In 2005, the people of San Jose Las Flores realized that workers from some company had arrived in their community and were opening fences between pastures and even cutting barbed wire, and generally snooping around on their land. So they went to ask them what they were up to.
“We’re looking for mines,” they told them.
“Those were all disarmed after the war, years ago” responded the people from the community.
“No, we’re looking for gold mines.”
The community immediately reached out to ask other communities where gold mining had taken place whether it was a good or bad thing, and a neighboring community vehemently warned them against it, sending them videos and short documentaries about the harmful effects on the environment. They quickly began the work of educating the rest of the community so they could stand united in saying that gold mining was not something they were interested in having in their community.
In the meanwhile, the workers had begun to bring in the huge machines that dig massive holes in the earth and were getting set up to go to work without any permits or anything. Some of the community leaders invited them to come visit with them in the city hall. These leaders explained to the man the hazards involved with gold mining until the man was convinced, and he asked their permission to get his equipment so he could pack up his team and leave. The community leaders, glad for the communication, accompanied the man to load up his things and leave.
But the company continued to be stubborn, sending renewed forces of workers, and even showing up at the next community over to tell them that the city council of San Jose Las Flores had given them permission to continue work (much to their disappointment, the constant flow of information between communities kept that lie from going undiscovered). It came to a climax when one day the jefe showed up with three carloads of workers and some very important-looking United Statesian and Canadian men in the neighboring town of Guarjila, and much to their surprise, a crowd of over 500 people were there to meet them at 6 in the morning, blocking the road. The people surrounded the cars and told the men they had to get out of their vehicles and come talk to them.
“We tried negotiating with you people, but we realized that force is the only way you will listen to us. So you and your workers get out of our community, and if you’re ever seen in our hills again I will not be responsible to what our people will do to you!” said the mayor.
And sure enough, the jubilant crowd led the procession and walked the 4 kilometers to escort the caravan out of town. Although the struggle continued, the workers never stepped foot in the community again.
People prayed and fought to keep gold mining out of their community, and as a homage to their faith that God and the virgin had listened to their prayers and would continue to do so, the community carried on their backs a 500 pound porcelain virgin to set atop the hill where the men had been working, so that every year on September 14th the entire community has a huge celebration at the chapel built around her to remember the fact that their prayers were heard, and when the community told the gold miners to get out, they left.
The thing about this community is that they suffered hugely during the war, during resettlement, and in the years following. They suffered for that land, they weren’t about to let some outsider in a nice suit destroy it.
I follow the Keystone XL Pipeline news with a heavy heart, I am so proud of all of those who are on the front lines or in the offices of TransCanada, but still the pipeline creeps forward. The forces opposing the construction of this monstrosity of an economic endeavor are no small beast, but their numbers scarcely reflect the magnitude of the number of those whose lives would be negatively affected by the pipeline’s completion. What would have happened if communities had the kind of ferocity and unanimity to stand up to this invader and say “No! We’ve struggled this land and love it as our mother, we will not let you destroy it!”
Instead, we hope the few will speak for us all.
I was inspired by this story that the mayor of San Jose Las Flores shared with us, given hope by the fact that a group of people saying “No!” were heeded. But at the same time, with a heavy heart I wonder if our passivity and lack of a sense of ‘we’ might lose the battle for us.
for more information about the Keystone XL Pipeline, visit http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/