The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya fights for the right to water

The following article about the long-running resistance to the El Tambor gold mine in Guatemala is from May 2019, several months before its inclusion in this website. But given that we have included other articles in the website on La Puya and that gold mining in Central America is a major cause of conflict with local communities, we think that the timeline included in the article is helpful to those who use this website as a source of information and as a research tool. We are grateful to Brent Patterson and to (a Canadian blog site) for their permission to include the article here.

Published: Friday, 03 May 2019

Brent Patterson – RABBLE

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Original article link:

Key words: La Puya, Guatemala; El Tambor gold mine; peaceful resistance; water scarcity; International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID); protective accompaniment; Peace Brigades International (PBI); free trade agreements.

Residents from the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc — an area known as La Puya — have been fighting against the Progreso VII Derivada-El Tambor gold mine located just north of Guatemala City since March 2010.

The Peaceful Resistance of La Puya, which is made up of members from these communities, has stated, “[The environmental impact assessment] shows that the gold and silver are contained in arsenopyrite rock, which contains high levels of arsenic. Levels of arsenic in the water increased considerably during the time the mine was in operation.”

They have also expressed concern about the massive amount of water the mine would use in their water-scarce region.

Their struggle to defend water has seen a blockade of the mine site, repression and criminalization, a win at the Guatemalan Supreme Court, and now a challenge at the Washington, D.C.–based World Bank Group’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

A timeline may be the clearest way to convey the narrative of this struggle:

2010 — Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala S.A (Exmingua) presents its environmental impact assessment for the proposed mine to the Guatemalan government.

March 2, 2012 — Hundreds of community members set up the La Puya encampment, a peaceful blockade at the site of the mine.

June 2012 — An assassination attempt is made on resistance leader Yolanda Oquelí by unknown assailants on her way home from the roadblock.

August 2012 — Vancouver-based mining company Radius Gold sells its shares in Exmingua to the Reno, Nevada–based mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). That said, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) has noted, “The company’s 2013 audited financial statements state that three quarters of the cost of the sale transaction will be paid to Radius once gold shipments commence from the property and that Radius also anticipates quarterly payments from KCA based on gold production.”

November 2012 — Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project begins providing protective accompaniment to the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya.

December 2012 — Security guards hired by Exmingua intimidate journalists at the roadblock.

May 22, 2014 — Hydrogeology expert Robert Moran states that the company’s environmental impact assessment on the mine was the worst he had seen in 42 years of experience.

May 23, 2014 — Hundreds of police used tear gas and flash bombs to remove the women who formed the front line of the resistance at the blockade. PBI-Guatemala Project has noted, “PBI observed a disproportionate use of force by the police during that eviction.”

May 2014 — Nine leaders of the resistance are accused of making threats and assaulting employees at the mine. They were cleared of those charges in March 2015.

July 1, 2014 — Two PBI-Guatemala Project field volunteers who had witnessed the police action are told by Guatemalan officials that they have to leave the country within 10 days.

May 26, 2015 — Two hundred riot police use excessive force to remove members of the resistance when they block vehicles from entering the mine to mark the one-year anniversary of their eviction and a lack of response to their request for a dialogue.

July 15, 2015 — A constitutional court rules against the mine and directs the company to hold community consultations with those who are impacted by the mine. The court orders that the mine stop its operations within 15 days, but the company continues its operations and appeals the ruling.

February 2016 — The Guatemalan Supreme Court rules to provisionally suspend the mining licence due to lack of prior consultation. Operations at the mine are suspended.

May 2018 — KCA submits its notice of intent to file arbitration under the Free Trade Agreement between the Dominican Republic, Central America and the United States (DR-CAFTA). The company cites the community protests and unjust treatment by the state.

December 11, 2018 — KCA files a $300 million claim with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a World Bank arbitration mechanism.

February 1, 2019 — Ten organisations, including the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) and MiningWatch Canada, release a statement in solidarity with the resistance and in opposition to the investment challenge.

This community struggle continues and international solidarity remains an essential component in their fight to fully realize their right to water and respect for community consultation and consent as pre-conditions for investment, as well as the broader campaign against the corporate-friendly investor-rights provisions in ‘free trade’ agreements.

Marlin Mine closes 2017

Statement by FREDEMI and PLURIJUR

FREDEMI – San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front

PLURIJUR – Pluricultural Justice Association of Guatemala
July 4, 2017

Government and company repression feared at community protest against harms and losses caused by Goldcorp’s “Marlin” mine, from 2004-2017

FREDEMI (San Miguel Ixtahuacán Defense Front), representing communities in resistance to Goldcorp’ Marlin mine, and PLURIJUR (Pluricultural Justice Association of Guatemala) denounce that Goldcorp has, after 13 years of operations, left a legacy of health and environmental harms, family and community divisions and violence, against the collective rights and well-being of the Mayan Mam people of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and Mayan Sipakapan people of Sipakapa.

One of the Goldcorp mine entrance blockades
Photo @ FREDEMI, July 1, 2017.

We are happy that as of May 30, 2017, mining operations ended, including the use of explosives that so harmed and terrified our communities and children.  Moreover, the explosives kept on causing structural damages to our homes and buildings.

But, since the suspension of mining, Goldcorp has refused to pay for harms and losses it has caused since 2005, as corroborated by a Verification Commission set up by the Mayor’s office.  In April of this year, we formally presented over 200 personal and community files, documenting the harms and losses.  Three times – April 5, May 11, June 4-5 – we had meetings, and each time Goldcorp refused to accept any responsibility. Thus, on June 26, 2017, we began a peaceful blockade of the entrances to the mine, demanding that the Guatemalan government and Goldcorp engage in serious discussions about how to repair the harms and losses they caused.

