Lines etch across Tomasa Perez Jimenez’s tawny features as her eyes study her floor. The cracked earth contrasts with the party pink of her traditional blouse. Her voice is quiet and steady as she discusses the mine that has been operating on her doorstep for more than a decade.
“In truth, [the mine] has brought a lot of conflict here; it’s brought very many social and environmental conflicts,” says the 54-year-old subsistence farmer.
Jimenez is a Maya-Mam from Tuixcajchis, a village of 1,500 people in the municipality of Comitancillo, which ascends to an elevation of 2,650 metres in the department of San Marcos in northwestern Guatemala.
The Maya-Mam farmers of northwestern Guatemala are descendants of the Maya civilization that flourished from 2000 BC to AD 900. For 2,000 years they have been planting and harvesting indigenous maize, beans, and squash on small plots of land scattered along the sides of the arid Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountains.
Violent colonization and occupation of their land, labour, and resources are nothing new to the Maya-Mam – they have endured it for nearly half a millennium. During successive conquests of Spanish conquistadores and then German landowners, invaders seized the most fertile lands for plantations and forced the men to cut coffee and build roads.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, the Guatemalan government, which has never in more than a century of existence had an Indigenous leader, violently targeted the Maya-Mam and other Indigenous ethnic groups in northwestern Guatemala with acts of genocide. A scorched earth counter-insurgency policy was enacted in the early 1980s, in which villages were razed, women were raped, and men were burned alive inside churches. The four-decade assault on Indigenous peoples during the civil war claimed 200,000 lives.
Today, the international resource extraction industry is the primary force appropriating the ancestral lands of Maya-Mam farmers. Goldcorp is a Vancouver-based corporation that ranks as one of the largest mining companies in the world and has, according to the local population, illegally extracted over 1 million ounces of gold from the Marlin Mine using open-pit technology…