The road between the Guatemalan towns of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Quetzaltenango is guarded by a dozen thin, young, Mayan men in baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts, who mill around a truck parked across the road. “If you are from the mine,” the ringleader says, “you can’t come through.”
A mile or so away, the land falls away into a dust bowl, picked at by heavy machinery – the Marlin gold mine. All along the road, orange cliffs have collapsed onto the tarmac and the air is heavy with the stink of burnt clutches from the trucks that labour up the slope through the mountains, around 50km from Guatemala’s border with Mexico. The volcanic peaks are swaddled in gunsmoke drifts of cloud and patrolled by vultures; scattered settlements of adobe houses overlook a deep green patchwork of maize and coffee fields laid out across the ghosts of old Mayan terraces.
The Mayan Mam village of Agel hangs precariously over the edge of the pit. Crisanta Pérez’s house on the edge of the settlement clings to a steep slope that runs down to a long, turquoise tailings pond.
An intense, soft-spoken woman, “Doña Crisanta” is the figurehead of a peaceful resistance in San Miguel Ixtahuacán that has formed to protest the mine’s continued presence. Dubbed terrorists and enemies of progress by the state, the Frente de Defensa Miguelense is one of several Mayan-led protest groups across Guatemala that are facing down assassinations, detention and intimidation to stop their land becoming part of a continent-wide rush for resources.
“My family and I have been intimidated and criminalised,” Pérez says. “But I won’t give up. Who is going to do it, if not me?”
Pérez and her fellow community leaders say that the Marlin mine has contaminated the water sources that they use to wash and irrigate their crops and that the subterranean explosions have caused houses to collapse – charges that the mine’s owners, the Canadian firm Goldcorp, deny. Newsweek was shown evidence of skin conditions and severe neurological diseases that local health workers believe are the result of heavy metal poisoning, but, without independent medical assessment, their claims are hard to verify.
For the majority, the economic opportunities that the mine promised never materialised. Many, like the men manning the roadblock, sold their land and bought trucks, hoping to haul for the mine – their vehicles, daubed with religious icons, sit idle by the road. The Mayans’ anger goes deeper than individual grievances, however. The Mam, one of several Mayan nations in Guatemala, make up the majority in San Marcos. They number around 650,000 in the western highlands. On the other side of the mine, another nation, the Sipakapa, are also actively resisting the development. Both groups say that they were never consulted before work began on the pit, that their land was simply taken by a central government that does not represent them. This, they say, marks the continuation of centuries of marginalisation and discrimination – what rights they have won have proved secondary to the demands of commerce.
The Mam and Sipakapa see the mine, the government and private security firms as one entity that work together against them. “They have created a social monopoly. The mine comes to divide us, it causes conflict, psychological trauma, social repression,” says Rolando Cruz, a leader of the Movimiento de Resistencia Sipakapense, a resistance group in nearby San Isídro. “And they did not consult us.”
Téodora Hernandez was shot in the head and left blind in one eye by two men who came to ask her why she would not let a road pass through her land. Francisco Javier Hernandez Peréz, a leading voice opposing the development, was doused in petrol and set alight in 2011 by hooded men who identified themselves as supporters of the mine. His wife, Victoría Yóc, witnessed the attack; her neighbours heard her screaming across the mountains. Others have stories of near misses: Miguel Angél Bámaca, a health worker who has documented cases of suspected poisoning, was shot at in his home.The Mayans’ response has been escalating levels of protest and direct action. They have blocked roads, seized mine equipment and led demonstrations against company activities. Their campaign has been met with startling levels of violence.
Often, the violence is perpetrated by members of their own communities. The limited opportunities that the mine offers have created a powerful incentive for the few beneficiaries – Cruz calls them “traitors” – to crack down on dissent. The brutality has only hardened the resistance’s resolve.
“I’m never going to shut up,” says Victor Vicente Pérez, a Mam community leader. “I know I have the right to speak the truth … The [mineworkers] have tried to intimidate me with rumours that one day soon I’ll disappear, but I know I’m fighting for my rights and I’m willing to die for that.”