We have been subject to threats and acts of intimidation by private security hired by Goldcorp and the National Civilian Police, including an incident when a police officer put his pistol to the head of one of our community members.  We fear a violent reaction in any moment.
We call on national and international solidarity to support us as we protest peacefully in favour of the complete reparation of all harms and losses caused by Goldcorp, from 2004-2017.

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La Puya: celebrating 5 years of peaceful resistance against a Kappes Cassiday & Associates subsidiary

By Amy Porter

July 2017

This article was written especially for the newsletter of the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) and appears in ENCA 70 (July 2017).

 Amy Porter has worked as Amnesty International UK’s Country Coordinator for Guatemala and recently with two NGOs in rural Guatemala. She has spent much time

accompanying the La Puya Peaceful Resistence.

 Key words: gold mining; Guatemala; peaceful resistance; Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); female human rights defenders; police violence; arsenic in water.


On 5 March 2017, members of the Guatemalan community-led, anti-mining movement, Resistencia Pacífica La Puya (Peaceful Resistance of La Puya), celebrated five years of maintaining a 24-hour blockade at the entrance of the Progreso VII Derivada gold mine. The mine is operated by EXMINGUA, a subsidiary of the US-based company, Kappes Cassiday & Associates.


While extractive projects in Guatemala are as controversial as ever within the communities they affect, companies have complained of a moratorium on new licences. The number of licences granted has dropped drastically, from 51 new licences in 2007 (33 for exploration and 18 for extraction), to just five in 2015 (3 for exploration and 2 for extraction).[1] Although discussed by government, a moratorium was never officially adopted, and the current Morales administration declared its opposition to such a measure.[2]


In a report published in January 2017, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) noted that there are currently 24 licences in place for exploration in Guatemala, and 274 for extraction, for mining, oil and natural gas projects. [3] The report mentions only once, in passing, the issue of indigenous community resistance to extractive projects, and blames the industry’s limited contribution to Guatemalan GDP for the lack of new licences.


Founded in 2002, the EITI is facing a crisis of legitimacy, having failed to lend sufficient weight to social and environmental issues.[4] Otto Haroldo Cu, president of the Observatorio Nacional de Transparencia (National Observatory for Transparency) and an advisory member of the EITI, stated in 2015: “the fact that extractives count for less than 2% of the country’s GDP should make us stop and think … 78% of municipalities with active mining licences registered were engaged in some kind of conflict in 2010. Is this an adequate trade-off? Is this the kind of development that we want for our country?”[5]


The EXMINGUA website boasts that the La Puya mine has brought “development, growth, jobs, progress and wellbeing for hundreds of families residing in San Pedro Ayampuc and San José del Golfo, the bordering municipalities”. [6] Members of the communities, however, feel differently. Responding to the lack of information offered by the local or national authorities, or the mining companies themselves, they established a peaceful blockade in 2012.


The movement’s five-year milestone is an opportunity to celebrate their achievements; in 2016, a judicial order brought mining at the site to a temporary halt. It is still in effect. However, it is also a stark reminder of the long and costly struggles that rural communities in Guatemala face to gain control over issues on which they have a legal right to be consulted. Members of the La Puya resistance are determined to maintain their blockade until the mine is closed, for good.


Many of the key activists who have kept the La Puya blockade running are women. Female human rights defenders face particularly great risks of intimidation, threats and harassment. Between 2012-2014, 1,688 attacks on female human rights defenders were reported in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.[7] In June 2012, Yolanda Oquelí, an activist at the La Puya site, survived a shooting. No-one has been arrested for the attack.


On 5 March, the 5-year celebrations at La Puya got underway with a protest march to the mine led by local youth. Cries of “Sí a la vida, no a la minería!” (Yes to life, no to mining!) rang out along the route. Over 300 people joined the day’s celebrations, which included a community lunch, running races, and speeches.


It was against this backdrop of community spirit and fierce resilience that ENCA member, Amy Porter, spoke with Felisa Muralles and Marta Catalán, two of the many women who have formed the backbone of the La Puya Peaceful Resistance movement. Muralles is from the community of San Pedro Ayampuc, and Catalán from San José del Golfo, the two villages which border the mine site. They reiterated their determination to see the mine closed, and shared how the peaceful resistance has been a source of both unison and division within the communities.


What was the objective of setting up the La Puya Peaceful Resistance movement?

FM: The intention was not to let the mining companies work here. We are fighting to get them off this land.

MC: The resistance started on 2 March 2012. For a short time, we had known that they wanted to put a mine here, close to the communities, and that’s when we started the protest site – because they hadn’t informed us about anything. And today we’re here celebrating 5 years. We were motivated to defend the water and the environment for future generations.


Were you surprised when you found out there was going to be a mine?

FM: In 2011, we didn’t know what it was going to be. There was no consultation, no information; they said it would be other things, never a mine. … They said they had bought the land to cultivate: pineapple, papaya, fruits. They started to build roads in and we still didn’t know it was going to be a mine. Until a group got organised and asked the Ministry [of Energy and Mines] whether there was a licence for extraction here, and finally they gave the information that yes, there was an authorised project here.


What do you feel you have achieved in the last 5 years?

FM: First, we’ve raised awareness with a lot of people, to recognise that mining is truly bad; we’ve shown them the proof. And we have learned how to better look after nature, the trees, the water.

MC: I think we’re the only resistance movement at the national level … which hasn’t had any deaths. We had some injuries when the [police] crackdowns happened, and we have had people get prison sentences. We have united to help each other. In the most difficult times, there’s always somebody at your side.


What have been the biggest obstacles?

FM: There have been so many obstacles. We’ve been victims of much criticism, and of police violence against us … they’ve used excessive violence to try to displace us. But they didn’t manage.

MC: At first … the mining company saw all the people here, and seeing all the women, they said that we had come here to prostitute ourselves, that we had abandoned our children, that we neglected them. A lot of things like that … They put around names of people, once they even put my Dad’s name, saying that he was seeing another woman; but of course he wasn’t, it was just to try and discredit the resistance movement. It didn’t stop us.


