Residents of El Estor, a small Q’eqchi community of 40,000 people located in northeast Guatemala, cheered when they heard that Vancouver-based Skye Resources was interested in reopening a local abandoned nickel mine. According to local press, the town’s mayor and several community leaders led a rally last September in favor of the mine with a banner that read, "El Estor says yes to responsible mining."
It’s easy to see why there was such excitement. Skye Resources estimates that it will employ 1,000 people and create four indirect jobs in the community for every new mining job. That plus an overall investment of at least $539 million is not irrelevant for an impoverished town with one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country — over 40% for indigenous men and 35% for indigenous women.
The festive mood didn’t last long. Within months, opposition to the project began to swell. Well-organized protesters were soon demanding that the Guatemalan government withdraw the mining license it had issued, alleging environmental risks and inadequate consultation with the community.
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In a country with such dire needs for capital and technology to lessen the want of the poor, it is worth exploring whether such anti-mine activism truly expresses the will of the people. Looking behind the scenes, the funding and instigation of the activism appears heavily driven by international nongovernmental organizations that end up discouraging development while trying to fulfill their own mission.
Boston-based Oxfam America and Toronto’s Rights Action are two anti-development NGOs active in Guatemala. Oxfam has partnered with MadreSelva (Mother Jungle), a Guatemala City environmental group headed by affluent urbanites, to block mining projects.
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