Inter-American Court of Human Rights rules Guatemala violated Indigenous rights when it permitted Canadian company to develop mine
Facebook post by Maya Q’eqchi’ journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc on the Fishermen’s Guild and Maya Q’eqchi’ Ancestral Council commenting on the IACHR (CIDH) ruling.
Common Dreams reports: “The IACHR found that Guatemala’s government violated the Q’eqchi’s rights to property and consultation when it permitted the Canadian company Hudbay to develop the long-dormant Fenix mine, also known as El Estor, on a mountaintop in the Izabal Department of eastern Guatemala in the 2000s.”
To read the communique (in Spanish) from the Court on this ruling, click here.
The Associated Press also reported: “Guatemala violated Indigenous rights by permitting a huge nickel mine on tribal land almost two decades ago, according to a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Friday [December 15].”
The article adds: “According to a verdict read from Costa Rica in the early hours of the morning, the Guatemalan government violated the rights of the Indigenous Q’eqchi’ people to property and consultation by permitting mining on land where members of the community have lived at least since the 1800s.”
It further highlights: “The court also ordered an immediate stop to all mining activities, gave Guatemala six months to begin awarding a land title to the community, and ordered the creation of a development fund. No further mining can take place, it said, without the community’s consent.”
The Canadian connection
Inco (1960 to 1982)
In 1960, Toronto-based INCO Ltd. began negotiations with the military dictatorship of Guatemala to establish the Fenix mine. By 1965, EXMIBAL, a joint venture between INCO and the Guatemalan state, was granted a 40-year mining licence.
Professor Shin Imai has written: “Colonel Carolos Arana Osorio was responsible for clearing the Indigenous people out of the INCO region in Zacapa-Lake Izabal. He launched what has been referred to as a ‘reign of terror’ in the region, in which the number of people killed is estimated to be between three and six thousand.”
Professor Imai adds: “Major construction began on the El Estor mine in 1974 aided by a $20 million loan from the Canadian Export Development Corporation.”
Skye Resources (2004-2008)
Then in 2004, Vancouver-based Skye Resources bought the Fenix mine from INCO. (INCO was bought by the Brazilian mining company Vale in 2006).
The Canadian Embassy in Guatemala helped Skye Resources acquire a 3-year exploration license for a 259 square kilometre area that encompassed at least 19 Maya Q’eqchi’ settlements, including Lote Ocho. Skye renamed EXMIBAL to the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN).
Then in April 2006, Guatemala granted Skye Resources and CGN a license that allowed them to start mining. By September 2006, 300 Maya Q’eqchi’ families moved onto company-claimed land stating that it had been stolen from them 40 years prior.
In 2008, Skye Resources merged with Toronto-based Hudbay.
Between 2007 and 2009, personnel from the mine along with the police and military violently expelled members of the community of Lote Ocho from their homes. During an expulsion in 2007, eleven Mayan Q’eqchi’ women were gang-raped.
In 2009, community leader Adolfo Ich was killed, while another community member, German Chub, was shot and paralyzed.
Then in September 2011, the mine was purchased by the Switzerland-based Russian company Solway Investment Group (and its subsidiaries CGN and PRONICO).
Central America Nickel
In April 2023, Newsweek reported that Montreal-based Central America Nickel (CAN) could purchase the mine with the support of the U.S. (and presumably Canadian) embassies in Guatemala.
Criminalization of fishers and Carlos Ernesto Choc
On December 7, PBI-Guatemala posted:
“PBI accompanies the Human Rights Law Firm at the interim hearing in which they were going to decide whether to close the criminalization case against 3 organized fishermen from El Estor and the journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc. The 4 accused were linked to criminal proceedings by four Russian workers of the Fenix project in 2017, owned by CGN – Pronico and Solway.
The hearing was adjourned because Solway’s attorney didn’t show up on time. Although she has already expressed her willingness to step down the criminal process, the hearing was rescheduled for January 31.”
Facebook post by Carlos Ernesto Choc: “Once again my interim hearing was suspended, in the first instance criminal court, Puerto Barrios, Izabal and was rescheduled for January 31, 2024, this criminal process began in August 2017. False accusations by the mining company CGN-Pronico of Solway Investment Group, for documenting the pollution of Lake Izabal and the murder of fisherman Carlos Maaz, on May 27, 2027.”
For more on this, please read: PBI-Guatemala accompanies BDH lawyers at hearing for Maya Q’eqchi’ journalist and three fishers in Fenix mine case.
We met with Carlos in May in Guatemala City and interviewed him on our webinar in August. We are attentive to his January 31 court date.
We continue to follow with concern.