Has the gold that has been extracted here benefitted the local people?  

FM: Hardly at all, because the royalties are only 1%. For every Quetzal* that they give, 50 cents go to the central government and 50 go to the local authorities. Last year, they paid royalties of Q305,000 ($42,000 USD) for the entire year … In 2014, they only reported from September to December, and they only gave Q6,000 ($818) to the municipality for everything they extracted. The benefits for the communities are minimal, there’s just contamination, destruction and problems … even families fighting amongst themselves. They say this is development, that’s its improvement, but that’s completely false.

[* Guatemalan currency]


Is the community very worried about the water contamination?

MC: Yes, we’re very worried … The levels of arsenic are naturally high here, but in 2015 when [the mine] was working a lot, the levels increased greatly, from 0.052 milligrams to 0.099 milligrams per litre of water … The Ministry of Health accept that this is because of the [mining] works, and asked [the local authorities] to do something. Supposedly, in San José del Golfo they put in filters, but the contamination levels haven’t decreased.[8]

FM: The municipal authorities, at least in San Pedro Ayampuc have not done anything, they say they don’t have money. So, the authorities got sanctioned … then they pay the fine with money that belongs to the town … and we’re still drinking contaminated water.


I noticed that there’s a water park close by, up there on the hill?

MC: Yes, it’s the strangest thing … there’s always water up there. In my house, we have water every 48 hours. When there’s water, we have to fill up a lot of containers … It shouldn’t be like this. When these companies come, they use millions of litres of water and don’t pay for it; we pay to be given water when they want us to have it. This water is ours [it’s not for] companies who come to contaminate and destroy.


Could you tell me about the family divisions?

MC: There are many divisions between parents and children, brothers and sisters … even in mine, I have an aunt who doesn’t speak to me … because as the municipal authorities see us in a bad light, and one of her daughters works there, it bothers her and we don’t speak.


What do you want from the Guatemalan government?

FM: What we want is for them to remove the mining projects, that they stop testing for more projects, and that [the companies] go back to their own countries and destroy them, and let us in Guatemala live here in peace.

MC: Really, I don’t expect anything, but what we would like most … is that they would think about the harm it’s doing, and please not give out any more licences.


What types of alternative development would you like to see?

MC: I would like to see sources of employment come from within the community. Because we know … how to care for Mother Earth, which gives us food. I dream of a Guatemala without mines, monocultures or transnationals.

FM: Better development would perhaps be training us how to look after the land, cultivate organically, and make irrigation systems. That would be good development for these communities.


Do you feel that international solidarity is helpful?

MC: Yes, because we’re not the only people feeling this way, there are others outside of Guatemala. If it was only in Guatemala, I think the government would always do what they wanted. So when people from abroad come to know what is happening here, the government distances itself from these things. For us, it’s very helpful that people from outside come and take away the information.

FM: Yes, it helps a lot, because I understand that when people come here they take away the message and publicise it, so the companies see that we are not alone, that yes, [people] in other countries very far away have their eyes fixed on Guatemala, on our struggles. I think this helps a lot to raise awareness, and it spreads the news of what’s happening here.




[1] EITI, 30 December 2016, Informe EITI Guatemala, 2014-2015

[2] Central America Data, 9 February 2016, Good News for Mining Sector in Guatemala [accessed 17.05.2017]

[3] EITI, 30 December 2016, Informe EITI Guatemala, 2014-2015

[4] Oxfam, 23 February 2016, Oil, gas and mining transparency initiative facing crisis of relevance and legitimacy

[5] EITI, 17 July 2015, Falling extractives revenues in Guatemala amidst political turmoil [accessed 17.05.2017]

[6] [accessed 20.05.2017]

[7] [accessed 20.05.2017]

[8]  According to the World Health Organisation, the maximum permissible level of arsenic in water should be 0.010 milligrams per litre.

Mining sector socio-ecological conflicts in Guatemala, 2005 – 2013

A paper published in the journal of The Extractive Industries and Society analyses ecological distribution conflicts (EDCs) related to the mining industry in Guatemala. The paper was written by Bernardo Aguilar-Gónzalez, Grettel Navas, Carole Brun, Andrea Aguilar-Umaña and Paloma Cerdán for the Fundación Neotrópica in San José, Costa Rica – ( – and is generally cited as: Aguilar-González, B. et al ‘The Extractive Industries and Society’ (2018).

The paper presents results of a UNDP research programme in Guatemala that analyses EDCs generated by the mining industry between 2005 and 2013. First it places the Guatemalan conflict situation in the context of Central America. The analysis that follows this introduction covers the main social and ecological consequences of these conflicts, the role of the State and the effectiveness of actions taken by extractive companies through corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. 

Rather than include the whole paper in this website (where we try to make issues as short and accessible as possible), Bernardo Aguilar-González, the Executive Director of the Fundación Neotrópica, has kindly given us permission to use selected extracts and diagrams from the paper, for which we are very grateful. These extracts follow. The whole paper can be found at:

Key words: ecological distribution conflicts (EDCs); Guatemalan mining industry; Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas); Marlin Mine; Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes; community consultations of good faith; role of the State.

The paper follows the line of research on EDCs that has been led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona through the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas – The EJAtlas documents EDCs and this documentation has allowed a statistical political ecology analysis to be made by the researchers. Figures 1 and 2 for instance make use of the EJAtlas documentation.


Of all Central American conflicts documented up to 2015 (Figure 1), the majority are registered in Guatemala with 27.5% of the 80 conflicts included until then, followed by Panama (18.8%) and Honduras (17.5%).

