MAC: Mines and Communities

Mineral Concessions in Guatemala Violate International Agreements and Peace Accords

Published by MAC on 2004-04-15

Oil and Mineral Concessions in Guatemala Violate International Agreements and Peace Accords

Press release April 2004 - Defensoría Q'eqchi'

The Defensoría Q'eqchi', the justice programme of the AEPDI (Asociación Estoreña Para el Desarrollo Integral), has publically denounced the oil and mining concessions granted in the department of Izabal and in various departments of the country as violations of Convention 169 of the ILO (ratified by Guatemala in 1996). AEPDI demands that the new government respond urgently to issues surrounding these concessions and take concrete action to defend the rights of communities whose land and culture have been threatened by these activities.

Present Reality of Mining in Guatemala

According to a study carried out by the Defensoría Q'eqchi', 31 exploitation concessions and 135 metal exploration concessions (mainly for gold, silver, copper, nickel and lead) have been granted. With a few exceptions, the concessions were granted during the administration of Alfonso Portillo, after ILO (International Labor Organization) Covenant 169 had been ratified by the government of Guatemala.

Geographically, the concessions are concentrated in mountainous areas in the east of the country. Permits have been granted in 16 departments and in 106 municipalities. Nine of these departments have a majority Mayan indigenous population; various small indigenous communities are in danger of ethnocide as a result of these concessions being granted.

Although AEPDI was unable to ascertain the size of the areas for which concessions were granted, we note that the yearly report of just one of the permit holders, Radius Exploration Ltd., indicates that their concession covers a territory of more than 4000 km2.

Canadian and American Companies

The main players in the mining industry are five off-shore Canadian and US companies that operate under various registered names in Guatemala. Three of these companies are Canadian: Inco Ltd. (registered as Exmibal), Jaguar Nickel (registered as Minera Mayamérica, S.A) and Radius Exploration Ltd (registered as Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala, S.A and Exmingua, S.A). The two American companies are Glamis Gold Ltd., (registered as Entremares, S.A., and Exploradora Montana S.A) and ITH Chemicals LLC. (registered as Minera Quetzal, S.A., Representaciones Químicas, S.A. and Geominas, S.A.).

Consessions and Impunity

Ministry of Energy and Mines representatives have stated that local communities were not consulted before concessions were granted. They pointed out that such consultations do not form part of the recently reformed Mining Code. Thus, permits were granted for mining of large areas without any communities knowing, be they indigenous or not, that rights to the subsoil belonging to the local communities had been transferred to international corporations.

In August 2001, the government of Guatemala, in Resolution 346-2001, granted exploitation and exploration rights to the Companía Petrolera del Atlántico (CPA) in two areas in the north of the department of Izabal, in the El Estor zone and also in Livingston. Both areas have 85% Q'eqchi' indigenous population, yet the communities affected were never consulted. This violates ILO Covenant 169.

After an intense media campaign by environmental and indigenous groups, the government rescinded Resolution 346-2001 through Resolution 171-2002, in the area of El Estor, citing violations to the international treaty. However, despite similarity in the cultures of the two areas where concessions had been granted, the agreement left the contract with the CPA intact in the Livingston area. Despite demands from the population affected by this, the government has not responded. This is a violation of the rights of more than a thousand Q'eqchi' indigenous peoples.

Mining Concessions in Izabal

In a press release of July 11, 2002, the Canadian company Chesbar Resources Inc. (now Jaguar Nickel Inc.) announced that it had received mining concessions for nickel extraction through its subsidary company, Minera Mayamérica, S.A, for an area of 127.42 km2 in El Estor, Izabal, and for Panzós and Cahbón in the department of Alta Verapaz. According to the company, these concessions were in addition to others covering an area of 207.16 km2 in the same zones. Our research has shown that the first concessions were obtained under Resolution 1127 from the Dirección General de Minería on June 6, 2000.

Despite the fact that the government of Guatemala had already ratified ILO 169 and that these concessions have direct impact on more than 50 Q'eqchi indigenous communities with a population of some 20,000 people, there was no consultation with these communities. This is thus a clear violation of the ILO 169. We also point out that the granting of these concessions was never published in the official newspaper and all information concerning them had to be obtained from Canadian sources.

In a press release of December 24, 2003, another Canadian mining company, Skye Resources Inc., announced an accord with Inco Ltd. of Toronto, in which they acquired concessions known as Niquegua, in an area covering 384.4 km2 in the municipalities of El Estor, Panzós and Cahabón - 70% of this property had been granted to Inco, only 30% was still managed by the government of Guatemala. The accord contains various conditions for technological and financial experimentation and for re-activation of the Niquegua concession for which Inco had been granted a 40 year concession under its subsidary, Exmibal, S. A, on August 14, 1965. However, these operations have been abandoned since 1982 when Inco left the country.

We believe that the planned re-activation of this mining operation, involving several new open pit mines, should be subject to consultation with the more than 30 indigenous Q'eqchi' communities in the area, as per ILO 169.


It is obvious that the human rights of the indigenous population, especially the Q'eqchi', were not respected by the former government nor by the concession granting bodies. Basic obligations have been ignored and agreements have been violated in a grab for mining interests.

We demand an immediate answer from the new government concerning this situation in which the culture and lands of thousands of indigenous peoples are being endangered. Furthermore, we demand that no new mining and oil concessions be granted until clear procedures for consultation are established to guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples and to ensure that concessions already granted are re-evaluated and corrective measures taken.

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