Sandra Cuffe writes in The Intercept about the situation in El Estor and the global investigation that uncovered a multitude of documents highlighting corruption at the very highest level, impacting those that live there. It is a grim tale.
Cristóbal Pop vividly remembers when the lake suddenly turned red. Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ fishermen depend on Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake, for their livelihoods, and Pop had just been elected president of the local fishers guild when the water changed color.
“It had a bad smell,” said Pop, sitting in the shade outside his wooden home in the town of El Estor, nearly 200 miles northeast of Guatemala City. The rust-colored patch of water stretched for more than a mile in front of town. “Our life is fishing, and we did not know what was going on. There were many rumors about whether the fish would be affected by what was happening.”
The Fenix nickel mine, owned by the Switzerland-based Solway Investment Group, is located just three miles from El Estor. The fishers guild demanded answers. “We wanted things to be done transparently,” said Pop, recalling how he and others urged the government to disclose water testing results publicly. When that didn’t happen, guild members began protesting the mine in May 2017, and a Q’eqchi’ fisherman named Carlos Maaz was killed in the ensuing crackdown by national police.
Guatemalan authorities eventually attributed the discoloration to an algae bloom, but the chain of events it set in motion is still unfolding. Legal action by the fishers guild resulted in the court-ordered suspension of the mine’s license pending consultation with affected Indigenous communities. Protests over Q’eqchi’ representation in the consultation last year concluded with a declaration of martial law and raids of the homes of local journalists and outspoken mine opponents, including Pop. Following the contested process, the government reinstated the mine’s extraction license.
That is the known story, but a global investigation exposes another story lurking beneath the surface.
You can read the full piece, with photos, here The Hidden Story of a Notorious Guatemalan Nickel Mine.