The role of a plantón (blockade) in PBI accompanied resistance struggles in Latin America

Published by Brent Patterson on

“We are all La Puya”

There are numerous examples of PBI accompanied human rights defenders having engaged in peaceful non-violent direct action, notably in a plantón (blockade).

This includes:

– The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya in Guatemala set up a blockade of the entrance of the Vancouver-based Radius Gold Inc. El Tambor gold mine. While the police evicted that blockade, a camp has been maintained there for the past eight years.

– The People’s Front in Defence of Land and Water in Mexico maintained a blockade for four years on both sides of the Cuautla River to stop water from the river being diverted by an aqueduct to cool the turbines of the PIM thermoelectric plant.

– The Guapinol defenders in Honduras established a blockade after a company began building an access road to a mine and water from the Guapinol River became muddied. The police expelled that camp and the criminalization of those defenders began.

– The Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission in Colombia supported the blockade of the port of Buenaventura that stopped goods and cargo reaching the terminals. The Commission has linked the expansion of the port to human rights violations.

There are several other examples, including the blockade of the oil field owned by Toronto-based Frontera Energy in the community of San Luis de Palenque in Colombia that led to the jailing and ongoing judicialization of eight social leaders.

It would also include the encampment in 2009 against the Toronto-based Fortuna Silver mine in the Zapotec community of San Jose del Progreso in Mexico. Police used violence to end that blockade, but the resistance continues to this day. A recent highway blockade protested against the proposed expansion of the mine.

Plantón literally translates as a seedling but refers to an obstruction or blockade.

Canadian author Naomi Klein has commented: “Blockadia is a term that was first coined by activists fighting the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas. People tried to stop it with their bodies. And they called their camps Blockadia.”

Klein adds: “Blockadia is really this transnational space, roving space, where regular people [particularly Indigenous peoples] are stepping in where our leaders are failing, and they are trying to stop this era of extreme extraction.”

The human rights organization Global Witness recently highlighted governments should “safeguard the rights of defenders and protesters to free assembly and speech, as well as potential recourse to civil disobedience.”

To the contrary, governments – including in Canada – are proposing and passing legislation that imposes stiff fines and imprisonment against peaceful protest.

At least three of the eleven founders of PBI (including Charles Walker, Lee Stern and Gene Keyes) who were at the meeting in 1981 that established the organization had previously spent time in prison for participating in non-violent direct action.

That meeting included readings of passages by Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was arrested many times for “disturbing the peace”), Mohandas Gandhi, and Leo Tolstoy (who believed the state is intrinsically an institution of violence).

This may be why the PBI founding statement says: “We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action, which no longer can be ignored.”

As we mark our 40th anniversary this year, we reflect on that founding statement and the continuing role of the plantón in the struggle for social justice.

Peaceful Resistance member Yolanda Oquelí urges the riot police not to use violence against the La Puya plantón; May 2014.

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