Campesinos Announce their Protests to Congress, the President
By J. Revolorio/R. Gonzales
Residents of San Juan Sacatepequez began three days of protests and roadblocks yesterday in defense of their natural resources.
Three days of protest began yesterday when campesinos from San Juan Sacatepequez marched from their municipal seat to the capital city. They spent the night in the Metropolitan University Center to begin their march to Congress and the Presidential House this morning.
The residents' goal is unequivocal. "Our posture is the immediate withdrawal of Cemento Progreso's cement plant in San Juan Sacatepequez", they announced, assuring that this demand is not subject to negotiation.
Domingo Hernandez, from the Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) said today that they will unite with the march being undertaken by campesinos from Huehuetenango who are protesting mining and the installation of hydroelectric plants.
He announced as well that various campesino organizations will block the highways in Cuatro Caminos, Quetzaltenango, Quiche, Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Jalapa and the Costa Sur. "Road blocks are the only way to express that we do not agree with mining and the exploitation of our natural resources", noted Hernandez.
The community leader assured that the costs of food and lodging for the participants are covered by their own communities, and that the CUC has contributed drinking water.
Hernandez added that they would be speaking to the head of the executive branch, as he is the Chief of State, and that they trust that he will give them a satisfactory response.
Protestors demand freedom for their companeros
Among the fears of residents from San Juan Sacatepequez is the damage that dust emanating from the cement plant could cause to their flower farming, which constitutes families' main income. Additionally, they believe that the eucalyptus harvest will be impossible due to the drying up of wells and other water sources. "We are fighting for the land that we will leave to future generations", underscored community leader Mario Nij.
In addition to revoking the construction permission from the cement company, protestors also demand the immediate liberation of four community members who have been imprisoned, one since February of 2007 and the other three since November of that same year. They were captured for participating in protests.
According to Nij, approximately 15,000 people are supporting the protest, all due to their own will. "We demand a dialogue with government authorities. If they don't attend to us, we will stay here until they listen", he stated.
"Last Friday we delivered a written petition demanding such dialogue that was stamped and signed by the Private Secretary of the Presidency. He informed us that we would be received by the President this morning at 11:30 in the Presidential House", he added.
Open to dialogue
The viceminister of Energy and Mines, Alfredo Pokus, lamented that these groups had taken such measures, when the government has always been open to dialogue.
Similarly, the vice-president, Rafael Espada, was surprised by the march due to the fact that they were already in a process of dialogue. He confirmed that contrary to what had been said, a high-level commission would attend to community representatives this Tuesday.
Luis Ferrate, Secretary of the Environment, said that his mission was to comply with agreements reached in the study of environmental impact written by the company.
Eduardo Aguirre, gerente de desarrollo sostenible de la empresa, expreso que respetan a los manifestantes y sus movilizaciones, pero lamento que se haya obligado a la poblacion a estar presente en esa actividad que tuvo efectos negativos en el comercio local. Recalco que el dialogo de parte de la corporacion se ha mantenido. El ano pasado se logro avanzar sustancialmente y fueron tomados en cuenta los temas que plantearon los campesinos, por lo que espera que el proceso sea retomado en busca de la aceptacion y tolerancia entre las partes.
Eduardo Aguirre, manager of sustainable development for the company, expressed that he respected the protesters and their actions, but lamented that the population was obligated to be present in the activity and that their actions had negative effects on local commerce. He stressed that dialogue on behalf of the corporation continues. Last year they achieved substantial advancements and took into account the topics proposed by the campesinos. Thus, he hopes that the process be reinitiated in order to achieve acceptance and tolerance between both sides.