The company Solways' mining industry on Lake Izabal in Guatemala has devastating consequences for the environment and people in the area. Photo: NELO Mijangos. Source: Flickr.


Solway's mining industry in Guatemala - a repeat of colonial times

Is the colonial era over or has it just changed shape? Are the companies that ruthlessly exploit other countries' natural resources in the pursuit of greater riches the colonialism of our time? The company's Solway's mining industry in Guatemala has devastating consequences for the environment and for local communities.

- Only in Guatemala do we exchange mineral wealth for breadcrumbs. The mining company in El Estor earns billions of dollars every year and these are the starvation wages they pay, leaving behind destruction and pollution. All this thanks to corrupt officials and those who sell out our country.

It writes a representative of El Estor's fishing association in Guatemala, Rafael Maldonado in a Facebook post, according to Forbidden Stories.

The international journalist network Forbidden Stories works to disseminate the works of imprisoned, threatened and murdered journalists. In early March 2022, they published a series of articles on how the extraction of nickel in a mine in Guatemala has led to polluted water in Lake Izabal, poor harvests, diseases and death.

The company that owns the mine is called Solway and the company is headquartered in Switzerland. Following the discovery of the emissions in Lake Izbal in 2017, Solway conducted an internal investigation which showed that the emissions of, among other things, nickel came from the mine. The report, which included information on the mine pollution, was never published. The company Solway instead did everything in its power to obscure the information, writes SVT. These are actions that are not so shocking given an important factor that depends on the continued extraction in the mine - and that is money. 

On Solway's website you can read about theirs sustainability policies. They write that their primary responsibility is to "promote and protect the health, safety and well-being of all our employees, our contracted staff and the inhabitants of our local communities ”. Very good ambitions, it may seem. Unfortunately, the extraction of nickel in El Estor has contributed to the exact opposite.

Intimidation tactics are an effective method if you are opposed as a company by the locals who you want to "protect". When the locals took to the streets to protest against the mine, the local police responded with force against the protesters. The clashes ended with two people being shot by police, one of whom, Carlos Maaz, was killed. This incident frightened the population and the protests ceased, according to Forbidden Stories.

Journalist Carlos Choc, who was present during the protests, has the only photo which can be used as evidence in relation to Carlos Maaz's death. He has also for several months documented the mining industry's environmental impact in the region. 

Carlos Choc has previously been accused by Solway of having committed several different crimes, forcing him to leave his home and family for seven months. When he returned from exile, he was under the supervision of Solway. Perhaps Carlos Choc was overseen by Solway because they wanted to safeguard his well-being, health and safety, as they write in their sustainability policy. Or maybe Choc's work was a potential threat to the streams of money in the billions that the company receives each year. 

Protestant with sign with the text "Planet over profit". Photo: Jay Wennington. Source: Unsplash.

Money may not buy everything, as the saying goes, but money can definitely buy a lot. In the region where Lake Izbal and the mine are located, the indigenous people Maya Q'eqchi 'live. Forbidden stories has found documents that show that Solway has made several payments to leaders and other people within the indigenous peoples' council to buy their consent to Solway's continued extraction in the mine. Guadalupe Xol Quinich, a former councilor, was offered $ 400 to support the company. She refused and was removed from her position in the council, according to Forbidden Stories.

Companies like Solway use their economic power to gain access to other countries' natural resources in order to make even more money. Although Solway has created job opportunities for the local population, they have at the same time removed livelihood opportunities and security for others, due to the consequences that the mining industry leads to. Once again, history is repeated when people with economic power take the right to exploit other countries' natural resources, land and local communities for their own economic gain - without caring about the consequences. 

This is a chronicle. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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