Guatemala’s Fenix mine, closed for 30 years, faces disputes over land ownership and lawsuits for gang-rape and murder
Fenix, Guatemala – The biggest nickel mine in Central America has restarted operations amid violent clashes between indigenous people and security forces, disputes over land ownership, and ongoing lawsuits for gang-rape and murder.
The Fenix mine in Guatemala had been closed for 30 years, and was inaugurated by a recent visit to the site by president Otto Pérez, who called it the biggest investment in the history of the country.
But just one week later a community bordering Fenix known as Lot 8 Chacpayla, who are part of the predominant Maya Q’eqchi’ group in the region, say there were invaded by private security forces working for the firm which runs the mine, Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel, now a subsidiary of the Cyprus-based Solway Investment Group.
Residents of Lot 8, where large nickel ore deposits are believed to lie, and the neighbouring community, Lot 9 Agua Caliente, told the Guardian that about 10 men turned up unannounced, “armed to the teeth”, intent on preventing a meeting from taking place.
“When we asked why they were there, they said they had been asked to protect the lands of the company,” says Lot 9’s Rodrigo Tot. “They said they wouldn’t leave and assumed a position to shoot. They were out in the corridor, but pointed their weapons at us.”
The community say the private security only pulled out the next day after the intervention of a justice of the peace, the decision by the community to spend the night in the surrounding forest, and the arrival of more private security personnel and then the army and police, which led to a tense standoff.
“Don Rodrigo said ‘kill me’ and started to walk towards them,” said Manuel Xó Cú, from the Defensoria Q’eqchi’. “The others said: ‘If you kill Don Rodrigo, you’ll have to kill us all.’ Neither the army nor police wanted to witness any of this. They left. Then the private security went too.”
Tot told the Guardian that people were particularly concerned that there would be a repeat of events in 2007 when Lot 8 residents were violently evicted by company security, the army and police, and 11 Q’eqchi’ women were allegedly gang-raped.
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