James Rodríguez wrote an article for Latin American Perspectives on El Estor, looking at the history of the mine, including the history of state violence against those that live in the Q’eqchi’ Mayan territory. The violence goes back to at least the Panzos massacre of 1978. The state violence against the people has a long history.
Along the northern edge of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s largest body of water, a nickel-mining project has been the source of continuous land and social conflict for nearly 60 years. Originally known as the EXMIBAL Mine, it started as a subsidiary of Canadian INCO (International Nickel Company) after military governments handed the former mining giant a 40-year lease on 385 square kilometers in 1965. This land was in Q’eqchi’ Mayan territory, and the project involved the dispossession of communities in aid of accumulation by an extractive industry.
As the Guatemalan internal armed conflict intensified in the 1970s, the mining project struggled to initiate extractive operations. Violent land conflicts proliferated in the area, culminating in the 1978 Panzos massacre, a turning point in the nationwide armed conflict. The army brutally quelled a Q’eqchi’ Mayan land rights protest by shooting into crowds, killing at least 53. The next few years saw increased guerrilla activity in the region and the selective repression and forced disappearances of hundreds of local leaders, some conducted, according to the Historical Clarification Commission, by state forces or masked men in INCO vehicles.
After the 1996 peace accords, the postwar neoliberal governments identified extractive projects as a priority. In 2004, a year before the 40-year lease expired, former INCO directors formed Skye Resources in Canada, purchased and extended the lease, and rebranded it the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) in Guatemala.
You can read the full article, including great photographs, here Where Impunity Reigns: Nickel Mining in El Estor, Guatemala.
You can find more of James’s reportage work at MiMundo.org.