This Friday, May 20, members of indigenous communities in the Guatemalan municipality of Sacapulas, Quiché department will hold a referendum to express their decisions regarding whether to permit mining and hydroelectric dam projects in their territories. The locally-organized referendum is a grassroots implementation of indigenous communities’ right to be consulted regarding development projects which could affect them, as established by ILO Convention Number 169 and Guatemala’s municipal code. Residents of Sacapulas live in territory where the Guatemalan government has authorized licenses for mining and hydroelectric projects without the free, prior, and informed consent of local communities.
More than 50 community referendums have been held across Guatemala since 2005, with nearly 1,000,000 people participating. These grassroots popular consultations have overwhelmingly resulted in rejection of potentially damaging megaprojects, though Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the community referendums, while legal, are not binding. In recent months activists and community members from across Guatemala have organized to reject a top-down consultation regulation proposal created by the office of the President, about which indigenous peoples’ organizations were not consulted, and which would constitute a major political setback for the broad coalition of indigenous peoples’ organizations which have been involved in the community referendum movement. On April 29, thousands protested against the proposed regulation framework in Guatemala City; see the previous link for a report and photos by NISGUA photojournalist Graham Hunt.
The Sacapulas community consultation will be broadcast live online all day on Friday May 20th. You can also view the following video about the process of organizing the community consultation.