Did You Know About El Estor?

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As I learn the culture of the original people here, the Maya. I am learning to understand their philosophy of non-resistance or passive resistance. They have all the right in the world to be angry and even hostile, yet they aren't. Much of what I was told however, I have yet to meet with them to interpret. The history of El Estor is just one small example. I have spoken to many people about the horrors that have happened and they simply replied that "Guatemala wouldn't be what it is today without what happened." To me that was crazy until later.

I had the honor of communicating with a person working with the municipality there although I don't know their name who knows and even remembers most of the history there as it is a young village for the most part being originated less than 100 years ago. This is what I understand so far that they quoted; "El Estor is young as the other municipalities in the area are, except for Livigston Izabal. Around 1929 it was a town that had no more than 100 inhabitants, despite it being municipality. The word is of Latin origin "Estor", in the opinion of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who was here at one time, who watched the clouds fringed sun in the twilight paths and thought of them as curtains, which signifies the word Estor... This is where I'm not clear because the term "arian" was used which could have referred to missionaries or just white people and there are other things that I'm not sure the translation was correct but here it is; " But the name was that was derived from The Curtain sigueinte really the event, at the end of last sigtlo SKINNER English lords and Klee had in the village, next to the beach of the bay of a warehouse sekeenel known as "THE STORE" (store or warehouse)." I have more but the translation needs to be verified before I post it.

Before roads and railroads, Lake Izabal was the link between Alta Verapaz and the rest of the world. What is now known as "El Estor" was the landing and trading post for of hardwoods, chicle, and other Guatemalan cargo and travelers to frontier towns such as Cobán. A ferry which is still in El Estor (non-functional) crossed the lake to the village of Marisco. Commonly referred to as "the store" in English, the name evolved to its present form due to Spanish-speakers style of pronunciation and spelling. El Estor City Hall from Lake Izabal.

The town of El Estor, in northeast Guatemala, lies at sea level on the shore of Lake Izabal, the country's largest freshwater lake. The Dulce River flows out of Izabal and hosts Guatemala's most extensive area of aquatic biodiversity, as well as rich petroleum deposits which beckon beneath the lake's surface. In the surrounding mountains, a thin layer of topsoil covers rich nickel reserves, adding value to an already resource-rich territory. The indigenous Maya Q'eqchi, who inhabit this land, are frequently beset by extractive corporations who seek to profit from oil, nickel, and other invaluable resources; operations that pose serious threats to local communities.

Rigorous strip mining has already degraded the fragile El Estor ecosystem directly above the fragile ecosystem preserve "Bocas del Polochic" which is home to many endangered species of plants and animals by eroding the thin topsoil in mountain passes inhabited by Mayan communities. The mountainsides have been deforested, causing landslides and a litany of environmental hazards. In addition to the environmental threat, there is a long history of political violence between the mining companies and the indigenous communities who resist them.

The Guatemalan Truth Commission, part of the 1996 peace agreement that ended the Guatemalan civil war between government paramilitaries and leftist insurgents, required that indigenous communities be consulted about the use of their land. The Commission also asserted that these communities, with a historical claim to their land that preceded the modern system of legal land titling, have the right to decide the use of their land.

The intrusive operations of nickel mining companies in northern Guatemala are posing a serious threat to Mayan communities, but despite increasing pressure to yield to their demands, Oxfam partner AEPDI won’t give an inch.

Oxfam partner AEPDI (The Assocation for the Integral Development of El Estor) works for the defense of the Maya Q'eqchi. AEPDI is drawing on UN treaties and other international documents ratified by Guatemala to protect indigenous communities from extractive threats.

AEPDI is campaigning to ensure that these rights are recognized and enforced. They are organizing the Q'eqchi into a unified front to help the Mayans gain sovereignty over their lands. AEPDI seeks measures to protect communities from the effects of pollution, discrimination and politically-motivated violence that they have suffered in the past.

El Estor City Hall from Lake Izabal. On January 8th and 9th 2007, hundreds of police and soldiers in Guatemala forcibly evicted the inhabitants of several communities who were living on lands that a Guatemalan military government had granted to Canadian mining company INCO in 1965. Local indigenous people claim the land to be theirs, and resent the exploitation of a foreign corporation. Canada's Skye Resources now lays claim to the land, and paid workers a nominal sum to destroy people's homes. With the force of the army and police, company workers took chainsaws and torches to people's homes, while women and children stood by. Skye Resources claims that they maintained "a peaceful atmosphere during this action."

Construction of roads has left El Estor a minor port visited mostly by locals and the adventurous traveler to this point. More recently Japan and Asian markets have funded the roads to be widened and are currently in the process of paving way from the Peten through El Estor to Cobán. The economic and ecological outcome of these changes have yet to determined.

