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The After-Graduation Series: Water Rights in Antigua’s Central Park

In Central America, towns are generally organized by a series of parks. This is certainly true for Antigua, Guatemala, where the majority of the town’s activities take place either in or around the central park—it’s a place of coffee drinking, carriage rides, and entrepreneurial six-year-old shoe-shiners, indigenous women selling fabric, young lovers, and herds of cruise-ship passengers. What’s new to Antigua’s central park is a photo-exhibit called “Agua, Rios, y Pueblos,” (Water, Rivers, and Towns) that features stories and photographs on access to clean water (or the lack of) around the world. The themes range from water privatization to dams and general pollution, and Antiguenos can look forward to another month of this exhibit. The exhibit also features documentaries on water rights issues in movie venues around town.

"Agua, Rios, y Pueblos" (Water, Rivers, and Towns) exhibit in Antigua's central park

This past week, I went to a documentary entitled “El Oro o La Vida” (Life for Gold) that was produced and filmed in Guatemala. The film featured testimonials from the community of San Marcos that has been severely affected by a transnational mining corporation and its efforts to remove minerals (and subsequently all forms of life) from a nearby mine. The documentary cited the use of numerous harmful chemicals—sodium cyanide and arsenic to name a couple—that have been employed to further separate the contents of the mine. It should go without saying that these practices are banned in places such as the United States and Canada (where the mining corporation is based), but here in Guatemala all you really need is the right person to bribe to overlook the abysmal regulations that exist. It’s also interesting to note that while the mining corporation makes around $29 million annually, the Guatemalan government only receives 1% of this amount in royalties. Thus, it becomes glaringly evident that this endeavor is benefitting the few while taking the lives and livelihoods of many others.

The uplifting news in this oh-too-common story in developing countries is that over one million indigenous peoples—like the community of San Marcos–have banded together to show the Guatemalan government that they do not want corporations on their land under the current agreements (which is to say, without consent of any community leaders). As for San Marcos, the corporation’s vice-president stated in the film that they will be switching their emphasis from mining to different entrepreneurial endeavors, which although glaringly vague, is presumably a success for the community.

After the documentary, one of the people involved in the making of the film stayed around for a short question and answer. I listened as a group of volunteers acknowledged the realities of this documentary that they themselves had experienced first-hand living in communities near San Marcos. The fact that this exhibit exists in Guatemala’s gem of Antigua, and that all kinds of people are coming to see the exhibit and the documentaries is, to me, very impressive in a country of repressed truths. I’ll continue going to see the documentaries and will update you on the affect that they are making in Antigua.

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.



Posted on: June 24, 2011, 9:30 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , ,

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