Today, September 13, nearly a thousand Q’eqchi’ Mayan women and men marched through the town of El Estor and to the headquarters of CGN, Skye Resources Guatemalan subsidiary, protesting the government of Guatemala for having granted the company a license to explore for nickel in an area of nearly 300 km2 inhabited by twenty indigenous communities.
Skye’s Fenix Project hopes to reinitiate mining in the former Exmibal installations and property since acquiring them from Inco in December 2004. To that end it has begun exploratory drilling in property it claims to own, but has encountered resistance because property lines have not been clearly marked to the acceptance of the communities. In other cases, the company has reclaimed lands leased to indigenous villages for their corn crops, and the communities claim that they have been inadequately compensated and left without alternatives for their food security. Furthermore, the drilling has caused erosion runoff that has polluted and damaged several communities’ drinking water supplies, according to the community leaders.
However, the protesters today called on the Guatemalan government to suspend the exploration licence it granted to Skye not only for the problems already encountered with the company, but also because their right to have been informed and consulted about the project prior to the licence being granted was violated. To date, no consultations have been undertaken, and the company itself has begun a campaign to convince the communities of the benefits of their project. The Q’eqchi’ Mayans consider the mining licences to be unpatriotic and racist given that as Guatemalan citizens they do not enjoy the privileges, rights, and contacts granted to the Canadian firm.
The five kilometre long march beginning in the town of El Estor and ending at the mine’s offices took place in 35º C heat and under a fierce sun. Protesters gathered for the march at 3:00 am and temporarily blocked the road between the town and the company’s installations at 5:00 disrupting the company’s shift change at 5:30-6:00. The mine cancelled its operations for the day, and the company’s workers did not have any contact with the protesters. The protest ended at midday.
Approximately 150 police and soldiers along with 15 police vehicles from several neighboring jurisdictions were called in to reinforce Skye’s private security force, although no incidents were reported. To understand the context of this show of force, it should be noted that normally only six police and two vehicles have the security responsibility for the whole El Estor township and its 45,000 inhabitants!
El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala