Ana Sandoval hadn’t yet finished high school when she began asking the questions that would lead her to co-found Communities in Peaceful Resistance “La Puya” to oppose a gold mining megaproject in her community. She soon became a leader of an unprecedented movement to defend land and resources, based on non-violent direct action and led by women.
As a student, Ana began to investigate the mining projects around La Choleña, her hometown in Guatemala. Despite the government’s denials, she discovered that mining concessions had been granted for vast areas in the San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc municipalities. Ana and other residents feared the environmental disaster and economic plunder they had seen in neighboring mining communities, so they decided to organize. They demanded that the Progreso VII Derivada mining megaproject, currently run by the US-based mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA), leave their community.
In March of 2012 community members blocked the entrance to the mine. One of the longest-running—and most successful—actions in Guatemala’s rich history of resistance to mining on indigenous and mestiza land had begun. For four years, women, men, and children have organized in shifts to prevent gold mining operations on their lands. Local activists put their lives on the line, with women lying down in the road to block the entry of mining machinery. They’ve been met with violent eviction by the police, smear campaigns, and constant harassment.
Ana, now 23, is a young woman with a strong commitment. “These projects are a time bomb for the communities,” she explains. “We’re trying to stop the destruction and pollution of the environment.” The La Puya Resistance won a huge battle in February 2016 when the country’s Constitutional Court upheld an earlier decision by the Supreme Court of Justice to suspend mining operations at Progreso VII. The goal now is to definitively rescind the operating license. “To definitively close the mine would be a great achievement for us and for Guatemala,” Ana affirms. “It’s part of saving mother nature.”
Even with this victory, Ana realizes that she has a lifetime of struggle ahead. According to a complaint filed by La Puya, despite the permit suspension the company continues to secretly take out gold ore. Also, if the mine is closed, Ana is concerned the media will stop covering the story, and the movement will be more vulnerable without the international spotlight that she believes has saved them from worse repression in the past.
People in the movement understand that their resistance at La Puya is one step down a long road. But that step has already changed lives. Ana is now attending law school. “As a lawyer, I can help the movement, and not only in the case of La Puya. Because this is not a fight that is going to end any time soon. There are more than 20 mining projects planned for the region.”
In the end, all the struggles have the same objective: the defense of life. That is the most important, no matter where we are or what the specific goal of each fight is.”Ana Sandoval