International Issues

Maya K’iche’ Reject Resource Exploitation in Guatemala


On a historic day, 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.

Resounding Consultation: K’iche’ People Reject the Exploitation of their Natural Resources

Santa Cruz del Quiché. Quiché, Guatemala.
October 22nd, 2010.
Issues: Mining / Hydroelectric Dams / Community Consultation

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On a historic day, 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.” (1)

October 21st, 16:45. Municipal Capital.

A Mayan ceremony launches the orientation session for the dozens of national and international observers who were to participate in the Community Consultation of Good Faith for the Municipality of Santa Cruz del Quiché regarding the extraction and exploitation of natural goods and resources.
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 the municipal act number 62-2010, official document that ratified the plebiscite. The CPK belongs to the Western People’s Council, or Consejo de Pueblos del Occidente in Spanish. This umbrella organization 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.” (2)

October 22nd, 7:03. Municipal Capital.

The provisions committee gives out simple breakfasts to the observers and organizers while the crowd gathers in front of the central park.

The consultation was carried out in 93 voting centers: 87 rural communities and six urban zones within the municipal capital.

Observers get ready for the long drives out to the rural communities.

A member of the organizing committee displays his satisfaction with the participatory democracy process.

Members from the organizing committee fine tune last minute details before voting is to begin on the 44th community consultation of good faith to take place in Guatemala since 2005.

Unfortunately, the army marked 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.

8:44. El Tabil Village. traveled through a handful of rural communities during the consultation in an attempt to document as many voting procedures as possible. According to members of the 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.

Under 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.

9:10. Cruzche Primero Hamlet.

Just a few kilometers uphill from El Tabil, leaders of Cruzche Primero hamlet were barely beginning the plebiscite procedure under a dense mountainside fog.

An observer from the neighboring Maya Ixil region fills out an official document.

Members of the CPK assure that roughly 32 valid mining exploration licenses exist in the department of Quiché, from which at least three are located within the municipality’s borders of Santa Cruz del Quiché.

9:59. Paxicay Hamlet.

Residents of Paxicay hamlet follow registration procedures before the plebiscite voting takes place.

10:24. Las Cafeteras Hamlet.

Community members from Las Cafeteras hamlet reject unanimously the privatization of water, construction of hydroelectric dams, as well as the extraction of oil and minerals.

“No to mining. No to hydroelectric dams. No to the sale of water. Yes to life.”

11:04. Municipal Capital.

Back in the voting center for Zone 1 of Santa Cruz del Quiché, in between the central park and provincial government building, those present also vote unanimously against the privatization of natural resources and the construction of mega projects.

12:10. Panajxit District.

“Raise a hand whoever is NOT in favor of allowing national and international companies or individuals, be it a person or a corporation, to appropriate and exploit our natural goods like minerals, water, forest, oil, and others, within the municipality of Santa Cruz del Quiché.”


14:56. Municipal Capital.

The provincial government building served as the headquarters for the community consultation of good faith.

Slowly, the results began to arrive for tabulation.

The Moto Taxi Association, better known as tuk-tuks, manifested its support against the exploitation of the municipality’s natural resources.

Members of the Anti-Imperialist Block as well as the Historic Memory and People’s Resistance collectives streamed live footage via and transmitted live audio through an FM channel.

The final results were resounding: 98% of the adults voted; 27,778 rejected the extraction and exploitation of their natural goods and resources, while zero voted in favor. The municipality’s population stands at 62,369, yet more than half are under age.

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.”

To view this photo essay in Flash, click here.
Versión en español aquí.

1 Central Sindical de las Américas (CSA), Confederación Sindical Internacional (CSI) & Movimiento Sindical, Indígena y Campesino Guatemalteco (MISCG). El derecho de consulta de los pueblos indígenas en Guatemala: La ruptura entre el discurso y la práctica. 1996-Marzo 2010. p. 50.

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