Mar 4, 2011

Communities reject initiative to regulate community referenda

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On February 18 and February 20, two more municipalities in the western department of Quetzaltenango held community referendums on mining.  In the midst of a fierce national debate, will their resounding 'NO' be respected?

With the referedum in San Juan Ostuncalco and the referendum in Olintepeque, Guatemalans have now organized 50 referendums through which participants have voted 'NO' to large-scale development projects carried out in indigenous territory without the local population's input and consent. 

Referendums have gained momentum in recent years as a tool in defending the agency and self-determination of rural communities facing possible displacement, environmental damage and other consequences due to development projects planned for their land. 

Since 2005, over 600,000 people have participated in referendums organized in accordance with Guatemalan and international law, including the International Labor Organization's Convention 169.

The Guatemalan state and transnational companies face increasing pressure to consult and inform local populations on development projects.  Meanwhile, social movements are gaining momentum through the referendum organizing process.  Many from government, private enterprise and international institutions have proposed creating a system for regulating that process.  United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, James Anaya, is among the proponents of some form of regulation.

The government's current proposal, however, has been rejected by multiple community-based organizations that were not included in its development.  Wary that the proposed regulation could be used to delegitimize their struggles, these organizations seek official recognition of the referendums that have already been held (legitimately and according to the law).  They ask that the referendums remain a tool used for and by local communities directly affected by dams, mining and other projects.

The government has set April 10 as the deadline for feedback on the proposal, leaving little time for consultation and consensus-building.  The stakes are high, with pressure mounting on the Marlin mine to suspend operations until a proper consultation and further impact studies can be carried out, a recommendation included in Anaya's final report released today.

For further reading and amazing photography, we share with you photo essays about the referendums in Quetzaltenango and protests at President Alvaro Colom's unveiling of the government regulation proposal.


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