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Qe’qchi - Guatemala

According to Wikipedia, there are about 36 different subgroups of Mayan people, totaling about 7 million people of Mayan decent. The Mayan primarily reside in Guatemala, southern Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. The Maya Q’eqchi represents the fourth largest of the Mayan groups in Guatemala. The Maya Q’eqchi people were once concentrated in what are now the departments of Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. However, because of land displacement, resettlements, persecutions, and migration, the Q’eqchi are the most widely spread of all Mayan people in Guatemala. This spread is likely to increase even more due large-scale “development” projects that cause forced displacement,  such as the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam, the Marlin Mine, and the Fenix Mine project.  

                In 2008, construction of the Santa Rita dam began. The 24-megawatt Santa Rita dam would be located in Guatemala’s Icbolay River. The project has been backed by the World Bank, several European banks, and even the Guatemalan government despite the harm it would cause to its indigenous people.  In fact, construction was approved before the Maya Q’eqchi was even informed of the matter. The construction of the dam would destroy the Q’eqchi’s main source of drinking water and agriculture without giving them any benefit to the electricity. The Maya Q’eqchi have engaged in peaceful protests and blockades in order to get their voices heard. But their efforts have been met with murder, eviction, or imprisonment of the innocent Q’eqchi people. Because of all the controversy the project has caused, its construction is currently on hold.

                In 1998, the Marlin deposit, located in San Marcos Department, was discovered by Montana Exploradora, S.A. and was purchased by Francisco Gold Corporation in 2000. In 2005, the mine was brought into production and then acquired by Canada-based Goldcorp in 2006. Although the mine gave almost 2,000 people a job, it has taken away the homes, lives, and good heath of the indigenous people living in the San Miguel Ixtahuacan area. Many of the people in this area survive on subsistence farming. With the mine in place, some farmers are limited to a smaller area to farm; others have lost their land completely. Many families have been hurt or killed due to their refusal to sell their land to Montana Exploradora. The mine has also brought severe health problems to these communities through the pollution of their rivers with heavy metals and cyanide. In March 2010, the International Labor Organization requested a suspension of the mine project due to the many complaints. Although the government said they would agree to the request, they have yet to stop the project.

                In 1960, the Fenix nickel project, located in El Estor, Izabal Department, became the first nickel resource in eastern Guatemala. It was developed by a Canadian mining company, Inco, and has been owned by Companía Guatemalteca de Níquel, a subsidiary of Canada-based HudBay Minerals since 2008. Maya Q’eqchi communities have organized resistance to the mine because of environmental destruction, forced displacement of families and lack of prior consent and consultation (which is required by international law). Hudbay has responded to the protests with violence. A has court ordered Hudbay to pay $12 million for the assassination of a prominent Mayan community leader, Adolfo Ich Chaman, on September 27, 2009. As of June 2013, the court ruled that HudBay was responsible for the murder of Chaman, the shooting of German Chub, and the sexual assaults of 11 women within the area. While justice seemed to be served, the lawsuits have only caused HudBay and the company’s mine workers to become embittered against the local Q’eqchi communities. Unfortunately, the Fenix Mine project still continues.

IRTF urgent action responses to protect and defend the Q’eqchi people

IRTF’s Rapid Response Network team has sent letters to officials in Guatemala, the US and to international bodies, demanding justice and protection for the political, cultural and land rights of the Q’eqchi communities who are organizing to resist forced displacement and protect their land and water.

Here are some examples:

2009_11_01_NISGUA_Guatemala_letter – Hudbay nickel mine

2011_03_09_UA57_11_Guatemala_letter_3  - Montana Explorada gold mine

2014_10_25_FrontlineDefenders_Guatemala_letter – Santa Rita Dam

2013_12_24_GSP_Guatemala_letter  - Santa Rita Dam