Alex Escobar visits Chicago!

Holding signs say "#Si a la Vida," "#No a la Mineria," "JODVID," and "Topacio Vive," students in Susana Martinez' class at DePaul University pose for a photo with Alex Escobar of JODVID (Organized Youth in Defense of Life) after hearing him speak about the group's work to close Tahoe Resources Escobal Silver Mine as part of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)'s Fall Speaking Tour. Click here to sign NISGUA's petition to Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who has lobbied the State Department to support the mine.

We can never know the impact one human being can have on the actions of others. The story of JODVID begins in response to the 2014 murder of 16-year-old Topacio Reynoso, a young artist and activist who, with her parents, participated in a community protest to resist the operation of Tahoe Resources Escobal Silver Mine located east of San Rafael las Flores in Santa Rosa Department, Guatemala. Topacio was shot while getting into a car after the demonstration with her father, who was also severely injured; the murder has never been investigated. Her father was the victim of an assassination attempt again the next year.

In response, her friends joined together to continue Topacio's environmental work and resistance to the Escobal mine through the youth organization, JODVID. They utilize her artwork in their environmental education sessions in their communities and in their protests against the mine. She inspires them to spread their work to other communities in Guatemala, doing workshops and conferences to inform people about the environmental consequences of mining and deforestation, and motivating others to resist the location of mines in their communities.

The Escobal mine is the third largest silver mine in the world. It was constructed right in the middle of fertile farmland and land for grazing cattle. While many in Guatemala struggle to bring in enough income from small-scale farming to subsist, the communities surrounding the mine had  sustainable farms. They are now threatened with water shortages, because the mine diverts enormous quantities of water for its mining processes. Alex described springs and underground streams turning to dust and rock. Also, the mine contaminates water by the process used to separate the metallic ore from the rock, and it is released into streams. Cattle and people downstream have become sick from drinking from this source.

Alex enumerated the ways in which the local community has tried to stop the mine and the ways the mine company has retaliated against them. Community leaders organized referenda to determine whether people wanted the mine in their community--98% voted no. The community of Casillas constructed a peaceful road block to prevent mining company vehicles or gasoline trucks supplying the mine's generators from going to the mine site, allowing all other traffic to pass through. The mine needs generators to operate, because no community will give them access to municipal electricity, another indication of opposition to the mine. The mine company has criminalized the protesters by saying false things about them in the press, by calling the Guatemalan National Police to violently disperse the protesters with guns and batons. Nevertheless, people keep up the protests and road blocks.

The mine did not consult with the local Xinca indigenous community before beginning its construction; therefore, CALAS (Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action) brought a lawsuit against it. The Guatemalan Supreme Court ruled against the mine and ordered it to suspend operations last summer, but then reversed its decision in September. It lifted the suspension on mining for the time being and ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mines to conduct a consultation with the Xinca communitiy within a certain geographical distance of the mine, ignoring the results of the many community referenda that had already taken place. Depending on the result of the consultation ordered by the Supreme Court, one side or the other is likely to appeal the case to the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the Guatemalan judicial system.

While in Chicago, Alex spoke to 3 classrooms of students at DePaul University, to a meeting open to students and the public at North Park University in the Albany Park neighborhood, and at a public event at University Church in Hyde Park. Jerome McDonnell, host of WBEZ's "Worldview" program, interviewed him, and the program will air sometime in the next couple of weeks.  We'll keep CRLN members informed about the date.  

In the meantime, please add your name to NISGUA's petition to Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, asking him to publicly rescind his letter lobbying the State Department on behalf of the mine and act against further human rights abuses committed against communities opposing the mine.

CRLN partnered with NISGUA to bring Alex and NISGUA staff person and translator Becky Kaump to Chicago.