From Guatemala to Los Angeles; Transnational Platica on Environmental Justice
On Tuesday, February 2nd East Yard Environmental Justice invited Concepción Santay Gómez to give a presentation regarding megaprojects and human and indigenous rights in Guatemala with a focus on the arrival of hydroelectric dam in his community. He participated in a Toxic Tour throughout the goods movement corridor between East Los Angeles and Long Beach and talked with members of EYCEJ on transnational environmental justice movements.
Concepción Santay Gómez a member of the Alcaldía Indigena of Cotzal, which emerged in 2008, was at the forefront of a pacific resistance movement against the construction of a hydroelectric dam owned by an Italian company. The dam was constructed without the consent of the Ixil communities of Cotzal, which violated the Ixil’s rights. On January 2, 2012, the community placed a blockade on the road leading to the site where a dam would be built. Police and military forces were sent to remove the protesters, but the communities pushed back, keeping the blockade for four months. The dam was eventually built despite the communities’ resistance. Although the dam in Cotzal is one of the largest in the country, approximately 70 percent of Cotzal’s inhabitants do not have access to electricity.Concepción spoke about the current indigenous rights violations in Cotzal.
EYCEJ Toxic Tours take participants to various toxic sites that are adjacent to homes and communities, demonstrating the negative impacts on our local communities (and entire region) in the form of health & quality of life issues. As we drove down the 710 freeway over the ports and refineries near Long Beach, Concepción shares, “It benefits companies but pollutes the environment, the government does not care. They do not live in these places, those living here suffer from the impacts. It is good what you do, it all has it’s results”.
Overlooking Long Beach, executive director mark! Lopez shares with Concepción about the impact the ports have on the air, soil and water, “It is a struggle to live in Los Angeles, we have to re-imagine new forms of survival”.
Later in the afternoon, EYCEJ leaders had the opportunity to have a dialogue with Concepción and Giovanni Batz, a Phd Student at University of Texas at Austin. Giovanni began the talk by providing members context on Guatemala, to provide background information and details that contribute to the battle in Cotzal, such as the Spanish invasion and the politics around the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), that left 200,000 people murdered and/or disappeared.
As Concepción described the details to the organizing efforts for their four month blockade he shared with members, “I need to defend my land, territory, Mother Earth because of her we live. We are risking our lives, even if they tell us we are terrorists, we are conscious of what we do.”
A significant part of this dialogue focused on identifying the connections between Guatemala & LA. Hugo Lugan, EYCEJ Community Organizer, clearly notices, “This reminds me of the 710 meetings, it is about money but invaders are the industries, here and there.” Connecting both struggles was a pivotal moment to not only learn from each others struggles but also stand in solidarity with each other. Javier Hernandez, member of EYCE,J brought up his concerns with the lack of visibility about the fight against megaprojects in Guatemala. Javier shared, “I am Mexican and I am sad to know of these problems, where the government takes advantage of indigenous people. Why does the media not cover what is going on in Guatemala? We hear about the 43 students in Mexico but how about Guatemala? ” making it clear that he notices the lack of attention this fight in Guatemala is receiving from media sources.
Concepción is also a co-founder of the Ixil University, a three-year educational program that seeks to instill Ixil ways of knowing in students, values and respect and defense of their territories and natural resources. He hopes people understand his reality, where they have many worries but are happy for the creation of the Ixil University, the recovery of their culture and language. They are sure they are forming new leaders in their communities. As Giovanni looks across the room, he is glad to see a room full of adults and youth members engaged in this conversation. He shared that we can make change with the energy of our ancestors and the youth.
For more information on Concepción’s work, find his community on Facebook “Alcadias Indigenas Region Ixil’ or email Giovanni at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Photo Credit to Giovanni Batz