Extractive industries is just one facet of AEPDI's overall campaign. AEPDI also:

  • Strengthens the Guatemalan justice system by monitoring the formal legal system, influencing public opinion and policy at local and regional levels.

  • Supplies legal interpreters (Q´eqchi´- Spanish) and trainers for elders in rural communities, teaching conflict resolution and other useful skills.

  • Sponsors artistic projects to promote justice issues, presenting plays dealing with justice and cultural themes in rural communities, using Mayan legends and myths for their inspiration. The project is composed of students and teachers on school vacations.

  • Focuses on the educational development of the Q'eqchi population with a focus on young people and adults through a distance education program. The program offers an accelerated education track, focusing on literacy. This program teaches an awareness of environment, culture and language and seeks to build the self-esteem of the students.

A Legacy of Victimization—The EXMIBAL Story

EXMIBAL processing plant, closed since 1981, but hazardous waste remains.

This section is outdated as there has been activity in the mines as earlier described but the inrformation is still an important part of local history.

Nickel mining in El Estor began in the 1950s when a local rancher sent highly promising soil samples to the Hanna Mining Company. After allowing mining executives to virtually rewrite the national mining code in 1965, the Guatemalan government granted a 40-year nickel mining concession to EXMIBAL, a subsidiary of the Canadian International Nickel Company (INCO Limited of Canada).

The concession covers 385 square kilometers in the El Estor area, with an initial investment of $238 million. The mine, constructed in the mountains in indigenous Q'eqchi territory, included a residential complex of 700 houses, numerous offices, a hospital, a small strip mall, a school, a golf course, and a large industrial processing area.

Popular protests soon erupted in response to the concession. An ad hoc commission of lawyers and university professors began investigating the circumstances around the concession, opposing what they felt to be the governments' sale of non-renewable resources for political gain. The protests grew, and the government declared a state of siege and eventually occupied the Universidad San Carlos in November 1979. Professor Julio Camey Herrera was killed that day, and his colleague Alfonso Bauer Paiz was later severely wounded by machine gun fire by unknown assailants, in the presence of witnesses. Both were on the commission investigating the actions of EXMIBAL.

Protests continued on a local level and culminated in the notorious massacre of more than 100 Q'eqchi during a peaceful protest. The same day as the massacre, protesters traveling from El Estor to Panzós by foot were fired upon by men in EXMIBAL trucks.

Citing rising oil costs and falling nickel prices, EXMIBAL ceased its operations in El Estor in 1981.

AEPDI's president has personally visited the head of INCO, the parent company, to ask that INCO allow members of the community to use the land which currently houses the ghost town from the mine. AEPDI has also looked into the environmental rehabilitation of the land, which is now significantly scarred by the strip mine. They have two primary concerns: getting indigenous people access to their former lands, and making the land useable again.

Their requests have gone unheeded.

AEPDI and the Atlantic Petroleum Company (APC)

In 1998 the government of Guatemala granted an area of 320,000 acres, including Lake Izabal, to the Atlantic Petroleum Company (APC) to drill for oil for a period of 25 years. You may even like to research the "Bush Administrations" involvement on what was done here under the guise of drug erradication. The negotiations with APC were carried out in a closed forum without the consultation or participation of local authorities or local communities who would be affected by the deal.

AEPDI invoked international covenants on indigenous rights and the recommendations left by the Guatemalan Truth Commission to form a strong legal argument for the rights of local communities to keep APC off their lands. Working with a network of environmental, indigenous and local organizations, they joined together and were able to bring enormous political pressure to bear against the operation.

On May 23, 2002, Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo revoked the oil concession which had threatened the municipality of El Estor. The decision was a victory for the thousands of people who would have suffered from oil extractions in their communities, and for the preservation of precious biodiversity.

New Threats in El Estor

A sign on road leading to mountains outside of El Estor reads "Attention: This highway is property of EXMIBAL, constructed for the extraction of minerals and for use by EXMIBAL. It is subject to rules put in place by the company."

In February 2003, INCO announced a sales agreement of the EXMIBAL concessions to another Canadian company, Geostar Metals Inc. which is preparing for a new phase of nickel mining in El Estor. According to company sources, mining would be conducted by opening several small strip mines over a large area, threatening the environment and livelihoods of thousands of Q'eqchi.

APC's concession for the area along the Río Sarstún, a Q'eqchi area on the border with Belize, remains intact. AEPDI is hoping to win the support of President Portillo for the overturn of the concession, citing the same arguments which won the revocation of the Izabal concession.

On another front, Minera Maya América, a new nickel mining subsidiary of Chesbar Resources, Inc., has several active mining operations in Guatemala, and is looking to expand.

