Where Peace is War: Indigenous Resistance to Resource Imperialism in Guatemala
In her acceptance speech for the 2004 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture, Arundhati Roy writes that “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Later on, in her speech, Roy poses several questions to her audience, asking, “What does peace mean in this savage, corporatized, militarized world? What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? Lastly, she asks, “What does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources and for whom everyday life is a grim battle for water, shelter, survival and, above all, some semblance of dignity? For them, peace is war.” As I drove through Guatemala’s many geographically diverse regions I found myself ruminating over Roy’s quote and how poignantly relevant it is for the country’s indigenous communities.
With Indigenous peoples accounting for five per cent of the Earth’s population, it is predicted that over half of the world’s remaining mineral resources lay beneath lands and territories they inhabit. Rather than reap the rewards of their geographic prosperity, for Indigenous peoples in resource regions in Guatemala and around the world, the presence of foreign mining companies presages the passage of peace to war. Although this war plays out in various arenas; from corporate boardrooms, to remote indigenous territories and Canadian courtrooms, it is patently obvious that as Canadians it is just as much our waras it is that of Guatemalan indigenous communities. It is war that requires an immediate shift in consciousness from Canadian resource colonialism to equitable, inclusive and real sustainable ‘development.’ We cannot afford to turn a deaf ear any longer for this war has catastrophic consequences so complete and pervasive that if left unchecked will unequivocally threaten the very continuation of our human civilization. Our only hope at combating such an inconceivable outcome is to learn from, and defend cultures in which respect for land and resource conservation is an integral part: a principle poignantly absent from the dominant cultures presiding over our planet. A necessary prerequisite to this a dramatic paradigm shift, whereby Indigenous voices are empowered, amplified and brought to the forefront of decision-making processes in a way that shows respect for their right to complete autonomy and self-determined development.
All that being said, this photo exhibition speaks to the resiliency, bravery and unwavering resolve of indigenous land and human rights defenders in Guatemala in safeguarding their ways of being and for whom peace is war. Defenders who have lost their land, their loved-ones and their sight, yet who remain steadfast and resolute in their conviction that mining runs counter to their collective aspirations and ideals as Indigenous peoples. By recording how resistance has become routinized and the resiliency that this involves, these photos exhibit that even in the face of such unimaginable loss, these courageous leaders have never lost sight of their vision for a better future. A future where economic globalization does not occur at the expense of human rights and fundamentally a future where respect for fellow human-beings, our environment and Mother Earth takes precedence over capitalism’s insatiable demand for profit.