A 16-Year-Old Activist’s Murder Highlights the Struggles of Indigenous Peoples to Protect Their Communities From the Greed of the Extractive Industry in Guatemala
Topacio Reynoso was a 16-year-old activist engaged in peaceful resistance to Minera San Rafael S.A., a company aggressively pursuing silver and gold mining in indigenous Guatemalan regions. Since she was 14, she had devoted her life to preserving the purity of her family farm—which grew everything from coffee beans to corn—and the lands surrounding it, all of which risked endangerment if mining chemicals contaminated local rivers.
In 2014, while leaving a community concert at which she performed with her marimba band, Topacio and her father, Alex—another prominent resistance leader, whom Topacio convinced to join the fight—were shot. Alex lay comatose for days. Topacio died hours later.
Their attacker remains unknown, though the official suspects should be manifold. The Guatemalan government failed to investigate the attack seriously, presenting zero suspects despite multiple leads. Even though Alex continues to be a target, he remains unprotected, despite surviving yet another armed attack the following year.
Why is This a Key Case?
Defending one’s land from the encroachment of the mining industry, especially in indigenous regions, places activists’ lives in great and constant peril. Government inaction only augments that peril and empowers the industry, as Topacio’s death illustrates.
The broader goal of this case is to end Guatemalan state impunity against such attacks and ensure that the State finds and holds perpetrators accountable. This in turn will help ensure respect for the rights of the Xinka people that Topacio so bravely fought for.
How is RFKHR supporting the case?
In January 2020, RFKHR and the Parlamento del Pueblo Xinka de Guatemala submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asking that they hold the Guatemalan government responsible for Topacio’s death and for its ongoing failure to protect Alex’s life and integrity.
What is the Status of the Case?
The petition is under initial study by the Commission.