Figure 2 shows us the registry of 80 conflicts up until 2015 in Central America. From these, 29% were conflicts related to mining activities – more than a third of them appear in Guatemala. Conflicts related to water management are 24% of the total. These include conflicts related to hydroelectric projects. Those categories that relate to the appropriation of biomass and physical space, mostly by plantation activities and for biodiversity conservation, are 25% of the total. Conflicts that relate to tourism are 9% of the total, mostly concentrated in Costa Rica. Fossil fuel energy shows 9% of all conflicts while the record also shows conflicts from logistical infrastructure development (related to the Panama Canal and to projects such as Nicaragua’s Grand Canal); and real estate development (5%) (Navas, 2016).

EDCs in Central America have been increasing in numbers in the last decades, coinciding with the increase in neo-extractive activities. Data from the EJAtlas shows this trend with peaks in 2006-2007 and 2011-2013.

The EJAtlas also shows a trend which is basic to understanding the diverse roles that the State plays in Central America. Costa Rica and El Salvador show the highest rates of what the Atlas calls environmental justice successes – see Table 1. These are cases where projects have been stopped from happening. In these countries courts have declared mining projects illegal and both have banned open pit mining largely due to the action of civil society organisations.

Table 1  Environmental Justice Successes as of 2015 relative to number of conflicts according to the EJAtlas

Guatemalan mining has evolved historically in parallel with the transformation of its social metabolism and the unfair appropriation of environmental space by the Spanish, ladino oligarchies, and later by transnational-local economic groups which concentrate power and wealth. ….

In 2003 an exploitation license for gold, silver, zinc, lead, iron, copper and mercury was granted to the transnational Glamis Gold Ltd in the department of San Marcos as ‘Proyecto Mina Marlin’. Glamis Gold is the owner of the Guatemalan subsidiary Montana Exploradora Guatemalteca S.A.. The inhabitants of Sipakapa and San Miguel Ixtahuacán (largely Maya-Quiche, Sipakapense and Maya Mam peoples) and environmental organisations manifested their rejection of the mine. They were concerned about the environmental impact, the lack of popular participation from the communities that surround the project and the violation of indigenous territories of collective property already protected by international legislation. In the spirit of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 (ratified by Guatemala in 1996), on June 18th 2005, the first self-organised community consultation about the acceptance or rejection of the mining project in their lands took place in Sipakapa. Thirteen communities participated. The results were 2,448 votes against the mine, 35 in favour, 8 null and one left blank (van de Sandt, 2009; Yagenova and García, 2009; Laplante and Nolin, 2014).

The beginning of the operation of the Marlin Mine in 2005, marked another fundamental change in the scale of production of metallic mining in Guatemala. The mine evolved to produce 96% of all mining sales in the country between 2005 and 2011. The operation of this project also generated an increase in the intensity and radicalization of the opposition by indigenous communities and civil society organisations to mining projects in Guatemala (Yagenova and García, 2009; Nolin and Stephens, 2010; Laplante and Nolin, 2014). ….

[Readers of The Violence of Development website will be aware of numerous other articles relating to the operations of the Marlin Mine in Chapter 5 of the website.]

At a macro level, the overall contribution of the mining and quarries sector to the Guatemalan economy is expressed in the contribution to the GDP. ICEFI (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales) criticises this contribution as very low. During the period studied it went from 0.61% in 2005 to 0.85% in 2014 (ICEFI, 2014). ….

At the local level, the informants in this study representing the industry stated that many positive economic, social and environmental impacts come through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. They include help to schools, investments in infrastructure, etc.. Some informants criticise these actions as generating dependence on the companies and a privatisation of public services that should be offered by the State or local governments. These actions are used to justify the occupation of environmental space. Additionally, CSR actions are criticised as granting the power to foreign companies to disproportionately influence decision-making at the local level and to cover up human rights violations (ICEFI, 2014; Laplante and Nolin, 2014; Aguilar-González et al, 2015). ….

The criminalization of social protest was also identified as a social impact. Along the same lines, threats, murder attempts and murders of those who oppose mining projects. This type of impact is currently a constant in Latin America being reported by OCMAL (Observatory for Mining Projects in Latin America) and by Global Witness. ….

Another social impact documented in conflicts with greater intensity is the forced displacement by the State with the help of the Guatemalan army, police and companies’ security forces, leading to high indices of violence, violations of human rights ….

Also the competition for territory includes vital elements like potable water. The pollution through chemicals and toxins like cyanide and mercury lead to the contamination of subterranean and superficial water sources. ….

The pollution of water, air, soil, deforestation, etc., were clearly identified environmental impacts ….

Governments … have claimed that mining activities have a strong positive impact in the economy of the country, generating economic and social development on a local as well as a national level. Studies by technical institutions such as ICEFI have shown that there is no evidence to substantiate this claim (Molina, 2015). ….

Sectors of civil society also condemn the role of a State that has been a promoter of extractive industries and not a regulator, by favouring and promoting the interests of this business sector (national and transnational companies), through the creation and adoption of laws. ….

The Mining Law does not require that the indigenous people be consulted before the approval of exploration or exploitation licenses for mining projects. …. there are no existing mechanisms in the current national legislation to guarantee the participation of the communities and the effective implementation of Convention 169 in mining activities and others. Therefore, especially the indigenous communities have developed their own processes to express their position about the projects that affect them. These are known as ‘community consultations of good faith’, ….


Aguilar-González, B., Navas, G., Brun, C. (2015) Estudio sobre la conflictividad generado por proyectos de extracción minera en Guatemala. PNUD, Guatemala.

ICEFI (2014) La minera en Guatemala: realidad y desafíos frente a la democracia y el desarrollo. Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales, Guatemala.

Laplante, J. Nolin, C. (2014) Consultas and socially responsible investing in Guatemala: a case study examining maya perspectives on the indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent. Soc. Nat. Resour.: Int. J. 27 (3), 231-248.

Molina, L. (2015) Economist Researcher ICEFI (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales). Interview 25 March 2015.

Navas, G. (2016) Caracterización de la Conflictividad Socio-ambiental en América Central según el Atlas Mundial de Justicia Ambiental del proyecto EJOLT. Fundación Neotrópica Project Report, San José, Costa Rica.

