Lica. María Consuelo Porras Argueta, Attorney General of Guatemala
October 11, 2021
Dear Attorney General Porras:
We are dismayed that the Guatemalan National Police (PNC) is intimidating the local Mayan Q’eqchi’ community in El Estor, Izabal Department, which has been organizing opposition to the El Fénix nickel mine for several years. Mining operations are causing contamination of local waterways, namely Lake Izabal.
On October 4, the community established an encampment at the highway exit of El Estor, near the Rio Dulce, to prevent the passage of mining machinery. In the early morning of October 6, hundreds of Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) arrived in the nearby community of Chinebal, El Estor, intending to evict 94 Maya Q’eqchi’ families from their ancestral land. Many families were forced to abandon the blockade encampment and return to Chinebal to defend their community. Eyewitnesses reported that several PNC officers carried high-caliber weapons and threatened to use force against the community if they did not vacate the land within an hour. Fortunately, the forced eviction was suspended after a standoff between the PNC and the community.
The mine is operated by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN); formerly owned by the Canadian company HudBay Minerals, it is now owned by Cyprus-based Solway Investments. The impacted indigenous communities have reiterated over years of opposition that the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) did not obtain free, prior, and informed consent from their communities as required by national and international law (ILO Convention 169, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of 1989). In its ruling in 2019, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala ratified the right to consultation and resolved that the mining company had to suspend its mining activity in the meantime. The mining operations continue in defiance of the court ruling.
On September 27, the Ancestral Council of Maya Q’eqchi’ Authorities filed an appeal against Alberto Pimentel Mata, the Minister of Energy and Mines, for his management and bad faith in the pre-consultation process. Seven days later, local residents set up the blockade to stop the mining machinery.
We believe that the threatened eviction carried out by the PNC on October 6 was an act in retaliation for the community’s persistent opposition to the El Fénix nickel mine. We strongly urge that you
- instruct the Ministry of Energy and Mines to order a suspension of mining activities
- instruct the police and other public officials to respect the right of the local Q’eqchi’ community to organize opposition to the mining operations
Brian J. Stefan Szittai and Christine Stonebraker Martínez