AEPDI met with Tom Koenigs, the head of the United Nations Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) and succeeded in obtaining a declaration from MINUGUA that the oil concessions were in violation of international treaties that Guatemala has signed. They are also in conversations with James Lambert, the Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala, who has committed to meeting with the companies' representatives, and is insisting compliance with Guatemalan and international laws and treaties.

The people of El Estor are significantly more equipped and better trained to confront these threats to their community than they were when EXMIBAL first arrived in 1965. However, the situation in Guatemala continues to deteriorate. MINUGUA departs this year, leaving behind its declaration that the country has failed to implement the peace accords. Unemployment stands at nearly 40 percent, common crime and drug trafficking are on the rise, and political corruption is rampant. Now more than ever, the work of AEPDI is crucial to preserve the rights of the Q'eqchi people, and the fight against extractive industries is a key part of that battle.

On January 8th and 9th, 2007, the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) ordered the eviction of hundreds of Q’eqchi’ Mayan families from five communities in the municipalities of El Estor, Izabal and Panzos, Alta Verapaz. Nearly 650 members from a combined National Police-Army force carried out the massive evictions in a violent matter while committing numerous irregularities that undoubtedly favored the mining company. CGN claims the disputed landholdings as its property.

One of the communities evicted in January 2007 is Barrio La Union, officially registered as Finca La Esmeralda. CGN, local subsidiary of Canadian mining company HudBay, claims to be the legitimate owner of the landholding – call it La Union or La Esmeralda. Nevertheless, local residents claim the landholding as part of their ancestral rights. The large plot of land was given practically for free to the mining company in the 1960s by the military dictators of the time. A local leader states that, as a result, “no on can say ‘it is mine’”.

The following is quoted from a post commemorating those devasted in the past years. For more information you can go to their site, Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros de America Latina "OCMAL"

Two years after the violent evictions, residents of Barrio La Union continue their pacific resistance by living on the fields of La Esperanza, which remained barren for many years. The community members, accused by CGN to be squatters, proudly display how their struggle and resistance is slowly giving way to a thriving rural village.

2009 THE MURDER OF Adolfo Ich Chaman, the case continues with impunity Today age 3 being killed the respected community leader Adolfo Ich Quechí Maya Shaman, near Estor, Izabal, Guatemala. On 27 September 2009, Adolfo was attacked with machetes and firearms by private security employed by the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), which was then subsidized by the Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals. This same day, another member of a close community, German Chub Choc, was shot by private security, and left for dead. He survived, but was left paralyzd from the waist down. Adolfo was a figure who openly criticized the human rights violations and environmental damage caused by mining corporate community, in particular the Fenix mining project who was operated by CGN. It's been three years since his murder, despite the eyewitness account, an arrest warrant against the then security chief Mynor Gonzalez Padilla has just been made. Other than that, there have been significant advances in clarifying the murder of Adolfo.

In addition as of today September 29, 2012 on the anniversary of this attrocity, there has been little movement toward justice in the case of the 11 women of the nearby community, Lot Eight, who were raped by the private security police and soldiers during a forced eviction on January 17, 2007. The illegal and violent evictions Those left hundreds of families homeless after their houses and crops were burned, in clear violation of international human rights standards. Today is a day not only to locate the murder of Adolfo Ich Shaman within a broad context of criminalization and attacks against those defending their land from invading corporate mining companies, but also a day to remember the irreparable loss to their community, their children and his wife, Angelica Choc. Who now holds a public commemoration to all communities to denounce the murderer of Adolfo Ich Chaman, the shot against German Chub Choc, 11 and rape our women. We show that we will not forget or stop fighting until justice is applied. Therefore the following demands remain:

1. That prosecutors continue their investigation into the murder of Adolfo Ich Shaman to clarify the events that led to his murder and discern the identity of the perpetrators and masterminds of this crime. 2. That prosecutors continue their investigation until there is justice for violent and illegal evictions that happened in 2007, in which 11 women were raped Lot Eight.

3. That prosecutors continue their investigation until there is justice for the shot against German Chub Choc.

4. That the CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) intervene in the case to ensure there is an investigation and that justice is done.

5. Transnational mining companies to respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples to give genuine consent, prior and informed consent, and recognize that we are the rightful owners of this land.

6. That the Guatemalan government ensures the safety of the family of Mr. Adolfo Ich Chaman security Quechí Maya community of Estor, the safety of all human rights defenders in Guatemala, especially those who defend the land, land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. On September 29, 2012 The Estor, Guatemala

Visit AEPDI's webpage to learn more.

Learn mmore and see clips of the eviction of the villagers on You Tube

And if that isn't enough proof, go to MIMUNDO.org for more information.