PBI-Guatemala accompanied Q’eqchi fisherman opposed to now suspended Fenix nickel mine

Published by Brent Patterson on

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On May 7, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project reported in this article that it had accompanied the case of Eduardo Bin Poou, a Q’eqchi human rights defender and vice president of the Fishermen’s Association of El Estor, Izabal, who had been unfairly criminalized by being charged with the crime of trespassing on protected areas.

Human rights defenders in the department of Izabal oppose the open-pit Fenix nickel mine in the municipality of El Estor because it is causing serious environmental damage and irreparable harm to Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s largest freshwater lake.

The mine was first developed by Toronto-based Inco, then owned by Toronto-based Hudbay and Vancouver-based Skye Resources, and is now operated by the Russian-owned Solway Group that is based in Zug, Switzerland.

PBI-Guatemala accompanies Bufete Jurídico de Derechos Humanos (the Human Rights Law Firm) that represented Eduardo in court.

Eduardo was first acquitted on May 3 of the charge of usurpation of land.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA provides the context of this charge against Eduardo: “A ‘protected area’ was created inside an indigenous community and they ended up being thrown out. Eduardo once visited the community to check on their conditions and as a result was charged with illegally occupying the area.”

Eduardo was not freed after that acquittal because of other charges against him.

The GHRC-USA notes, “All the charges [illegal detention, threats and instigation to commit a crime] are related to a protest on May 3-4, 2017 that was organized after representatives of Guatemala’s Natural Resources Ministry did not show up for a meeting scheduled to review contamination charges the fishermen had levied against the CGN nickel mine.”

CGN refers to Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, the Guatemala-based subsidiary of the Russian-owned Solway Group that owns the Fenix mine.

Jackie McVicar comments, “He had been arrested, there were trumped up charges against him, stemming from him denouncing contamination of the lake that was impacting his ability to meekly provide for his family through fishing. He has been in jail ever since.”

On June 15, PBI-Guatemala posted, “Yesterday we accompanied the BDH in the review hearing of the measure of coercion of Eduardo Bin Poou, Vice President of the fishermen’s guild of Izabal. The court of criminal judgment of Izabal decreed substitute measure in favour of the lake defender, granting house arrest and payment of a bail.”

As such, Eduardo was freed from jail!

Now, The Guardian reports, “Guatemala’s constitutional court has upheld a request from indigenous campaigners to suspend operations at one of the largest nickel mines in Central America, in a battle over the facility’s environmental impact.”

“The court found in favour of an appeal brought by campaigners who claim the ministry of energy and mines failed to carry out a full consultation with local people when it decided, in 2016, to extend the licence for the Fenix mine.”

That news report adds, “Solway is appealing against the ruling that it should consult the community. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for 25 July.”


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