Aquatic Protest of Powerlines in Rio Dulce

 

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

October 4, 2013.

Good morning Rio Dulce, Guatemala! It is a hot day today in the Rio hotter than usual. It is also a historical day.

We just came back from the first ever aquatic boat parade here in the Rio protesting against the construction of a new powerline over the river, a project by the TRESCA corporation to provide a enormous power supply to the El Estor mining operation.

 

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

 

El Estor Mine

El Estor mine is one of the largest nickel mines in Guatemala located in El Estor, Department of Lago Izaba, not far from Rio Dulce. The mine has a dark history. It all started in 1960 when a Canadian mining company Inco purchased the open pit nickel mine near El Estor. During the 36-year Civil War in Guatemala, the mining company cuts a corrupt deal with the military to provide „safe operations and security“. The result is somewhere between 3000 and 6000 innocent peasants killed in the region by the military whose chief of operations was nicknamed The Butcher of Zacapa. In 1970 he  is elected president of Guatemala, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio. He promises that if necessary, he will “turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it“. Q’eqchi Mayan farmers are expelled from their land to make space for the mine and the construction of a town to house the miners. Public protest grows. The tension between miners and the local community rises. In the years to follow, murders, gang rapes, and more extraditions of Indigenous Mayans become regular incidents. After the end of the Civil War in 1996, new Peace Accords promise returning of historical Mayan land to the Mayans and restrictions of military and police forces. Still, the conflict in El Estor continue. In 2004 another Canadian company closely related to Inco purchases the mine without consulting the indigenous population. mayan Q’eqchi return to their lands only to be evicted by police again, without a court order. The eviction is accompanied by burning homes and gang rape of Mayan women. Today, the mining company is property of a Russian company, Solwey Investment Group, which bought it from the Canadian one in 2011 and the tensions continue. The same issues remain today: exploiting Mayan land and Guatemalan resources by foreign companies, evicting indigenous populations from their ancestral lands, clashes between miners and locals, between military and civilians.

 

 

*For more about the history of the mine read here, and  here, and watch the short documentary Violent Evictions at El Estor, Guatemala

 

Protest in Rio Dulce

 

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

 

Today about 50 boats of all kinds assembled under the bridge for the first time in the history of Rio Dulce  to protest peacefully against the construction of powerlines for the El Estor mine. Fata Morgana was in the middle of the boat-soup, along with other sailing and power boats, locals and from the international community,dinghies, lanchas and fishermen’s cayucos. The whole thing turned into a huge aquatic party-parade to the sound of „Johnny, la gente esta muy loca“ song.

 

Casa Guatemala Orphanage was represented!

Casa Guatemala Orphanage was represented!

Unfortunately, those opposing the project are doing it for the wrong reasons, it seems to me. It is not an opposition to the mining company and its operations in the region, nor it is in support of the local populations still suffering displacement, injustice, and oppression. The Rio Dulce boaters simply try to protect their beautiful view of the river and the Castillo de San Felipe from getting obstructed by powerlines. And the scariest part for the boaters is the possibility that the powerline clearance will be too low for some masts to pass under. Therefore, some proposed, let them build the lines under the river…

Mira holding a sign:  El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido.

Mira holding a sign:
El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido.

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Inside The Storm

„When in the wind’s eye she refused to go farther and with all her sails aback she slowly forged astern. Back, back, until every watcher’s heart was ready to burst with suspense, back to that fearful maelstrom. Back, to the octopus whose arms were extended to receive the doomed ship and her crew. Back, till in the hollow of a huge wave her stempost struck the sand beneath and the story is told.“

-An account of the 1849 storm and the wreck of the Hanover, by Milton Spinney, son of the keeper.

 

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Imagine you could get to a small Caribbean island, one hundred percent virgin, covered with lush tropical vegetation, bordered by a long stretch of white powdery sand where you can go for walks in the morning and collect pink seashells, surrounded by waters so crystal and fresh you just snorkel all day among purple corals and fish. Imagine you can get there for free and stay for as long as you like to, never having to pay for airplane tickets and hotels. There, you don’t even have to worry about food. The avocado and mango trees are loaded with fruit, lazy lobsters and fat fishes are begging to be fillet and barbecued, and watch out for those big coconuts constantly falling from the palm trees just next to your bare feet. Totally free!

This is what you sign up for when you give up house and job, when you buy a sailboat and load all your belongings and kids aboard, and one fresh April morning you lift anchor, spread the sails, and chose a direction.

This island experience is not some romantic totally unrealistic representation of the cruising family’s journey. We are enjoying such moments since a few months now. The only detail that is not completely true, besides the coconuts falling next to your bare feet (if you want a nice coconut, you have to climb up the palm and get it!), is the „totally free“ part. Everything has a price, especially freedom. And not everyone is willing to afford the price of ‘free travel’. Sometimes this price can be as high as your very life and the life of your children. But you only realize that when you hit your first storm.

August 23

We are tired after a day of sailing and we still haven’t found a protected place to anchor. It is dark when we clear the reef and drop anchor just past the breakers, in sixteen feet of water, not too close to the shore of a small island where we can see the lights of a few houses. Belize City glows in the distance, further west. We are now in Belize.

This isn’t really an anchorage, there are no other boats, and between us and the sea is just a tiny stripe of coral reefs which are calming the waves a bit, but are unable to slow down the south winds. Our plan is to spend a few days here, check out the islands and snorkel around the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. But Neptune had other plans for us.

The next morning we wake up under heavy skies. A black cloud almost touching the sea is getting closer and closer from the south-east and soon a thick and dark wind full of rain descends upon us squealing and roaring and howling. Here comes the crazy old man riding upon the storm like a demon coming from the deep, mighty and furious. Lightnings slit the darkness around us followed by terrific explosions. We no longer see the shores of the island, we see nothing. The GPS says we are dragging anchor and fast. We turn on the motors and try to keep the boat from crashing into the reefs or to shore, but we have no idea which direction to turn, plus the wind is way stronger than the engines to be able to turn. Total chaos.

Good thing we dropped anchor away from the reefs and the shore and we had enough space to ‘drag safely’ for an entire mile. After some time, I have no idea how long the squall lasted, the wind calms down a bit, giving us enough time to reanchor and let out 300 feet of chain. Then it hits again. This time we don’t drag. We take GPS position every half an hour. The storm like a vulture circles above us and assaults us many times in the next couple of days and nights. Each squall is worst than the previous with winds of 40, then 50, then 60 miles per hour. But the boat takes it. We even get used to it and start playing cards.

On the third day looks like the worst has passed. The sky is still grey, the wind is still blowing hard but steady and the sea is rough, but no more squalls. Our wind-vane which anyway wasn’t working is missing and we are exhausted, but everything else is fine. It could be a lot worst. We could have been at sea and not at anchor, what would we have done then? Probably, for the experienced sailor, this would have seamed just a swirl of clouds. To us it was a hurricane. Later we found out that it was tropical storm Erin.

Time to sail the hell away from here, forget about snorkeling and visiting Belize, we now just want to get to Guatemala as soon as possible. Thus, we never set foot on Belize land, nor in Belize waters, we never met a single Belizean man or animal, although technically we spent a few days in Belize. Our memory of this country is populated by the terrible sounds of the storm. And the story is told.

 

Inside The Storm

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