Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in the municipality of El Estor, Guatemala have been facing a wave of violent repression by state forces following weeks of peaceful protest of a mining operation threatening their territories, livelihoods and lives. Grassroots International partner Comité de Unidad Campesina/the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC) is calling for international solidarity in demanding that the state of siege imposed by the government be lifted, the illegally detained community members be released, and that process of free, prior and informed consent be respected, in accordance with international law. We will continue to follow the situation and share updates. The following article translated from a piece by ALBA Movimientos provides a helpful overview.
Solidarity with the Struggle of the Q’eqchi’ People
On Sunday, October 24, the president of Guatemala declared a state of siege in the municipality of El Estor after 20 days of a peaceful mobilization organized by Maya Q’eqchi’ communities. With that declaration, agents of the National Civil Police (PNC), the army, the navy and the air force were deployed, which dislodged the demonstration and unleashed a wave of persecution against the communities and the human rights defenders and journalists who accompanied their struggle.
Two years ago, Indigenous authorities and residents of El Estor managed to win an appeal before the Constitutional Court that, given that consultation with Indigenous Peoples was not carried out, ordered the suspension of the mining license of the Fénix mining project, which had been granted by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) to Compañía Guatemalteca de Niquel, CGN-Pronico, a subsidiary of Solway Investment Group, based in Switzerland. The ruling was finalized by the judges a year later (June 2020). However, the government and the mining company did not comply with the ruling and promoted a so-called “pre-consultation” that excluded key players.
On October 4, the Maya Q’eqchi ‘Ancestral Council began a peaceful demonstration to demand that the communities be taken into account in the pre-consultation process on the Fénix mining project of the CGN. The mobilization of the communities in El Estor began on October 4 demanding that the public consultation be complied with, as established in Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), ratified by the Guatemalan state.
In June of this year, the Ministry of Energy and Mines carried out a public consultation, in compliance with the Court’s decision, but they excluded the fishermen’s unions and the Indigenous authorities. The Indigenous authorities also denounce that the Pronico and Mayaniquel companies continue to extract nickel illegally on their territory, contaminating the only source of fresh water in the region and violating the Court’s decision.
With their demonstration, the Maya Q’eqchi ‘communities prevented the passage of mining transport vehicles and effectively paralyzed illegal operations. As soon as the security forces were deployed by the State of Siege, the communities denounced that the mining trucks began to move freely, guarded by the same public force.
Human rights organizations have denounced that the state of siege puts the basic rights of the inhabitants of the area at risk. The decree prohibits any type of public demonstration and establishes that the army will control the municipality and gives it the power to carry out arrests without a prior judicial order. Human rights organizations have already registered raids in dozens of houses of the members of the Ancestral Council who participated in and led the protest, as well as the houses of journalists. They have also denounced several selective arrests. Instead of listening to the just demands of the community, the state opted for the militarization and criminalization of the protest, appealing to the interests of transnational capital.
Human rights organizations have already denounced the illegality of the state of siege before the Constitutional Court of Guatemala and have requested precautionary measures for the communities of El Estor against the actions of the government.
As organizations, popular movements, political, artistic, cultural and human rights defenders from around the world, we stand in solidarity with the communities in just resistance and we demand that the Guatemalan state:
- Cease the repression of the Maya Q’eqchi’ communities and all the social organizations of El Estor, as well as the human rights organizations and the journalists who have accompanied this struggle.
- Lift the illegal and unconstitutional state of siege in the entire affected region.
- Ensure that free, prior and informed consent is respected, which is the obligation of the Guatemalan state, having ratified ILO Convention 169. The systematic breach of the rights of the peoples cannot continue.