women march guatemala

Indigenous Guatemalan women face violent oppression over cement factory

Since 2007, 12 indigenous Kaqchikel communities in Guatemala have been fighting against the construction of an enormous cement factory they say will hurt the local environment, contaminate the water and destroy their flower industry. Like indigenous resistance groups around the world, they faced violent government repression and were placed under a “state of exception” last year which I wrote about here. Under the state of exception the Guatemalan constitution was suspended, and public protests, meetings, and gatherings were prohibited, all enforced by 2,000 police and military personnel.

Now a year later, the state of exception has been lifted, but the military presence remains in San Juan Sacatepequez and surrounding communities. Women are being sexually harassed in their communities, and intimidated on their way in and out of the town. When 1,000 women traveled to Guatemala City to protest the state of exception, they were detained and their bus searched for hours. In another case, a bus of women were stopped and had their photographs taken by Guatemalan National Police.

The San Gabriel cement factory is reported to be the largest in Central America, set to produce millions of tons of cement each year. The project includes permits for silver and gold mining in the region as well, all of which could have a devastating impact on the local environment and the Kaqchikel way of life. When plans to construct the mega-factory were released, the 12 Kaqchikel communities in the region held a referendum and overwhelmingly voted against the project, to no avail.

Since then, the communities have lived under two states of exception and years of violent repression. Seven people have been taken as political prisoners from the conflict, and in 2014, 11 people were killed in an armed conflict incited by cement factory workers. A few of the communities have agreed to stop resisting in exchange for developments projects, but nine of the twelve continue to push back.

In too many parts of the world, the only thing standing between the environment and destruction at the hands of a powerful corporation is a community of indigenous people, climate warriors in the struggle to protect the earth. We owe these communities our lives and our planet, and now more than ever we owe them our solidarity. Let’s start by paying attention, bearing witness to their work, and amplifying their message.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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