By Rebecca Simmons
The images that you see below are of messages from Guatemalan indigenous peoples, many of whom call themselves “human rights defenders”. The people who wrote the messages have endured tremendous hardship. Historic trauma resonates throughout generations from a decades-long internal armed conflict that began in the late 20th century and has been classified as a genocide against the indigenous Guatemalan people; disproportionately affected by the civil war were indigenous women who were raped, murdered, held captive as sex slaves, and in all other ways used as a tactic of war. Unfortunately, impunity reigns and a majority of the leaders responsible for the massacres and forced disappearance of hundreds of thousands of people have not been held accountable.
Today, the trauma that the Guatemalan indigenous people face is compounded by injustices that stem from the corporate greed of companies from the United States, Canada, and several European nations. The goal of these entities is to extract natural resources (nickel, gold, wood, hydropower, petroleum, etc.). Despite Guatemalan legislation that requires companies to obtain written consent from the populations residing in areas from which natural resources are to be extracted, foreign corporate entities often bypass these formalities and displace entire communities in order to initiate mining operations. The corrupt and militaristic Guatemalan government repeatedly condones these initiatives and even provides armed forces to repress and intimidate the communities who oppose this invasion of their territory.
Nevertheless, there are many resilient communities in Guatemala who are resisting. While some are forced to venture north when their homeland is ripped out from under their feet, there are others who continue to live and thrive on the land of their ancestors, all the while peacefully resisting the invasion of transnational corporations. When I visited Guatemala in the summer of 2014 with a delegation from Oregon State University, I had the honor of hearing the stories of these incredible human rights defenders. With heavy hearts and an intention to be cognizant of the privilege that each one of us held, we asked them, “What can we do to help?” Of the several groups that we visited, the response we received again and again was to go back and tell everyone we know about what we heard; to start a wave of the truth of their stories that shatters the silence and demands justice. Furthermore, we were asked to share that despite the many hardships that these communities have faced, they are living rewarding, prosperous lives and intend to continue doing so.
The first five images below are signs that are posted atop a mountain reserved as sacred ground of the Maya K’iche people who are currently up against countless mining contracts threatening to ravage their territory. This land of theirs is as beautiful and serene as one could imagine. The final image was taken at the site of La Puya, where the community peacefully resisted the construction of a Reno, Nevada-based nickel mining operation on their land from 2012 until 2016, when the Guatemalan Supreme Court ruled to suspend all mining operations for lack of prior consultation. The victory of La Puya encourages us that with enough perseverance, resistance can bring about justice.
If you want to learn more about these communities and Guatemalan human rights, you can visit: ghrc-usa.org
 Utz K’aslemal, el Buen Vivir de los Pueblos mayas, 2017