“In my community we are fighting for our lands and we will protect them until we die.” Margarita Caal Caal explained to the 150+ people who had packed into the Toronto Friends’ House on November 23rd. “I am here to tell you the truth.”
Margarita is one of 11 Mayan Q'eqchi' women from the tiny Guatemalan community of Lote Ocho at the frontlines of the struggle against Hudbay Minerals. The women had traveled to Toronto to be cross-examined as part of the lawsuit they launched against the Canadian mining company in 2010. The suit addresses the gang-rape of 11 women from Lote Ocho by mining company security personnel, police, and military during the forced eviction of their village and families from their ancestral lands on January 17, 2007. The company is also being sued for the murder of community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán and the shooting and paralyzing of German Chub.
Elvira Choc Chub, Margarita Caal Caal, Lucia Caal Chun, Rosa Elbira Coc Ich (and little Aneida). Four of the 11 women from Lote Ocho who were cross-examined by Hudbay's lawyers in Toronto over the past few weeks about the gang rapes and further violence they suffered during an illegal eviction of their community, on their ancestral lands.
These landmark lawsuits launched against Hudbay seemed unlikely for other reasons as well. They are in fact the first cases to hold a Canadian company to account in Canadian courts for violence committed overseas. Historically, Canadian judges have typically sent such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged crimes took place. Communities impacted by Canadian mining around the world as well as the Canadian extractive industry itself are watching these cases closely to see what new precedent will be set. If the claimants are able to find some measure of justice in court that will mark a tide-changing moment in the corporate accountability landscape in Canada.
"13 Brave Giants vs Hudbay Minerals," a painting by Pati Flores.
But any verdict in these cases is still years away. And when the claimants return to their communities they know very well the dangers they will continue to face. “Because of all that happened to me I must look for justice,” Elvira Choc Chub explained. “But because we are seeking justice, the company continues to intimidate and threaten us.” The plaintiffs have documented multiple instances of being threateningly stalked by unidentified men. And in the early hours of September17 2016, shots were fired outside the home of Angélica Choc in El Estor, where she slept with her two children. Bullet marks were found the next morning on the walls of her house, and 12-gauge shotgun and 22-calibre bullet casings were found nearby.
Angelica’s husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, former President of the Community of La Uníon and a respected Mayan Q’eqchi’ community leader, was killed in 2009 due to his leadership role in speaking out about the rights violations caused by Canadian mining in Guatemala. Adolfo was hacked with a machete and shot in the head, allegedly by the private security forces contracted by the mining company. In Choc v Hudbay, Angélica Choc personally sued Hudbay Minerals and its Guatemalan subsidiaries in Canadian courts for the death of her husband. She will undergo a similar process of cross examination in Toronto in early 2018 as the women of Lote Ocho have just done. It is crucial that those of us here in Canada who support their struggle for justice continue to show up in solidarity.
More of the Council of Canadian’s writing about this here.