Contentious Guatemala nickel mine ‘ignores coronavirus lockdown’

  • A nickel mine in Guatemala is at the center of fresh allegations of misconduct after it was alleged to have endangered local residents by operating throughout the coronavirus pandemic, despite a government order to close and its license being suspended last year.
  • The mine’s operator, Switzerland-based Solway Investment Group, has denied it is breaking the rules, saying it has been given special permission by ministers to continue operations.
  • The Fenix mine has sparked numerous social conflicts in El Estor going back to the 1960s. Dozens of locals have been arbitrarily detained and at least three killed since 2004.
  • Several legal cases against activists are currently in the courts, as well as complaints against the company lodged by supporters. But the Covid-19 outbreak has also impacted Guatemala’s justice system, meaning a resolution to the cases may be further delayed.

When Cristobal Pop, 41, started fishing in Lake Izabal in eastern Guatemala with his uncle nearly 30 years ago, they always returned to shore with a generous bounty of robalo, tilapia and mojarra. Now, he’s lucky if he can make $7 or $8 dollars a day from his meager catch.

“It’s because of the contamination,” Pop, the president of the Fisherman’s Union of El Estor, said in a phone interview. He and other activists attribute the contamination to a nearby nickel mine. “The fish have migrated and it’s not the same anymore.”

As factories closed and travel decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, contamination and environmental degradation in some parts of the world also slowed. But that hasn’t been the case in El Estor, Guatemala, where residents have sparred with a transnational mining company for more than 15 years.

Instead, residents allege the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), a local subsidiary of Swiss mining company Solway Investment Group, continues operations at the Fenix mine despite a nationwide shut down of unnecessary businesses in March and a court order suspending…

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