Dawn Marie Paley

Dispatch from Petén: The Spoils of an Undeclared War

Posted in Guatemala, Mining by dawn on 05/07/2012

Here’s a dispatch I prepared after a visit to Peten, Guatemala in March, 2012. It is this month’s cover story for Briarpatch magazine. Check the version on their site for photos by my compa Murray Bush of Flux Photo.

The spoils of an undeclared war: How Guatemala’s ‘War on Drugs’ is being used as a front to clear land for oil companies

I didn’t go to La Libertad, Petén, for the fried chicken. I went because of the war.

That said, for three nights in a row I sat on the same plastic bar stool looking out over the main road through town and ate the best chicken I’d ever tasted. The cook, bills folded into her apron, kept watch over a huge, cast iron pan filled with dozens of legs and breasts frying under a generous portion of oil. Each night I was in La Libertad, I would venture out for fried chicken after dark, when the temperature settled down to a comparatively comfortable 30 degrees. From my spot at an outdoor table, I would sit, eat, and watch.

Everything seemed to happen at once: bikes and mototaxis stopped, started, and turned; women grabbed their children and dodged across the street; buses came and went; trucks blazed through at full speed. Even after dark, amid the traffic, people were selling mangos (ripe or unripe), dictionaries, drinks, and clothes. A group of pharmacy workers in white uniforms were getting off shift. One night, armed park rangers sat a couple of tables away and ate, but police and soldiers, a fixture on the main drag during the day, seemed to disappear after dark.

It feels so normal, I kept thinking to myself. It doesn’t feel like war. And if La Libertad is known for anything these days, it’s war. I expected some kind of tension, perhaps an unofficial curfew, intensive checkpoints, or convoys of SUVs with tinted windows.



Drug War Capitalism

Posted in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indigenous Resistance, Mexico, Mining by dawn on 02/07/2012


Drug War Capitalism is the main research piece I have been working on over the past few months. Click here to read the PDF version.

Dawn Paley probes beneath the surface of the drug war in Colombia and Mexico. She explores the mechanisms employed, reports on the economic and human devastation, analyzes the possible reasons for continuing the war and suggests further areas of inquiry. PDF of an extended edition for the web.

In both the United States and Canada there have been sustained grassroots efforts to spotlight the unjust mass incarceration and criminalization of poor people, and especially poor people of color, for drug-related arrests. But there has been too little analysis about the reasons behind and mechanisms of this war, and its economic impact on Mexico and beyond.

Even before a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan has been achieved, the United States has become involved in a series of intensifying conflicts taking place from Mexico’s north border through Peru. Governments and mainstream media label it a “war on drugs.” It is important to examine how the expanding “war on drugs” connects to the expansion of transnational corporate control over markets, labor and natural resources.

In Honduras, four Indigenous people were shot and killed in May, when Honduran forces opened fire from a U.S. State Department helicopter, all under the supervision of uniformed U.S. agents. In Mexico — under the guidance of the United States, Canada, Israel and Colombia — the police and army are being transformed.

In Colombia, the war has gone on for decades and involved billions of U.S. dollars, but is being rebranded as a fight against crime. Through the 1980s, the Colombian state became increasingly paramilitarized, a process which “manifested itself as threats, bombings, and selective assassinations or collective massacres of government officials (principally but not exclusively from the left), and of popular political leaders, workers, peasants, professors, human rights activists, and members of nongovernmental organziations.”

U.S. assistance to Colombia in the form of anti-narcotics program funding resulted in the strengthening of paramilitary and unofficial police groups, reported to have patrolled alongside the Colombian Army and involved in the vast majority of massacres and forced displacements in the country.

“Saying that the drug war has failed is to not understand something,” remarked Noam Chomsky in a speech this May. “One must ask oneself what is it that the planners have in mind given the amount of evidence that what they are trying to achieve doesn’t work. What are the probable intentions?”(1)

Chomsky’s comments point to an urgent area of research for activists and journalists wishing to understand today’s drug wars. It is increasingly clear that there is more work to be done in order to properly piece together the reasons for U.S.-led militarization in the Americas. (more…)

Potpourri for 200, Alex!

Posted in Guatemala by dawn on 07/05/2012

I’ve been writing a lot since I got back from an incredible reporting trip to Tabasco, Mexico and Peten, Guatemala, so here’s an attempt to catch up on what’s out there.

First off, The Dominion recently republished two pieces of mine, one on Canadian oil companies in Latin America, and another on a Supreme Court decision in Chile that shut down prep work for a mine owned by Goldcorp. I wrote a piece for Watershed Sentinel about tourism in Mesoamerica & struggles against hydro electric projects on the Usumacinta River. Round that out with a couple of blog posts, one about the “charter cities” proposal in Honduras and another critiquing NYT coverage of the increased military role in Honduras.

