Article by PBI-Canada
On April 18, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project shared an article on its Facebook page about the refusal of the Russian-Swiss company Solway to suspend operations at its nickel mine in El Estor during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
Eduardo Bin Poou, a Q’eqchi human rights defender and vice president of the Fishermen’s Association of El Estor, Izabal, has been criminalized for his opposition to the mine. PBI-Guatemala accompanies the Human Rights Law Firm (BDH) that has represented Bin Poou in court against this criminalization.
On April 16, Medium reported, “The municipal authorities of El Estor are implementing government measures to prevent and contain the virus. The Q’eqchi population too. But the nickel company’s refusal to suspend operations generated concern and unease for many people in the municipality, including mining workers.”
“Since March 13, with the confirmation of the first positive case of COVID-19 in the country, the workers of the company and their families expressed their concern about having to continue attending the nickel processing plant.”
The article highlights, “Government regulations banned the transportation of all kinds from April 8 to 12, [but] the nickel company used several boatmen to transport workers to the nickel plant. …The company evaded all local controls and transferred workers to the processing plant during the day and night.”
In July 2019, The Guardian reported, “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 favor 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 license for the Fenix mine.”
On April 15, Prensa Comunitaria tweeted, “In #ElEstor the operations of the Nickel Company continued from April 8 to 12, despite the presidential provisions by the #COVID19 that prohibits the circulation of all heavy transport and the provisional suspension by the @CC_Guatemala [constitutional court].”
The Medium article concludes with the comment, “For entrepreneurs Dan and Aleksandr Bronstein and the Solway company, the suspension of the CC [constitutional court] and the pandemic are not enough to stop extractive activity in Guatemala. It is clear that money is above the laws and people’s lives.”
Photo: Open-pit nickel quarry area in El Estor Izabal. Photography Baudilio Choc.