The Q'eqchi Mayan fishing community of El Estor wants to protect Lake Izabal from illegal mining.
The Mayan Q'eqchi communities of El Estor, Izabal, have filed an appeal against the Energy and Mining Ministry (MEM) of Guatemala, after they illegally granted a mining license in their territory, causing significant environmental problems.
The community argues they weren't consulted about the mine, which is required according to the International Labour Organisation's Convention 169 regarding Indigenous and tribal peoples. The convention establishes that “the peoples concerned shall be consulted whenever consideration is being given to their capacity to alienate their lands or otherwise transmit their rights outside their own community.”
The Fenix mining project is carried out by the Guatemalan Nickel Company of Izabal CGN Pronico. It restarted operations in 2014 when the nickel company was bought by the Swiss Solway Investment Group, after it was abandoned in 1982, along with other projects.
One of the organizations promoting the lawsuit is the Artisanal Fishermen's Guild (GPA) of El Estor, which has been struggling to stop the mine since it restarted operations. They claim the mine's chemicals are polluting the lake, which recently has shown a brown and dirty looking color. They have asked the government to take action, but have only received negative feedback and repression instead.
The murder of fisherman and environmental activist Carlos Maaz Coc on May 27, 2017, represented a significant setback in the negotiation process. The guild decided to organize a peaceful protest by closing the road leading to the mine after, which the government decided to unilaterally abandon the negotiation table. Then, Guatemala's Ministry of Interior ordered the riot police to unblock the road, resulting in a violent day of police repression and the death of Carlos Maaz.
Now, five members of the GPA and journalists Jerson Antonio Xitimul Morales and Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub have arrest warrants against them after being accused by CGN Pronico's employees for their participation during May 2017's protests. The El Estor's Major Rony Mendez had already denounced the guild's members as criminals.
“To our surprise, now the mining company is the plaintiff ... we don't really know what game the company is playing,” said Cristobal Pop, head of the GPA. He's one of the people accused by the miners.
The situation has remained tense since then, and now the community is opening a new legal front line.
Two of the fishermen and Carlos Choc attended the first hearing, but the judge postponed it until April 16.
The appeal against the mine was filed last Feb. 22 by the community with the support of the Environmental and Social Legal Action Center (CALAS), on the grounds that the government didn't consult the Indigenous population and that the mine is polluting the lake.
“This appeal must thrive. There's enough evidence. Not only the people of El Estor are affected, but also other municipalities. This is the largest license the government has granted during the last years,” said lawyer Rafael Maldonado.
Now the commerce and education guilds are supporting the fishermen, as there are growing concerns for the visible pollution of Lake Izabal, the source of life for many of the Mayan Q'eqchi communities surrounding it and also a tourist site.