Marlin is one of over 100 metal mines currently operating in Guatemala. There are close to 350 active licences for exploration or production, with nearly 600 pending as the government, supported by the international financial institutions, promotes the sector as a way to raise revenues. Only 2% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is based on mining, and the government hopes that the sector may offer a chance at rapid economic growth. Around 75% of the population lives below the poverty line. Infant and child mortality rates are high, and around 50% of children are malnourished.
Jason Larkin: In the footsteps of Harding King
“There is a tree in the middle of Dakhla oasis which, according to some locals, possesses a soul. They call it the tree of Sheikh Adam, and it has stood for centuries at the heart of one million square miles of vast, almost waterless isolation, a space once considered to be amongst the most inhospitable places on the planet. A British scientist and explorer W.J. Harding-King reached this spot in 1909 and declared the tree to be a symbol of everything magical about the desert, “a land where afrits, ghuls, genii and all the other creatures of native superstitions are matters of everyday occurrence; where lost oases and enchanted cities lie in the desert sands.”
A land of lost legends is being slowly turned, house by house, road by road, into the most improbable of solutions to Egypt’s rapidly-escalating population crisis. The Cairo-based government is aiming to turn over three million acres of arid ground into green farmland over the next decade, and provide a home for up to 19 million Egyptians along the way. Nothing less than an entire new valley of life is being scheduled to rise, phoenix-like, from the sand.
It will be the country’s biggest construction project since the pyramids, cost billions of dollars, and according to many scientists, is so bold as to be completely unachievable. Metamorphosing beyond all recognition the ‘untouched’ wilderness of the Western Desert that Dr Harding-King stepped into one hundred years ago, which forms the eastern fringe of the Sahara and spans parts of Egypt, Libya and Sudan. On the centenary of his remarkable expedition, we followed in his footsteps to find a forgotten hinterland in flux.”
A group of warriors from Brazil’s indigenous Ka’apor tribe tracked down illegal loggers in the Amazon, tied them up, stripped them and beat them with sticks.
Photographer Lunae Parracho followed the Ka’apor warriors during their jungle expedition to search for and expel illegal loggers from the Alto Turiacu Indian territory in the Amazon basin.
Tired of what they say is a lack of sufficient government assistance in keeping loggers off their land, the Ka’apor people, who along with four other tribes are the legal inhabitants and caretakers of the territory, have sent their warriors out to expel all loggers they find and set up monitoring camps.
Last year, the Brazilian government said that annual destruction of its Amazon rain forest jumped by 28 percent after four straight years of decline. Based on satellite images, it estimated that 5,843 square kilometres of rain forest were felled in the one-year period ending July 2013.
The Amazon rain forest is considered one of the world’s most important natural defences against global warming because of its capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Rain forest clearing is responsible for about 75 percent of Brazil’s emissions, as vegetation is burned and felled trees rot. Such activity releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide gas.
Photos: Lunae Parracho/Reuters
"When he first came to us, he wasn’t talking. He was about four years old, but we knew nothing else about him. Occasionally, he’d imitate the other children, but he’d express no thoughts of his own. He couldn’t tell us anything about his home, his family, or where he came from. To make matters worse, aid workers had further confused him by suggesting hometowns to him— which he had readily agreed to. So we started with a completely blank slate. We drew a house on a piece of paper, and we said: ‘Is this your home?’ And he said: ‘No! You forgot the gate!’ So we drew a gate. And he said: ‘But you forgot the tree!’ So we drew a tree.
Piece by piece, day by day, we filled in a picture of his home. He was still very reserved and traumatized, so the process took over a month. But we met in the safety of my office every day, and we figured it out. It was like putting together a puzzle. The saddest moment was when we drew his father. ‘You have to draw him laying down,’ the boy said. ‘I tried to get him to come with me, but he wouldn’t.’
When we eventually used the drawings to identify the boy’s hometown and find his mother, she confirmed our fears. The boy had disappeared after seeing his father get shot.”
(Juba, South Sudan)
I found her crushing up rocks and loading them onto the back of a truck, for which she got paid just a few dollars a day. But she also told me she was enrolled in school, and had high ambitions. “Maybe I’ll be President,” she said, laughing."What would you do if you were?" I asked.
"I’d take all the children off the street, bring them somewhere, and teach them," she said. Afterwards, she wrote down her name and email, so I could send her the picture.
Her name was ‘Innocent Gift.’
(Juba, South Sudan)