On Thursday, January 9, one day after community leaders filed a criminal complaint with a local justice of the peace against the Mayor of San Miguel Ixtahuacán for compelling residents of five Maya communities to perform forced labor, the tribunal decided to send the case to Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice.
One day earlier, on Wednesday, January 8, Maya leaders in the communities adjacent to Guatemala’s largest gold mine, the Marlin Mine, filed charges against their Mayor, Ovidio Joel Domingo Bámaca, for imposing compulsory labor. “I would never have believed that in the year 2014, a municipal government would make Maya communities do forced labor.” said Francisco Bámaca, a 53-year old farmer, who was one of the complainants.
In 2010, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights decreed that the mine, operated by the Canadian transnational Goldcorp, posed a risk to the water supply and ordered the Guatemalan government and the municipality to ensure an adequate supply of uncontaminated water for drinking, domestic and agricultural use. However, the local mayor forced local residents to provide not only free labor but also provide the construction materials out of communal resources, and cover fees to the owners of the properties where the water lines will be installed.
Carlos Loarca, legal advisor to the affected communities, notes: “Historically, the elites and the governments have argued that the progress of indigenous peoples depends upon their providing free labor for social projects. Indigenous communities are obliged to work without any salary because it’s the only way they can get any benefit from the government, but the non-indigenous communities don’t do this work for free, so it’s clearly discriminatory.”