Indigenous Guatemalans win the rights to block Big Mining

Welcome BACK to Climate Weekly! 

Today we are continuing our double-header special editions, featuring Guatemala’s Jody Garcia and Kevin Lunzalu from Kenya.


¡Hola desde Guatemala!

I am Jody García, a journalist from Guatemala City, but I am writing this from Comitancillo, a community near the Southwestern border with México.
Back home, Guatemala City is facing the effects of a huge fire on a city dump.

The fire began last week, and its smoke cloud has since impacted 1.5 million people across 40 municipalities. Just like we saw in the Australian bushfire aftermath, leading health figures have warned of alarming levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulfur oxides.

A day after the university made this statement, doctors at a hospital only 7kms from the garbage dump, reported that their coronavirus patients are getting worse because of the toxic smoke.

According to the Guatemalan authorities, on February 9th, 60% of the fire had been controlled. 

While this is happening, I am also following the stories of the thousands of families that were affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota, which in a combined five weeks destroyed entire communities in Guatemala and Honduras, and turned some towns into lagoons. UNICEF estimates that 4.6 million people in Central America were affected by the two hurricanes.

That was the case in Campur, a town located in northeastern Guatemala, where around 2,000 families were left homeless after the hurricanes. The water level has now dropped and families are returning to their homes. 

Other families are still trapped by the floods, and the Guatemalan government is still only planning its response strategy. 

I am writing this hundreds of kilometres from the places of the tragedy, though all Guatemalans know how vulnerable we are to the effects of climate change. Whether it's floods, or droughts, we have all felt the impacts of climate change over the last few years.

In Comitancillo, San Marcos, where I am while I am writing, relatives of once working farmers, told me their loved ones decided to leave because of droughts, as they have lost hectares of corn crops since 2018. This increases the poverty and extreme poverty that they already face.

Comitancillo, San Marcos, it is a large community in Guatemala from where people migrate due to poverty and droughts. Photo: Jody García

But, among the bad news, there is something good. 

Something historic is about to happen in Guatemala. After 11 years of struggling to stop mining expansion, the Xinka indigenous community will be able to vote whether or not to endorse the operations of Canadian owned Pan American Silver mine.

This happened after the country's Constitutional Court accepted a demand from the Xincas and ordered the government to carry out the consultation.

This historic vote will take place in April, and it will be the first time in the country that the voice of indigenous peoples will be respected in the face of large extractive projects.

This represents progress, as mining companies are beginning to be held accountable for their actions in the country. A month ago, a former mine worker was convicted of having been involved in the murder of an indigenous leader who was against his operations.

As a journalist, I can’t wait to report on the vote, and to investigate how the companies and the State respond to this newly awared recognition for indigenous communities.

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Jambo! I’m Kevin Lunzalu, a freelance journalist from Kenya.

I hope you are enjoying the month of love and that Valentines Day has brought much love and a bit of relief from the harsh reality of today’s world of a pandemic. 

Here, a group of Kenyan environmentalists from the Daima Coalition for Green Spaces took to the streets to demand that our local government show nature some love, and protect 200 indigenous trees that have been earmarked for destruction here in Nairobi. They decorated the trees with love hearts containing messages meant to urge the City government to stop their planned demolition. 

“I am under threat, and so are you!” read one of the moving stickers that were hung on the trees in the quest to advocate for infrastructural development that is socially just and climate smart. The activists are follow humbly in the footsteps of Wangari Maathai, who stood for the protection of urban green spaces, notably the Uhuru Park in Nairobi. 

“Cutting these trees down would mean losing the potential to sequestrate about 56 cubic metres of carbon dioxide,” tweeted the movement coordinator, Elizabeth Wathuti. 

As a resident of Nairobi (Nairobian), such energy and love directed towards the protection of green spaces means a lot. Development of this city has, in the past, been largely at the expense of nature. 

In an article last December, I wrote about how the construction of the Nairobi Expressway has come at the expense of trees and vegetation cover across the city. My hopes remain high that this Valentines Day has reminded the government of Kenya of the vital place these natural parks hold in our hearts. 

That’s it for now. 

How do you like the double-headers? Its a little less from me, but a little more from our journalists.

If you have any questions, comments or want to get involved, email me at chris@climatetracker.org.