Yolanda Oquelí

Guatemala

Right to the environment.
Frente Norte del Area Metropolitana (FRENAM)- Resistencia La Puya.

She’s one of the voices who fiercely opposed the miner Project Progreso VII Derivada, which attempted to extract gold and silver in the municipalities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. In 2011 she participated in the creation of a protest movement which was later known as Pacific Resistance La Puya – Resistencia Pacífica La Puya, in Spanish– and is today a referent in Guatemala. In 2015 Yolanda visited the Ciutats defensores dels drets humans in order to share this experience.

Her work defending the environment and human rights placed her at extreme risk. In June 2012 was the victim of an attack against her life. Two men who were riding a motorbike stopped next to Yolanda’s vehicle and shot her. She managed to survive, but still has a bullet located very close to her liver and has to live with the idea that the attack remains totally unpunished.

In addition, the activist has been criminalised and involved in several legal procedures. It is not an isolated case. The 2017 report by the Human Rights Prosecutor Office of Guatemala alerts of the serious situation in which defenders of human rights live and warns that “in the last years criminal law has been used unduly to block the work of the people defender of human rights”.

On the past 2nd of January Yolanda decided to leave her country looking for a safe place for her and her family. In Catalonia she remains awaiting her recognition of the right to asylum. And her fight continues. “I learnt that from this side of the world there is a lot to do to report and stop these projects”, she affirms.

» Interview

>Your were the first women to engage on the fight against the project Progreso VII Derivada.
When I participated to the establishment of the Resistencia de La Puya, in 2011, my job was focused on raising awareness, talking to communities, explaining to them the problems that the mine entailed and exposing the central role women had to play in the resistance.
Then women started comming to meetings, and they understood we had to lead the fight. Because the strategy of the enterprise and the government was to send the police to repress us. Soon, police started attacking men, they pushed them, men answered… and were taken to prison. We made women barricades, hand in hand, and for the police it was a crime to touch us. They did, but it was them who fell into committing a crime.
At the national level, La Puya has been the only resistance that has been able to put men behind. In all other fights, the central role played by women has been invisibilised. It’s always men who lead the way, talk and give speeches. Not in La Puya, we have all been there.

>You have said in repeated occasions that being a women has made your work as a Human Rights defender even more difficult.
Yes. Not only do they try to invisibilise you, for women criminalisation and defamation are worse. Many colleagues, just for being women, they are told they are in the fight to find a lover, or because they have nothing else to do, or because they have no shame.

>Which perspectives have you got about the possible continuity of the mine in La Puya?
The fight has been won. From the moment we created the precedent that we would not allow the entry or exit of any car sor machinery to the project, we were already wining. The company has asked for assitance after the sentence of the Supreme Court of Justice, but I belive that, even if they keep trying, the project will not be able to go on.

Communities and resistance in La Puya have received the support of all the fights at a national level. If the company tried to restart the works, all the communities in the country would come.

>How does the Resistancia de La Puya connect with other fights at a national level?
La Puya has become a referent because has mantained a non-violent struggle that they haven’t been able to stop. Sadly, other struggles have fallen to the provocations of the companies and the State. We believe that they are only defending themselves, but when they commit a crime, they are criminalised and imprisoned. This wears you down, and finally, the company and the goverment win. It hasn’t been any easy but La Puya has been able to stand the provocations and criminalisation. In fact, the company and the government have not been able to prove what they ahd made up to criminalise us.

>You are interested in dialoguing with young people.
The stregth to win over impunity and looting is in the young ones. That’s why I am interested in the young students, so they look inside them and become aware of their role in this. So, if they become engineers, chemists or biologists, for instance, they work professionaly and with sensitivity and are not moved by the money multinationals offer.

>Despite the high personal cost you’ve had to pay becuade of your engagement, could you share a positive aspect of your role in the Resistencia de La Puya?
Being alive is already, for me, a victory. Another success is the relevance that has been given to women, having achieved that their fight is more visible and appreciated in my country. Besides, the mining project has been stopped. Every step we’ve taken has been worth it.