Originally published by the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network

Photo credit: NISGUA

On August 13th, the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network will be announcing the winner of the 5th annual Topacio Reynoso Pacheco Award. This award is coordinated by the network and awarded through the collaboration of five other civil society groups across Canada.

The award was created to honor the memory and resistance of Topacio Reynoso Pacheco. At 16 years old, Topacio was an artist, activist, and human rights defender in Mataquescuintla, Jalapa. She was a co-founder of the Mataquescuintla youth movement to resist the Escobal mine, a Canadian mining project. As a leader of the resistance, Topacio used art, music, and poetry to organize a community of youth passionate about the protection of their community and territory.

Peaceful community resistance forced the closure of the Escobal mine in 2017. Shortly after, a decision by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court permanently closed the mine pending the completion of a consultation process with the Indigenous Xinka people. This process was not performed before the construction of the mine in defiance of multiple international humanitarian agreements, including Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

In 2019, Guatemala was amongst the 5 deadliest countries per capita for land defenders, joining its neighbours Honduras and Nicaragua. Indigenous land defenders opposing mines and agribusiness projects are most at risk to the pattern of criminalization and violence that is used to silence opposition. The mining industry remains the most violent industry for land defenders around the world as they raise their voice and peacefully demand justice. Impunity persists for Topacio’s 2014 murder while attacks and intimidation have persisted for her family and wider community. Six years after Topacio’s murder, her community continues to resist the same Canadian mine that threatens the lives and water of the surrounding communities.

The peaceful community resistance to the Escobal mine continues until this day, as mining operations have allegedly continued despite the ruling by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. Land defenders continue to face acts of violence including threats, intimidation, defamation campaigns, and criminalization by local and national authorities for protecting their land and water.

In reaction to these injustices, since 2016, the Topacio Reynoso Pacheco Award has recognized Guatemalan youth groups who use art and music as a means to protect the environment and their communities. Past recipients include AJODER which delivers capacity building workshops and covers local news in resisting communities. Another recipient, Solidarity Festivals, leverages art, social media, traveling and interactive festivals to bring awareness to extractive projects, historical memory, and political prisoners.

The Topacio Reynoso Pacheco Award recognizes the ongoing threats and struggle faced by human rights defenders in Guatemala resisting megaprojects and seeks to support the creative and inspiring work of youth continuing to defend their land. Stay tuned to the Breaking the Silence social media platforms where we will announce the recipients of this year’s award. If you would like to support this initiative or find out more about the case, write to us at PremioTopacio@gmail.com

We would like to thank the following groups for the financial contributions that have made this award possible: BowsXArrows Coffee Roasters, MiningWatch Canada, Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, The United Church of Canada and the United Steelworkers.