Graham Hunt

In a press conference on September 1, 2011, members of the Community Development Committee–COCODE–of the municipality of Santa Cruz Chinautla, accompanied by women, men, youth and elders, denounced before the national and international community the degradation of the Chinautla river basin, a situation which they characterize as an eco-ethnocide against the Poqomam Maya People of Guatemala.  Situated downriver from Guatemala City’s largest landfill, Santa Cruz Chinautla was severely affected by tropical storm Agatha, at the end of May, 2010, as well as heavy rainfall at the end of August, 2011. The following is a translation of the Urgent Communication: Emergency in Santa Cruz Chinautla “Eco-Ethnocide.”

Graham Hunt
Santa Cruz Chinautla, September 1, 2011.
The Poqomam People of Santa Cruz Chinautla is currently suffering a situation of disaster provoked by the swelling of the Chinautla river, which has become a river of sewage carrying large cuantities of trash, destroying homes and flooding homes, as well as leaving numerous families without homes, exposed to various infectious illnesses.  We also lament the death of the young girl Adriana López, who was carried away in a current of trash and sewage on Monday, August 22, 2011.

To national and international public opinion we denounce:

1.    That Santa Cruz Chinautla is once again suffering the impact of the rise in the level of the Chinautla river, which has become in the present day a river of sewage owing to the poor administration of the municipalities of Guatemala City, Chinautla and Mixco.
2.    That the poorly-named sanitary municipal landfill has contributed to the pollution of the Chinautla river basin, leaching liquid and solid wastes which are carried by the current of the river during the rainy season.  This situation is aggravated by the disorderly growth of the capital city and the municipality of Mixco, whose residents do not enjoy garbage collection and disposal services and so use the ravines which form part of the river basin as clandestine dumps while the aforementioned municipalities do nothing to intervene.

3.    The collapse of the drainage system in the capital, particularly the western sewers, which has caused large sinkholes in zone 6 and zone 2, has contributed to the disasters that have battered Santa Cruz Chinautla, raising the level of the river and turning it into a river of sewage, causing enormous damage including the loss of homes, property, and lives.

4.    The sand extraction companies which have been authorized by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), have contributed to this disaster, provoking deforestation and the alteration of the walls of the basin.
5.    The Guatemalan state and the municipal authorities have done nothing to prevent these disasters, and in failing to act are responsible for committing an act of discrimination and racism against the Poqomam people, permitting the deterioration of the river basin and its ecosystems via the extraction of sand, the dumping of industrial pollutants and sewage into one of the tributary basins of the Motagua river, which is also condemned by the pollution.

A resident poses within the ruins that remain of his home, situated on the bank of the Chinautla river.  The structure became uninhabitable with the flooding of the river caused by tropical storm Agatha at the end of May, 2010.  In the background can be seen the path of the river at its low point, during the dry season (photograph taken April 2011).
Graham Hunt

In the face of this situation:

1.      We demand that the Guatemalan state and the municipalities of Guatemala, Chinautla and Mixco, in compliance with their constitutional mandate to guarantee the right to life and health of the Poqomam People of Santa Cruz Chinautla, take urgent measures to halt the disaster historically constructed by the deficient administration of the municipality of Guatemala and by the lack of application of the nation’s environmental laws. 

2.      We demand that the Attorney General’s office, in defense of the rights of the citizens affected by these processes and in order that responsibility for the causes of this disaster be established, apply the law and proceed to the reparation of the damages caused.

3.      We demand that the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office act to protect the rights of the people of Santa Cruz Chinautla
4.      We ask that the Guatemalan people extend its solidarity, and we solicit its support in demanding the compliance of the human right to health and a healthy environment, appealing for a cleanup plan for the capital city and the municipality of Chinautla, the closure of the Zone 3 Dump, the repair and maintenance of the capital’s sewers, the construction of a treatment plant for the sewage and plans for the management of the river basins. 

5.    We ask that the national and international media document this situation and make it visible, to raise awareness of the situation faced by the Poqomam People. 

6.    We ask Guatemala’s churches to pray that the authorities carry out their obligations and work for the well-.being of the Poqomam People.
7.    We ask of the international community its observance of the international human rights law violated and disrespected by the Guatemalan state, and that it act in defense of the rights of the Poqomam People.

COCODE of Santa Cruz Chinautla, Poqomam People
Two girls cross the Chinautla river.  The water’s surface is visibly contaminated by a foamy substance, and in the background can be clearly seen the accumulation of trash–plastics, among other elements–in the dry river bed (photograph taken April 2011).
Graham Hunt

Graham Hunt

Graham Hunt

A cultural patrimony of the Poqomam linguistic community and also one of its vital sources of subsistence, the artesanal ceramics industry has been compromised by the perceived deterioration in the quality of the white clay traditionally collected from the bed of the Chinautla river.
Graham Hunt
The following video (in Spanish), produced by the ecological collective MadreSelva, provides a treatment of the problematics of the eco-ethnocide denounced in Santa Cruz Chinautla.