Guatemala: residents protest factory opening

Some 1,000 or more indigenous and campesino Guatemalans demonstrated on July 5 in San Juan SacatepĂ©quez municipality, about 30 km northwest of Guatemala City in Guatemala department, to protest the inauguration of a cement processing plant. According to JosĂ© Tucuy, a member of the leadership group for 12 local communities, the plant will affect 64,000 residents, who are mostly members of the Kaqchikel Mayan group. Protesters said the plant will contaminate the environment and use up scarce water resources. The plant is part of a “mega-project…a highway of several kilometers that will pass through our community, destroying our woods and forcing people to migrate to other places,” another resident, Ramona GarcĂ­a, told reporters. “My family doesn’t eat grey cement, my family eats corn,” the protesters chanted.

Cementos Progreso, the Guatemalan company that owns the plant, said the facility wasn’t open yet. The company was simply holding a Mayan ceremony on July 5 to ask “Mother Earth for permission…to transform primary material and give it other uses,” according to a Cementos Progreso presss release. Tomás Calvo, an indigenous spiritual leader, was to lead the ceremony, with local supporters of the project expected to attend. The company says the plant will employ 2,000 residents.

Local people have been organizing against the plant at least since December 2007, when 12 police agents were injured and 17 campesinos were arrested. One campesino was killed during a protest on June 23, 2008, and 43 were arrested. The 12 communities had held a consultation on the project on May 13, 2007, in which 8,940 people participated; 8,936 voted against the plant. Cementos Progreso is the main company in Grupo Novella, owned by the rightwing Novella family, which is a major donor to the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei. They are closely connected to the Widmann family, the owners of the agribusiness Ingenio Chabil Utzaj S.A., which in 2011 displaced indigenous people in the Polochic Valley in the northeastern department of Alta Verapaz. (Siglo 21, Guatemala, July 5, from EFE; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, July 5; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, July 5, from AP; DesinformĂ©monos, Mexico, July 1)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 7.