in their hearts.

We hear stories of these human rights violations everyday. But that’s all they really are. Stories. Abstractions so removed from our daily life. It’s a harrowing but necessary experience to come face to face with the people behind these stories and to realize that these are not isolated cases taking place in just one small, remote community. From Guatemala to Honduras and beyond, conflicts and violence involving foreign mining companies abound. 

Action needs to come from the Guatemalan government to uphold rule of law and put an end to the poisonous culture of impunity, but also from the Canadian government that allows the actions of these corporations. For instance, the Canadian International Development Agency has established development projects in partnership with the very same mining corporations responsible for these human rights violations as well as environmental degradation.  

As non-profit organization MiningWatch stated, “Aid money is meant to address poverty, not to promote the commercial interests of Canadian mining companies. Nor should it subsidize the obligations of mining companies to provide benefits to affected residents and rehabilitate damaged environments”.

If we are to demand change and action, we must begin at home.

Take action against mining oppression in Guatemala through Amnesty International's Write for Rights campaign and RightsAction.org.

Half the Sky

I just recently finished reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn’s brilliantly written ‘Half the Sky’ and let me tell you right now that that was probably the single most agonizing book I have read to date. You don’t know how many times I had to put it down, weep a little, cuss a lot, and pick it up again just to repeat the process. Called ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”, the book covers the often underreported issues of the sex slave trade, the crippling poverty that the world’s women share a disproportionate amount of (around 70% to be exact), maternal mortality (which takes a woman’s life every minute), and the misogynistic customs and traditions that so terribly degrade women to beneath human status.

To say that the stories presented in the book are horrific would be the greatest understatement ever made, but at the same time, this should not be overshadowed by the fact that the stories also offer a profound, albeit distant, glimmer of hope. Yes, the stories are, at times, excruciatingly graphic, but to see how these women pull themselves out of what may just be the worst conditions known to the human race, is beyond inspiring. Kristof and WuDunn take us on such a raw and real journey connecting us with equally raw and real women from all continents of the world (you can read a few of their stories here). While reading the book, I was taken to the two extremes of the emotional and mental spectrum...from being repulsed by the despicable savagery our world's women must endure to being so moved and inspired by their sheer bravery, determination, and resilience.

Honestly, it’s a travesty that women around the world have to suffer these incredible injustices, but what’s even more tragic is that a lot of the people in our priveleged Western world don't really know about it. Okay sure, they (we) may have a vague idea, but it’s this abstract and distant fact that we come to simply accept and forget. I keep urging (pleading, begging) my family and friends to please read this book. But it’s hard because it deals with seriously tough issues and sometimes, it’s easier to just ignore it or sweep these realities under the rug because well, it doesn’t directly affect us...or at least not visibly so. And I totally understand that. The topics discussed in the book aren’t sexy and it’s not exactly the kind of book you want to curl up to at the end of a long day and fall asleep to. But it’s all too important not to read and I just can't stress that enough. If I could shout it out on the rooftops, believe me I would!! Melinda Gates put it best when she described the book as "...both a brutal awakening and an unmistakable call to action".

So please, if you consider yourself even remotely human (which I sincerely hope you do), please, please, read Half the Sky. And once you do, believe me, it will change you...