In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadores ravaged much of Central and South America in search of gold and other precious metals. Today, history may be repeating itself. Indigenous populations are being kicked off their traditional lands by multinational mining corporations in Guatemala, Colombia, and elsewhere. The companies claim that mines will help the economy of developing nations. But as Maria Amuchastegui writes for Canada's This Magazine, 'For the World Bank and the mining industry, development consists of the short-term exploitation of natural resources at the expense of the environment and the local community.'
One of the latest victims of this economic strategy, according to Amuchastegui, is the Q'eqchi' Mayan village of Chichipate, located in eastern Guatemala atop a large deposit of nickel. At the urging of the Canadian mining company Skye Resources, the Guatemalan government has forcibly evicted many of the village's indigenous residents to start construction on a huge nickel mine. Some residents have tried to stop construction, and videos of their forced evictions have shown up on the video website YouTube. Despite such resistance, Amuchastegui reports, Skye Resources plans to open the mine by 2009.
Similar incidents have taken place throughout Latin America. As Avi Chomsky and Cindy Forster report for Cultural Survival Quarterly, the town of Tabaco, Colombia, was largely destroyed by the construction of a coal mine in 2001. The town was home to about 700 people, many of whom belong to the indigenous Wayuu group, before the Colombian national police and army oversaw the town's destruction at the behest of the multinational mining company Cerrej?n. Chomsky and Forster assert that the company used 'increasingly coercive' tactics to force people from their land. 'I have suffered in the flesh everything that has happened,' said one resident. 'They kicked us out of our homes, they mocked us, and violated our rights.'
Today, about 100 of the town's former residents have formed the group Tabaco in Resistance to seek redress from the mining company. The group is asking for a collective relocation of all of Tabaco's residents in order to preserve what is left of their community. The problem is, according to former resident Jos? Julio P?rez, 'Cerrej?n drags out this process until people collapse from exhaustion. People are dying, growing old, giving up under pressure.' P?rez is calling on the international community to pressure Carrej?n to give into the group's requests.
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