Nolin, C., Stephens, J. (2010) “We have to protect the investors”: ‘development’ and Canadian mining companies in Guatemala. J. Rural Commun. Dev. 5 (3), 37-70.

van de Sandt, J. (2009) Conflictos Mineros y Pueblos Indígenas en Guatemala. Universidad de Amsterdam, CORDAID, Amsterdam, Holanda.

Yagenova, S., García, R. (2009) Guatemala: el pueblo de Sipakapa versus la empresa minera Goldcorp. OSAL 10 (25), 65-77.

Pan American Silver Pressured to Shut Down Community Interference in Guatemala – Indigenous leaders in Guatemala and their allies take a stand against corporate greed in their community.

by Jen Moore, an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), May 06, 2021

The following commentary by Jen Moore was produced by and by the Institute for Policy Studies. For over ten years, Jen Moore has been researching, writing and collaborating closely with the struggles of mining-affected communities and allied organisations in Latin America, Canada and other parts of the world. has been tracking inequality-related news and views for nearly two decades. A project of the Institute for Policy Studies since 2011, the site aims to provide information and insights for readers ranging from educators and journalists to activists and policy makers. We are grateful to the IPS for permission to reproduce Jen Moore’s commentary in The Violence of Development website.   |

Key words: Inequality; privatisation; corporate power; Escobal silver mine; Xinka Indigenous people; Pan American Silver corporation; prior consultation.

In the wake of a shooting attack, death threats, and fear of further violence against members of the peaceful resistance to Pan American Silver’s Escobal silver mine in Guatemala, nearly 4,000 people are calling on the Vancouver-based company to halt all community activities in the Central American country.

In mid-April, activists delivered a petition to Pan American Silver urging the company to respect the Indigenous Xinka people’s right to be freely consulted without violence and threats, and to immediately cease interference in their communities. Indigenous leaders such as Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Kukpi7 Judy Wilson and Winona LaDuke, former UN Special Rapporteurs Michel Forst and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and influential authors Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein signed the petition.

The petition underscores standing concerns from Xinka communities that Pan American Silver’s ongoing community relations activities are acts of bad faith that threaten the integrity of a court-ordered consultation process and put their security at risk.

Pan American Silver’s Escobal mine has been suspended since June 2017, first as a result of direct community action and then by court order for discrimination and lack of prior consultation with the Xinka people.

Most recently, on April 14, unknown assailants fired shots at the home of one of the Xinka representatives elected to participate in the consultation. This follows a January attempt on the life of community leader, Julio González, as well as death threats against community members.

Even though Pan American Silver is not currently extracting minerals at the Escobal mine, it continues to operate in Xinka communities. According to its 2019 Sustainability Report, the company is “engaging with community leaders, government agencies, and NGOs.”

In September 2020, the company announced the launch of a “participatory monitoring program” in the municipality where the mine is located. In response to a letter sent to Guatemalan authorities and signed by nearly 200 organisations concerned over the recent attacks and threats against defenders, Pan American Silver wrote that it continues “community relations activities to respect any existing commitments…”

While such community activities may seem innocuous to an outside observer, the Xinka Parliament of Guatemala and the peaceful resistance movement has decried the company’s community work as coercive, in violation of the “free” nature of the consultation and the Constitutional Court suspension order, and a main driver of increased tension and violence. In their joint statement in October 2020 with the Ministry of Energy and Mines – the authority responsible for the consultation process – officials agreed to inform Pan American Silver that the Xinka consider the company’s activities to be acts of bad faith that threaten the integrity of the consultation. Nonetheless, Pan American Silver has so far failed to acknowledge and act in response to Xinka demands that the company suspend all community relations activities to do its part to preserve their right to freely and safely participate in the consultation process.

The Escobal mine has been suspended for nearly four years. The consultation process failed to budge from 2018 to 2020 due to illegalities and discrimination against the Xinka until October 2020, when the government finally agreed to accept the Xinka’s appointed delegates to the consultation process. The pre-consultation process, during which time the procedure for the consultation will be determined, is currently scheduled to begin on May 21.

U.S. sanctions nickel miners in El Estor, accused of bribing Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei

Rights Action

November 22, 2022


We are grateful to Rights Action ( for informing us about this article (below) in the Guatemalan Prensa Comunitaria which here includes first the Rights Action introduction followed by the article.

“U.S. sanctions Solway executives, for running “multiple bribery schemes over the years involving Guatemalan politicians, judges and officials…” and “illegally giving cash payments to public officials in exchange for support of […] mining interests.”

Notably, the U.S. and Canadian governments today maintain full diplomatic, economic and security relations with the corrupt Guatemalan regime, including President Alejandro Giammattei who is singled out for receiving a million-dollar bribe from Solway executives.

Endemic corruption and illegality characterize the operations of all large-scale mining operations in Guatemala, as documented in the recently published “TESTIMONIO: Canadian Mining in the Aftermath of Genocides in Guatemala”, though it appears the U.S. government is only sanctioning Swiss company Solway due to the Russian investments in it.


Below: Prensa Comunitaria article


U.S. sanctions nickel miners in El Estor, accused of bribing Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei

By Héctor Silva Ávalos, Prensa Comunitaria, November 18, 2022


The Treasury Department in Washington announced, November 18, that it has applied sanctions contemplated in the so-called “Magnitsky Act” to the companies Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, Mayaníquel and Pronico, to the Russian citizen Dimitri Kudryakov and to the Belarusian Iryna Litviniuk, executives of Solway Investment Group, the Swiss-Russian company that exploits, with the sanctioned Guatemalan companies, the “Fenix” nickel mining project in El Estor, Izabal.

