MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2005-03-15


The International Labor Organization is currently investigating a claim filed in March 2005 charging that Guatemala's government violated its obligations under Convention 169 when it granted mine exploration licenses to Skye Resources' Guatemalan subsidiary in December 2004, in the northeastern part of the country largely populated by Q'eqchi' Mayan indigenous communities.

The claim, formally called a representation, was filed under Article 24 of the ILO Constitution by the Federación de Trabajadores del Campo y de la Ciudad, FTCC, a Guatemalan farm workers' union, along with its local partner, the Defensoría Q'eqchi'. It charges that when the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines granted the mining company new exploration licenses for an area of approximately 260 square kilometers, populated by nineteen communities with a population of about 6,000 indigenous people, it "failed to adopt measures to safeguard the integrity of the Q'eqchi' Mayan people."

The representation continues: "For the Q'eqchi' Mayans, as with other indigenous peoples, their territory is a fundamental element for their survival, not only as individuals, but also as a people with its own characteristics. Further, for the Q'eqchi' Mayans, the extraction of any component of its territory that is not subject to the rules and customs of their culture, affects their world reality and as such, their cultural integrity as a people."

Among the failings of the Guatemalan government cited in the claim is that the communities' expressed wishes that the project not be developed were ignored and that transparent mechanisms for previous and informed consultation about the project were never established or undertaken.

CGN, Skye's Guatemalan subsidiary, is presently engaged in exploratory drilling activities in areas they own that are adjacent to lands adjudicated to indigenous communities. However, due to concerns about deforestation, water contamination and violation of their land rights, the communities are opposed to the work's continuance, even on Skye's own property. In a declaration signed by twenty communities August 12, representatives call on Guatemala's president and mining minister to suspend immediately the mining license and Skye's exploration activities. There are further social and environmental concerns as Skye attempts to resurrect the long abandoned EXMIBAL nickel project they bought from Inco Limited in December 2004 and have christened the "Phoenix Project".

To date, the company has met with community resistance and has had to temporarily suspend and relocate some of its activities. The Defensoría Q' eqchi' and FTCC are hopeful of a ruling by the ILO that will be critical of Guatemala's practice of granting mining licenses in the territories of its indigenous communities without prior and informed consent by the affected populations.

Rights Action is a development, enviro and human rights organization, with its main office in Guatemala. Rights Action: channels your tax-deductible donations to over 50 community development, environment and human rights organizations in Guatemala, Chiapas, Honduras, Haiti; builds alliances for global equality and justice; provides accompaniment for 'at risk' community development leaders; carries out education & activist work with partner groups about global human rights, environment and development issues.,

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