There’s a bunch more stuff that will be out soon, which I’m very excited about… In the meantime here’s my latest for Upside Down World on Otto Pérez Molina’s position on drugs… All the more relevant given what’s going on right now in Santa Cruz de Barrillas in Huehuetenango.

Guatemala: Decriminalization? Don’t Believe the Hype

Dawn Paley, April 30, 2012

FLORES, PETEN–Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has made headlines around the world for his suggestion that the U.S. led “War on Drugs” has failed, and that other options should be explored. Media fanfare around his position at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia has re-cast the retired hard line general as a progressive, innovative president. But according to analysts who spoke to Upside Down World, the President’s decriminalization plan is a smokescreen for increased militarization, and the rearrangement of Guatemala’s drug trafficking elite.

“My perspective is that [Pérez Molina’s] proposal is a smokescreen, something designed to distract from the confluence of problems of Guatemalan society, and particularly those of the rural peasant farmers,” Maximo Ba Tiul, a Mayan Poqomchi analyst and professor explained to Upside Down World. “What is in dispute is territory, and especially the territory of Indigenous peoples, and so while he’s consolidating his process of control he comes up with this, knowing full well that he can’t fight his friends and colleagues, and that he has no capacity to pressure the United States.” (more…)


Posted in Guatemala, Mining by dawn on 02/10/2008

A selection of my articles from 2003 till June of 2008.


Minerals, Gas and Spin-offs. A look at CIDA’s resource regulation projects in Bolivia. 2006.

Overworked and Underage: Youth and Work in Bolivia In Bolivia, 39% of the population is under 15 years old, and a disproportionate number of children begin working at a young age. What does the future hold for a country with so many young workers? 2004. In italiano.

Searching through the Scraps Beginning in the 15th century silver exploitation of Potosi and continuing to today, women have been involved in intricate and often invisible ways in the Bolivian mining sector. 2004. En français.

Sex workers of the world, Unite! Some people consider the water struggles in Cochabamba as an unprecedented victory for the poor majority against a huge water corporation; and Cochabamba’s sex workers are hoping to position their new union with as much success. 2004.


Engage Yourself: The ‘Emergency Biennale in Chechnya’ A walk through the gallery is well worth an afternoon’s time: more than 60 artists working across media break the silence about Chechnya, and speak to issues like racism, war and occupation; issues that are too often sidelined in contemporary art. 2006.

Salmon Country (with Frédéric Dubois). Farmed salmon is soon to become Chile’s number one export, outpacing copper, long the backbone of the Chilean economy. Atlantic salmon farmed on the Pacific coast of Latin America is a product that has moved from an idea in foreign boardrooms to the dinner tables of the Western world in little over thirty years. 2006.


Temporary Relief from Mining Conflicts in Ecuador, a look at the social and political situation in Ecuador with reference to transnational mining companies. Spring, 2008.


French youth turn up the heat Over the last weeks, France has been rocked by demonstrations led by university and high school students against the First Employment Contract (CPE). 2006.

Power is Young in France Youth, unions sense opportunity in labour law reversal. 2006.

Razor wire and Security forces: A deadly ‘fix’ for EU immigration policy On November 8th, I met Thieye in front of the Spanish Embassy in Berlin, where a group of about fifty people were standing on a cool November afternoon, holding large banners protesting the fences between the Spanish exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco. 2005.


This is what Development looks like. Skye Resources, Land Reoccupation and evictions in Guatemala. 2007.

Turning Down a Gold Mine From the vantage point of the city square, it’s impossible to tell that San Miguel Ixtahuacán is at the centre of Guatemala’s mining boom. A couple of vendors sell chicken, fries and pop, but most of the stands are empty, many of the businesses are closed and broken windows dot the municipal hall. 2007.

Heads They Win, Tails You Lose: Canadian Nickel Companies in Guatemala.The story of Skye Resources in Guatemala is a story that’s been told before, almost to the letter. The dominant narrative is about the wonders of economic development thanks to a large, Canadian owned nickel project. 2008.


Gold, Skin and Bones: Goldcorp’s Adventure in Honduras The great unknowns that accompany mining mega-projects have become known in this region: pollution, contamination and displacement. 2007.


Canada’s Mining Continuum: Resources, Community Resistance and “Development” in Oaxaca. 2008. En castellano.

South Africa

Dreaming big in Cape Town A look at community organizing in Khayelitsha. 2004.

Elections in South Africa Ten years after 1994. 2004.

Only the Poor have Pre Paid Water Meters Nothing is more vital to life than water, and it is here that struggles for access to this basic service are the strongest. 2003.

Women pushed aside as Men seek Power “Throughout the 20th century, the strength of women allowed the fires of the struggle to continue,” says gender rights activist Makoma Lekalakala, “but women’s roles are still considered to be background roles.” 2004.


Everyone Dances in Uruguay: Elections 2004 In the midst of an oversaturation of US politics in North America, a look south, to Uruguay, provides insight into the changing face of Latin American politics, and a renewed hope for change on the continent. 2004.