The U.S. Treasury does not mince words: it sanctions Kudryakov and Litviniuk, the Solway executives, for running “multiple bribery schemes over the years involving Guatemalan politicians, judges and officials…” and “carrying out corrupt acts in support of Russian influence-peddling schemes by illegally giving cash payments to public officials in exchange for support of Russian mining interests.”

The Russian, the Belarusian, and Solway’s three Guatemalan subsidiary companies in El Estor and Puerto Barrios have been sanctioned for “corruption schemes…pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.” According to a Treasury Department statement, it “targets perpetrators of serious abuses around the world.”

The trade and financial implications of these sanctions are profound. Under U.S. law, the federal government can now freeze and block “all property of the persons described,” whether those in the United States or “any entity owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate…by one or more blocked persons.” In addition, with some exceptions, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which is charged with enforcing the Magnitsky Act, prohibits transactions by U.S. persons with those sanctioned.

The latter, in essence, means that any company doing business with Solway miners and their sanctioned Guatemalan affiliates and partners could also be sanctioned by the United States.

“The consequence would be economic implications to those sanctioned. I understand that the majority of clients in Europe have businesses in the United States”, considers Juan Francisco Sandoval, the former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) of the Public Ministry, whom the Giammattei government, through the current Attorney General Consuelo Porras, drove into exile.

In 2021, Sandoval’s FECI initiated a criminal investigation in which a witness claimed that Mayaníquel, one of the sanctioned companies, delivered a million-dollar bribe to President Giammattei in Guatemala City.

Solway is the Swiss-based company, fueled by Russian oligarchs’ capital, to which the State of Guatemala illegally granted the concession to exploit the Fénix Mining Project, a nickel mine in El Estor, Izabal.

For years, with the tolerance of the governments of first Jimmy Morales and then Alejandro Giammattei, the mine operated despite the fact that a resolution of the Constitutional Court (CC) prohibited it from doing so because it did not comply with environmental requirements or consultation with the Maya Q’eqchi’ indigenous communities living in the exploited area.


The names of Russian Kudryakov and Belarusian Litviniuk appear in dozens of internal Solway emails in which both executives were informed of illegal activities carried out by the mine in El Estor. In some emails, they requested actions related to a scheme to conceal evidence of environmental contamination of neighboring Lake Izabal, to follow and harass community leaders opposed to the mine and critical journalists, or to give bribes to public officials – the latter referred to by the Treasury Department in the sanctions released on November 18.

When journalistic investigations, among them several published by Prensa Comunitaria, revealed the abuses of the Swiss-Russian mine and its relations with the companies that are now sanctioned, they alleged, among other things, that they were independent companies. However, the Treasury Department assumes that they all have a common thread, the Russian Kudryakov. The three Guatemalan companies designated by OFAC, says the statement, “are owned or controlled directly or indirectly by Kudryakov”.

The shadow of the Fenix Project’s mining activity in El Estor has publicly haunted President Alejandro Giammattei since the Guatemalan public’s attention ceased to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2021.

In June 23 of that year, Sandoval’s FECI interviewed a witness who presented evidence that a group of foreigners, several Russians and a Kazakh-Israeli, related to Mayaníquel, had arrived in April 2021 in Guatemala City, where they were received, among others, by Antonio Malouf, then Minister of Economy of the Giammattei government.

During that trip, according to this witness, the foreigners delivered a million-dollar bribe to the President in his house in Zone 15 of the capital.

Sandoval opened a file and started an investigation that came, as none before since he began his term, very close to the president. But Attorney General Porras, whom Giammattei had re-elected, took it upon herself to close the file and initiate a criminal prosecution against Sandoval that led to his exile in June 2021. Currently, Porras’ Public Prosecutor’s Office maintains 100 active files and four arrest warrants against the former head of FECI.

Today, from Washington, Juan Francisco Sandoval understands that the sanctions announced by the Treasury Department validate the investigation he initiated. “They give credibility to facts that I was documenting in Guatemala prior to my departure. Consuelo Porras, instead of supporting the investigation, dismissed me and two months later issued an arrest warrant against me for that investigation,” said the former prosecutor to Prensa Comunitaria.

The State Department communiqué does not mention any Guatemalan official, but it does lash out, in general, against the “corrupt” people related to the miners. “We stand with the people of Guatemala and support protecting their country’s natural resources from foreign exploitation,”[1] said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, adding, “We will use our tools to help ensure that corrupt profiteers face consequences for stealing from the Guatemalan people.”

A U.S. official familiar with OFAC’s sanctions process, who spoke to Prensa Comunitaria on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do so publicly, said, “Mr. Giammattei would have to read these sanctions very carefully. His name is not on there, but the message seems pretty clear.”

The Treasury sanctions come the same week that a group of congressional Democrats called on President Biden’s administration to be more forceful against kleptocracy in Guatemala, and shortly after an internal government report exposed Pentagon and State Department negligence in investigating the misuse of U.S.-donated military equipment that the Guatemalan government used to intimidate and repress the CICIG, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City and the Q’eqchi’ who opposed the nickel mine in El Estor.




More Information

Note :

[1]  Just in case readers haven’t noticed the amazing height of hypocrisy in this statement by the US Treasury Under-Secretary, I have highlighted it here. His comments are stunningly brazen given that US based transnational corporations have been extracting Guatemala’s natural resources for well over a century. What he means by protecting the resources from foreign exploitation is that the US will do all it can to protect those resources from exploitation by companies from countries other than the United States in order that they can be exploited by US based corporations.

Guatemalan Minister of Environment Reveals Authorization of Cerro Blanco Mine

From GHRC Update

8 April 2024

Once again we thank the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) for their work and research on Guatemala and for their generalised authorisation for others to use and promote their work.

The Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) recently confirmed that the Cerro Blanco mine in Asunción Mita, Jutiapa, has been authorised to operate. The MARN revealed the news in a public statement made  by Minister María José Iturbide.

