Guatemala Cracks Down on Q’eqchi’ Resistance in El Estor

In the latest episode of a lengthy saga of repression and resistance, Maya communities demanding to be consulted about a foreign-owned nickel mine in their territories now live under a state of siege.

Vaclav Masek writes in NACLA on the ongoing violence being carried out against the Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in El Estor. The state is using increasingly draconian measures to protect the workings of the Fenix mine on behalf of Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN), despite the courts ordering a suspension.

There is a long history of state violence against Indigenous peoples in this part of Guatemala, especially in supporting resource extraction and overseas capital. The events in El Estor are no different.

On October 23, approximately 500 police officers and riot police descended on a road blockade in El Estor and fired tear gas at the peaceful demonstrations. For more than two weeks, Maya Q’eqchi’ communities had cut off access to the Fenix nickel mine and processing facility to protest the lack of consultation for the project they say has polluted their air and water.


Following the repression, the government imposed a state of siege that limits civil liberties for 30 days. Hundreds of soldiers and police officers have been deployed to patrol the area and enforce a curfew, threatening to further jeopardize residents’ lives. Indigenous leaders, journalists, and organizations like Xyaab’ Tzuultaq’a [community radio] and the social justice association Defensoría Q’eqchi’ have faced arbitrary detentions and persecution after covering or participating in the anti-mining resistance.


The massive show of military force in El Estor to suppress Indigenous communities is reminiscent of the armed conflict that resulted in genocide. The crackdown is the latest manifestation of a backslide in democracy in Guatemala—amid the ravaging effects of the pandemic and the climate crisis—that builds on a violent legacy of dispossession of Indigenous peoples.


In July 2019, the Constitutional Court ordered a halt to the project’s operations for violating the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, which outlines Indigenous populations’ rights to free prior and informed consent and the need for an environmental impact report. According to the court, the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ process of granting CGN an extraction license in 2006 failed at both.


Many Latin American states, including Guatemala, have advocated foreign direct investment from mining companies as a form of development. At the same time, neoliberal globalization has fueled an increasing number of conflicts over natural resource extraction. But for many communities in Guatemala, the arrival of foreign companies that carry out megaprojects like hydroelectric dams and mining concessions marks a “new invasion” or “fourth invasion” after the first, second, and third invasions of Spanish colonization, the creation of the plantation economy between the 1870s and 1930s, and the armed conflict. 


The international community must pay attention to how political and ecological crises converge in El Estor. The recent mobilizations against mining projects are the prelude to a debate on environmental justice that Guatemalans want to build. In an age where the effects of climate change will become irreversible, Indigenous peoples must be recognized as crucial stewards and caretakers of a healthy environment for all. As [Giovanni] Batz puts it, “What people are fighting for is self-determination and the right to live with dignity.”

You can read the full piece, with links and photos by Baudilio Choc (Radio Victoria) here Guatemala Cracks Down on Q’eqchi’ Resistance in El Estor.

Categories: Corruption, Environment, Evictions, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Legal, Military, Mining, Poverty, Resource Extraction, Solidarity in Action/Guatemala, Violence

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