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Guatemala, 06/13/2022


Lic. Alberto Pimentel Mata

Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM) of Guatemala

Ing. Oscar Rafael Pérez Ramírez

Vice-Minister of Sustainable Development of MEM of Guatemala


June 13, 2022

Dear Minister Pimentel and Vice-Minister Pérez:  

We are troubled to learn of the arrest today of two environmental defenders from El Estor, municipality of Izabal, Izabal Department. The PCN (National Civil Police) arrested Cristóbal Pop and Roque Sub Cucul, two Indigenous leaders, accused of assaulting police officers during a demonstration against the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), a subsidiary of the Swiss-Russian consortium Solway Investment Group, in October 2021.

Cristóbal Pop is president of the Fishermen’s Guild of El Estor (Gremial de Pescadores Artesanales). He was one of the first people to report in 2017 that CGN’s El Fénix nickel mine (purchased by Solway from the Canadian company HudBay Minerals in 2011) was contaminating Lake Izabal, threatening fishers’ source of income.   Roque Sub Cucul is an Indigenous leader of the Mayan Q'eqchi' ancestral council in Alta Verapaz Department. The two were captured by police today in Guatemala City after a press conference in which they announced that they would sue the State of Guatemala before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the illegal installation of the El Fénix nickel mine and the criminalization of environmental defenders. They were transferred to the Court Tower of the Judicial Body in Guatemala City. The two men had an arrest warrant issued against them on September 21, 2021 by the Criminal Court of First Instance of the departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal.

We understand that Judge Arteaga López has issued arrest warrants against at least 12 environmental defenders and journalists who protested the mine in October 2021 when security forces violently attacked community residents with beatings and tear gas. The president declared a state of siege, sending more than 800 agents of the National Civilian Police (PNC), the army, the navy, and the air force, who maintained a dusk-to-dawn curfew and controlled roads in and out of El Estor (cf our letter 21 November 2021).

We have been following the developments regarding the resistance to the nickel mine in El Estor since 2009. For the past 15 years, impacted Indigenous communities have reiterated that the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) did not obtain their free, prior, and informed consent 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. The company later carried out a “consultation” but excluded many key actors. Last January, the Guatemalan government restored the operating permit for the mine, which continues operating in defiance of the spirit of the 2019 court ruling.

Because of the El Fénix mine, residents of El Estor have become victims of land grabbing, arson, and repression.  We therefore strongly urge you to:

  • release from detention and drop the criminal charges against Cristóbal Pop and Roque Sub Cucul and the other environmental defenders charged because of their protest in October 2021
  • suspend the company’s mining license and stop all further mining operations promptly
  • initiate a new, transparent and thorough and inclusive consultation process



Brian J. Stefan Szittai           Christine Stonebraker Martínez                 




Lica. María Consuelo Porras Argueta, Attorney General of Guatemala ~ via email

Humberto Matheus, Director General of the Guatemalan Nickel Company (Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, CGN) ~ via email

Alfonso José Quiñónez Lemus, Ambassador of Guatemala to the US ~ email, US mail

Augusto Jordán Rodas Andrade, Prosecutor for Human Rights (PDH) ~ via email

IACHR: Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Rapporteur for Guatemala, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ~ via email and US mail

OACNUDH: Mika Kanervavuori,  Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos  en Guatemala (OACNUDH) ~ via email

Switzerland: Solway Investment Group, Embassy of Switzerland in the US ~ via email

US State Department: Guatemala Desk Officers in Washington, DC:  Bria Mathews, Moises Mendoza ~ vial email

US State Department:  William Popp, US Ambassador to Guatemala, in care of human rights officer Sarahann Yeh ~ via email

US Senators Brown & Portman ~ via email

US Representatives Beatty, Brown, Gibbs, Gonzalez, Johnson, Jordan, Joyce, Kaptur, Latta, Ryan  ~ via email                                    

14 JUN 2022_RightsAction_Guatemala