The controversial  gold mine was given authorisation to operate by the former MARN under the  Giammattei administration, five days before former president Giammattei’s  departure from office  The period in which the authorisation could have been revoked expired one day before the Minister Iturbide’s March 25th announcement.

The mine is owned by a Canadian company, Bluestone Resources. The mine  has triggered widespread protests from both Guatemalan and Salvadoran communities concerned about profound environmental impacts. Of particular concern is the potential impact on the El Tempisque stream, a tributary to Lake Güija, which in turn connects with the Lempa River, traversing the border with El Salvador.

The Extractive Industries Observatory (OIE) has warned of the imminent risk of contamination to these vital water bodies, which millions of people depend on as their primary source of water.

On September 18, 2022, the population of Asunción Mita carried out a municipal consultation of residents based on the Municipal Code, in which the inhabitants of the municipality were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the mining project. A total of 7,481 people voted no to mining, while 904 voted in favour. The result of the Municipal Consultation of neighbours is directly binding.

Nonetheless, in March 2023, the US embassy in Guatemala advocated with the Giammattei administration in favour of the reactivation of the Cerro Blanco mining project, according to an article in Prensa Comunitaria. Through two letters addressed to Gersón Barrios Garrido, then Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), the US diplomatic mission requested “support to know the progress of the approval process of the modification of the environmental plan in order to continue assisting US investors interested in investing and contributing to the economic development of Guatemala.” The first letter, dated March 30, 2023 and signed by John Howell, commercial counsellor of the US embassy, informs Minister Barrios Garrido that “Elevar Resources, S.A. is a subsidiary of Bluestone Resources Inc., a company that has substantial capital from investors of United States of America (USA) . . . .”

The Marlin Mine, Guatemala

This topic is referred to in the book in Chapter 5 (Page 88)

The Marlin Mine, Guatemala, is given in the book as a case study in Chapter 5. The following text boxes add supplementary detail to the case study given there, and the reader is also referred to the Guatemala sub-section of the Interviews page of the website for further testimony from local people affected by the mine.

Collecting orchids and conning the locals

The following are extracts from testimony taken in San José Ixcaniche, San Marcos department, Guatemala, in July 2009. The testimony relates to the introduction of gold mining activities to the area around the Marlin Mine which is owned and run by Montana Exploradora de Guatemala S.A., a wholly owned subsidiary of Canada’s Goldcorp.

“When the company came into San Miguel, all their personnel who arrived had the idea that they had to work smoothly with the people who live here. … Also they did many things such as making meals for the people to get them on their side. They also started games of football, buying the balls and getting all the neighbours around for lunch. They also held raffles for bicycles, radios and many other things to attract people. …

They said they were going to generate some work here collecting orchids from the trees. … A little more than a year later, they came and it wasn’t for collecting orchids, but for exploring, to collect samples of rock; but they didn’t say anything about gold or silver, only that we are going to do some work here. … Then suddenly there was something about minerals. …

This was 1996 when they came. A year after that they began to collect rocks. They talked to the locals about selling a part of the land. The local people were certainly excited by the money. Then more people started arriving, including gringos, and then the machinery. Seventeen people met to talk about if they could sell their land or not. They agreed that it would be better not to sell the land. It would be better to go first to the Mayor of San Miguel to make an agreement which would prevent the sale of the land. But the Mayor said ‘you are free to sell your land; if you want to sell, you can sell. Better to have a good job there [at the mine] and a source of work. …

The Mayor was going to get together with this group to value their land, but he didn’t turn up. So from that time the group got a bit downhearted, and each took their own decisions about giving up their land or not. Of the seventeen people, one by one they gave up their land.”

Testimony taken from Don Pedro (a pseudonym), a former worker in the Marlin Mine in San José Ixcaniche, San Marcos department, Guatemala, 24.07.09

Testimony against the Marlin Mine, Guatemala

The following testimony was given in interview by:

[1] A number of residents of Agel, a small village very close to the Marlin Mine in the municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, department of San Marcos, Guatemala, 24 July 2009 – identities protected;

[2] Several residents of a number of other villages attending a meeting in The People’s House, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, 24 July 2009 – identities protected;

[3] Gregoria Crisanta Pérez, a single mother also from Agel who is the subject of an arrest order along with seven other local women, interviewed by James Rodríguez, 22 May 2009 – published in NACLA Report, vol.42, no.5, Sept/Oct 2009, pp.16-17.

[Sources identified as 1, 2 or 3, as above.]

On land purchase

[3] Montana is buying more land, extending its territory. … If these people [from the mining company] continue buying up our lands, where are we to go? As indigenous peoples, we live here. … We ask the government to please listen to our demands, because we are the legitimate owners of those territories. We are indigenous people, we were born there, and we should die there.

On water sources

[1] There are problems with the drying of the wells. There are eight wells that have dried up.

[2] They had installed the machinery close to the well, around 4 metres from the well. The water that they were using to wash the gold that they were extracting, they were dumping it near the well. There were two children who went to take water from the well … the workers told them, and the operator of the machine said, “you mustn’t carry water from this place because it’s contaminated.” … From where are the people going to drink water?

[2] One woman chatted to us; she has young sons who were bathing in that river, and now they are covered in spots, their hair is falling out.

On health problems

[2] … animals have died, cattle. I had a friend who lived here on this side; about two months ago he died. He worked for the company. They say that he was taken to the doctor [of the mining company] and the doctor told him ‘you don’t have anything wrong with you, you are fine’. So he turned to another private doctor, and they told him that he had a damaged liver and had only a few days left to live, that there was no cure, nothing. And he gave a testimony … where he spoke about how he had been contaminated by the mine; and he died.

[1] Also the problem with the skin – the people that live near the tailing pond, there we have seen children that have red swellings on the skin.

[2] … the presence of heavy metals in the blood is strong. If it is not treated in time, the person can die, because the heavy metals accumulate in the blood.

