The Shooting, Survival, Resistance & Dignity of Diodora Antonia Hernandez Cinto (“Dona Maria”)

by Graham Russell, Rights Action

“I bought this plot of land to live on, not to sell it.”

This, Diodora Hernandez (known as Dona Maria) explains, is why two local men tried to assassinate her last year – because she would not sell her plot of land to Canadian mining giant Goldcorp Inc.

(Dona Maria with Javier de Leon, of ADISMI (Association for the Integral Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacan.  All photos: Grahame Russell, February 1, 2011)

On July 7, 2010, two men approached Dona Maria’s home in the evening when it was dark, to ask for a cup of coffee.  As Dona Maria came out carrying the cups of coffee, walking behind her daughter Maria, one of the men came out from behind some bushes, leaned around her daughter, and shot her point blank in the head.

The bullet entered her right eye, and exited by her right ear.  But for a few millimeters, she would have died.  After emergency operations and a long recovery in a hospital in Guatemala City, Dona Maria survived, miraculously, with a prosthetic eye.

Seven months later, she still does not want to sell her land.

Neighboring men – similarily poor, Mayan Mam campesinos – who have jobs in the mine, hate her; they ostracize her.  A number of them publicly wished that she had died, after the shooting.

Amongst the many harms and violations caused directly or indirectly by Goldcorp’s open-pit, cyanide-leaching mine operating here in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, department of San Marcos, Guatemala, the creating of community divisions, hatred and violence is as devastating a result of the imposition of mining as anything else.

After 3 months in the hospital, Dona Maria returned on October 5, 2010, to her home in San Jose Nueva Esperanza, a village slowly being devoured by Goldcorp’s expanding mine.  Since mining began in early 2005, San Jose Nueva Esperanza is one of the most harmed communities, experiencing: cracked houses (due to the massive use of explosives to open the earth and rocks), water shortage and contamination, health harms and community divisions.  Community members who resist company pressures to sell their plots of land are sometimes the targets of threats and violence; some have had criminal charges laid against them for a list of trumped up charges.

Dona Maria appears amazingly well, for a woman who was shot point blank in the head and lost an eye.  However, she suffers on-going harms: her right ear, where the bullet exited, is deaf; she regularly experiences dizziness and fatigue; around her right eye, she experiences sensitivity to the sun and the heat of their cook stove.
(Dona Maria & her daughter Maria)

She cried, explaining how she used to tend to her animals – sheep and goats – and was able to pasture them and keep them together.  Now she gets frustrated and sad, because she is not physically capable of keeping them together – they wander.

She no longer lives in the small house where the attack took place, in the hamlet of Sacmuj.  Rather, she lives with her daughter, grand-daughter and husband in a home closer to the main road, by the mine.  Half of the Sacmuj villagers have sold their plots of land to Goldcorp and gone … she does not know where.  She will not sell either plot of land.

Now, she has a security guard living with her family, full-time, provided by the government.  She lives in a state of constant threat from pro-mining neighbors and the unknown.  She does not know whether she can really trust her armed guard, but has no other options.

Dona Maria explains that the July 7 2010 attempted killing was the culmination of months of threats and acts of aggression committed by company officials or by her neighbors, against her, because she refuses to sell her lots to the company.

(Goldcorp [Montana Exploradora] has bought land all around Dona Maria’s plot of land, and they have encroached on her land.  Through the fence by Dona Maria’s home, the Montana Exploradora company symbol painted on a basketball back board.)

(With her home in the background, to the left, Dona Maria walks her property line, by the fence Goldcorp/ Montana built, separating company land from Dona Maria’s.  Dona Maria explains that they set their property line some 2 meters onto her plot of land.)

(Dona Maria’s grand-daughter stands on a property marker Montana/ Goldcorp stuck on her land.)

Her husband told her something that other men in the community had told him.  These men, who work in the mine, explained that one week before her shooting, a company official told them in a meeting in the mine that there would be less work for them because Goldcorp couldn’t expand the mine further into San Jose Nueva Esperanza because Dona Maria wouldn’t sell her plot of land.

And then one week later: July 7, 2010.  There is no doubt in her mine why she was shot.

In a letter to ADIMSI (Association for the Integral Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacan) and Rights Action, dated July 20, 2010, Goldcorp Inc. acknowledged that the two men detained and questioned about the attack used to or still worked for Goldcorp (and its Guatemalan subsidiary Montana Exploradora):

“I understand that the two men who allegedly committed the assault have been identified and were detained by the police, but were subsequently released.  However, I understand that the men have been ordered to appear before the Ministerio Publico in San Marcos to give statements regarding the incident.  Both the men are residents of San Miguel Ixtahuacan.  One of the two was employed by Montana, but his employment was terminated more than one year ago.  The other man is employed by a contractor that provides underground mine development services to Montana at the Marlin Mine.”

Goldcorp denies any link between the attempted killing and the mine: “There is no connection between the men, the assault, and Montana [Goldcorp] or the Marlin Mine.”

The two men suspected of the killing were released after being questioned and no charges have been filed, as far as I know.  After the assassination attempt, officials from the Attorney General’s office (Ministerio Publico) asked daughter Maria questions about what happened.  They assured Maria that when her mother was healthy enough, they would come and take her statement as well.

To date, there has been no follow-up on this case.  To date, no one has spoken with Dona Maria.  Apparently, the AG’s office has also not spoken with Goldcorp about the two men, though presumably Goldcorp would have information about its former and/or on-going employees.

In Guatemala, over 98% of all criminal cases go completely unaddressed; only 2% even get investigated; only an even tinier percentage get resolved.  Everyone knows that the rule of law in Guatemala does not work; that impunity is the norm.

When Goldcorp did its initial mining feasibility study, the calculated cost of producing gold was set at $130 per ounce.  They concluded that the project would be profitable if gold were selling at $270 per ounce, or more.  Today, gold is selling at $1400 ounce.  Goldcorp is making almost 10 times as much money, per ounce of gold, that it had guess-timated in its wildest dreams.

The shooting of Dona Maria is just one story about the real prices and costs of gold mining in Guatemala; this is the global “development” model at work.

(Grahame Russell works with Rights Action,,


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