Son of Guatemalan Anti-Mining Leader is Assassinated, 3 Months following Father’s Protest at Goldcorp Inc’s AGM.

October 1, 2009

On May 22, 2009 Arturo Mendez Ortíz, Maya Mam community leader and two-time ex-mayor of the municipality of Colotenango in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, stood before the CEO, board of directors, and shareholders of Goldcorp Inc. to denounce their activities in Guatemala. Over three months later his 19 year-old son, Walter Mendez, was murdered by unknown assailants in what is believed to be a political assassination.

On September 7, 2009 Walter Mendez Velazquez was killed by a bullet in the thorax in Huehuetenango’s public market.

In 2008 Arturo Mendez had received various messages threatening to kill one of his family members if he did not stop his political activism, according to development organization, CEIBA.

Mendez is a long-time champion of community and indigenous rights in the face of foreign extractive industries and mining concessions that have swept indigenous territory in Guatemala. He is known for having organized the popular referenda in Colotenango, pioneering a joint referenda between three municipalities on July 25, 2006. The referenda rejected mining activity in the region, inhabited by mostly Maya Mam indigenous peoples.

“We have come to declare before you, as shareholders and investors in Goldorp, that through a democratic community consultation, more than a half a million people have energetically rejected the presence of Goldcorp in defense of their territory of origin. We ask that you respect our rights, our cultures, our territories, and our referenda,” he stated in Vancouver, Canada at the company’s annual general meeting.

Popular Referenda, known as consultas comunitarias, are a growing form of local defense against mining licenses, with over 30 held in the country. The Guatemalan government and mining companies have refused to recognize them, resulting in one of the largest human rights battles facing Guatemala today. Its conclusions could have repercussions for indigenous peoples everywhere.

The murder of Walter Mendez suggests increasing repression against local leaders over mining conflicts in Guatemala. In San Miguel Ixtahuacán, the area surrounding Goldcorp’s “Marlin” gold and silver open-pit mine, threats and intimidation against local opposition leaders have increased since operations began and community conflict escalated. The company has taken legal action against over 20 local inhabitants.

At press time, police have not identified a suspect and there is no proven connection to Goldcorp. The company has not commented on the event.

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