[2] Two years ago my nephew died at the age of 18. It just started with a cough, and he died. Four months ago my cousin died; he also worked there in the tailing pond. He vomited blood. His mother told me, ‘tell your husband not to carry on working there, because he’s going to die; you’re going to lose him’.

[3] … many people suffer from skin diseases, particularly welts, and some of the people who have worked for the company have died mysteriously.

On the state of their houses

[2] And all the houses, like 120 houses, are cracked. There’s one house, my daughter’s, which is totally cracked. It’s only three years old. When the explosions start, you feel the movement of the earth.

[3] Dozens of homes have large fissures along the walls due to the explosions from the mine.

On divisions within the communities

[3] Montana is a very big company and has paid off many community leaders, as well as local auxiliary mayors. Also, there are the few who work for the company; obviously they and their families support the company. Lately, Montana has also been paying off some key neighbours in order to divide us. In my community of Agel, I know for a fact that the company has paid them 35,000 quetzals [about $4,300] in exchange for supporting the company’s operations.

[2] We are few, not many, because in the community of Agel, nearly everyone is working for the company. We are divided. … But we are not here for the work. We are here to defend our life, our health, and the health of our children and our grandchildren.

[1] The people who work for the company say nothing because the company would then fire them. … they say that the company is going well, but this makes us very concerned.

[2] Here in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, that monster [the company] has been buying up good will; it’s been keeping the leaders of some communities quiet.

[2] More than ten communities have already carried out their consultation and gave a very round ‘No’ to mining.

Testimony regarding Montana’s persecution of former employees

Testimony collected in the village of San José Ixcaniche, 24 July 2009. Names have been deliberately omitted.

In 2003, I was a worker in the campo. One day we went to repair the road, the one which they are now surfacing with asphalt; and an engineer said to me, “I’ve got eight days of work for you; come with me.” Well, I certainly need work. …

At the same time as I started work there, a Costa Rican man arrived. He was looking for people who could read and write and who were very active. They chose me to go as his personal assistant.

What was the work that they gave me? It was the job of providing information to the local people. I didn’t know what it was that I was supposed to do, but they taught me about it and told me that I had to tell people what was going to happen here, namely that they were going to extract gold and silver. That’s when I first discovered that gold and silver were going to be extracted. Before that, they hadn’t talked about that at all.

I worked for two and a half years when suddenly they wanted me to tell them what the people outside were saying. … I realised that they were using me as a tool. … I wanted to say things about what we were suffering, but every time that there were meetings all they wanted to talk about was the development of the local area. …

We began to have contacts with many people about what the company was doing, although they gave me a payment so that I would keep quiet about the company with the people. … they suspected that I had contacts with many local people, so they controlled my work much more tightly.

In 2007, people tried to form a union … Out of respect for our people I could not be in this work. It was when they took advantage of me for respecting the people that they started obstructing me. It was then when they could take the opportunity of throwing me out of work. … They accused me of committing an offence, of coercion, of threatening behaviour … It took us a lot to get out of that, but they made a mess of my life, although it wasn’t just me. There were seven other people charged although those people were leaders of the group of five communities which had got themselves organised. …

The company tries to provoke the people. … We saw that the authorities give more consideration to those people who have money, and if the campesinos die, well they die. We saw that clearly.

For almost a year we were in this issue. The company tried to plead again, but the issue would be better reconciled with us so that it doesn’t continue as a problem. … If they could declare us guilty they would even be able to get us put in jail. If we say please forgive us, then that would mean we were guilty of all the damage. …

That’s my case. But there is another case. There is another group of women who were affected in Ajel, also for claiming their rights because of all the driving activity that was crossing their lands. They [the company] did what they liked and they installed whatever they liked on their lands. These eight women faced an arrest warrant. …

They sent two people here and what they wanted from me was a testimony in favour of the company. “We want you to talk with us here confidentially, not about individuals.” … despite all the bad things I had seen of the company, they wanted me to speak in favour of the company. But no way could I give testimony in favour of them because I knew what they had already done to me. But it’s the courage of all the communities that is with me now. But right now there is a serious problem in the community. There are divisions, there are pressures on the committees. Yesterday a certificate in favour of the company was promoted. The company insisted, obliged the people and the workers and even those who aren’t workers to sign the certificate.

Testimony taken by Martin Mowforth, Alice Klein, and Karis McLaughlin, 24 July 2009.

Testimony regarding health problems caused by and property rights abused by the Marlin Mine

Testimony taken 24 July 2009 in San José Ixcaniche, close to the Marlin Mine, from Doña Marcela (a pseudonym), wife of a worker at the mine.

My husband … is ill because he works for the Montana company. He works with the chemicals and the heavy metals and we have written proof which states that he has contaminated blood. Now we want to get another examination done by an external authority to see if it coincides with the company’s readings.

Also, she [points to her daughter] is very ill because my husband was working with the company when she was born. Every fortnight I have to take her to a doctor. Three days ago I saw a child specialist who told me that it’s really very serious. She doesn’t have much of a defence system, probably because of the heavy metals.

Right now we are suffering – my husband is ill; she’s ill; and I’ve got problems with Montana because they invaded my property in San José Nueva Esperanza, over there, and fenced it off, and now I can’t get into my own land. … I have documents to show that I am the owner. They don’t even ask my permission. They pass by on a road right through the middle of my land without asking permission – there’s no consultation.

Two years ago I made a claim against Montana. They came to surface the road which had been built through the middle of my land. They felled the pines. They caused a landslide in the land because they moved so much earth. They also drilled into the ground.

I believe this is unfair – what they are doing is an injustice. Many people are in favour of them, but I don’t know why because the reality is that the company is causing great damage. …Many of them do it for the money; many do it because they have a business, and so they tend to support Montana. I think that you shouldn’t behave like this for the sake of a business. You should do it for the sake of your life, for your children and for their children. I don’t want to let my child die just because of the mine.