The El Estor mine (located in El Estor, Izabal, four miles away from the Sister Parish community Chichipate) is the largest nickel mine in Guatemala. The mine is operated by Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel S.A., a Guatemalan subsidiary historically owned by Canadian transnational mining companies, but more recently sold to a Russian company. The mine began operations in the 1960s without the consent of local indigenous communities. Over the years, local communities have had conflicts with the mine over land disputes, violent evictions and repression, environmental pollution, and employment issues.
The mining company was originally granted a 40-year contract by the Guatemalan government and upon entrance, confiscated ancestral lands of the Maya Q’eqchi’ people and denied access to public lands on which local community members had tried to settle. The mine was linked to and benefitted from massacres, evictions, and assassinations carried out in the area during the war in Guatemala until it shut down in 1982. Now, the surrounding communities have an unclear legal claim to their ancestral lands, for which many never had land titles. People are prohibited from buying or settling lands that the local population never agreed could be mined.
Since the mining companies announced renewed interest in re-opening, the mine has once again been a contested site. In 2006, the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, ruled that Guatemala had breached international law by granting the Fenix mining concession without first consulting with local Mayan people.
On September 27, 2009, local leader and teacher Adolfo Ich Chaman was brutally murdered. The locals say that the mine’s private security guards murdered him. On the same day, community member German Chub Choc was shot, also by a member of the mine’s security forces. In 2011, 11 local women filed a case against mining and state security forces accusing them of rape during a 2007 forced eviction in the community of Lote 8. The mine denies any responsibility in all three cases. Charges have been filed in Guatemalan and Canadian courts as the victims and their families seek justice. (See Choc versus Hudbay website for more information about the cases filed in Canada).
Along with these three cases there are numerous other reports of injustices committed by the mining company. Since mining operations renewed, the local communities have noticed a shift in crop reproduction and pollution. This year, fisherman denounced pollution in Lake Izabal and the Río Dulce that they fear will affect the fish populations and their livelihood. Local communities have also expressed concern about contaminated drinking water sources.