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Guatemalan activist brings international lens to local conference

VANCOUVER - A weekend conference on community engagement hosted a surprise international guest -- Aniseto Lopez, a Guatemalan who flew to Vancouver to attend a Goldcorp annual general meeting on Friday.

He dropped by The Great Turning, An Unconference to be The Change, to talk about the plight of his own community, half a world away.

Approximately 300 participants and presenters at the conference listened raptly as Lopez talked about how Goldcorp's mine in San Miguel, Ixtahuacan is harming his people and land. Afterwards, some came up to thank him, in hesitant Spanish, and apologize for Canada's role in the project.

Goldcorp, a Vancouver-based corporation, is enjoying first-quarter profits that are up 27 per cent from this time last year.

In 2007, The Tyee reported on the local controversy about its Marlin project in Guatemala, and according to reports, Lopez wasn't the only person who brought complaints and concerns to the Goldcorp's shareholders here.

"The company is destroying our lands, our forests, contaminating the water and violating our rights to be consulted," Lopez told The Tyee, through translator Jackie McVicar of Breaking the Silence.

"We want them to suspend their operations, to pay for the damanges that have been done and to leave, to leave us be and leave us alone."

Lopez said he felt "strengthened and empowered" after speaking at the conference, and emphasized the need for international solidarity on environmental issues.

The conference was hosted by Be The Change Earth Alliance, a non-profit society focused on helping individuals make sustainable lifestyle changes, and get involved in their communities.

The "unconference" took a somewhat unorthodox approach. Thirty presenters moved between tables and spoke about various subjects, and then delegates joined in the discussion. Topics included community gardens, oil tankers, the Gateway project, green building, justice and diet.

The idea behind the conference is to have these "circle talks" continue in people's living rooms, said executive director Maureen Jack-LaCroix.

"We're trying to create a citizen engagement program that helps people stay in dialogue...and support each other in changing our behaviours," she said.

"We're taking a psychological approach. This is what I call a mind shift."

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