McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America

Fénix Project, Guatemala

Key Data

Company:INCO, Skye Resources, HudBay, currently Solway Group Operational status:advanced development Materials extracted:nickel Type of mine:open pit Main issues:indigenous rights, land rights, community relations


The Fenix project is located in El Estor in north-eastern Guatemala, and on the shore of the country’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Izabal, [1] [2]. The area is known for its rich biodiversity, and its substantial nickel reserves (about 20% of the known nickel reserves). Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ communities represent more than 90% of the population, most of whom make a living through subsistence farming and fishing [3]. In 1965, Mining Exploration and Exploitation of Izabal (EXMIBAL) obtained a 40 years license for the exploitation of nickel in El Estor. However, nearly 400km2 of the acquired land is located on indigenous historical land. As the mine project developed, the company started evicting communities that were living on the lands.  The community evictions sparked violent conflicts between the communities and the company, and these conflicts were repressed by the Guatemalan Army [4]. While these conflicts were occurring,  Guatemala was in the midst of a bloody civil war with peasants, indigenous communities and working class people fighting against the government and military forces. The civil unrest in Guatemala caused a delay in extraction activities at the Fénix mine. In the 1970s-80s, there was a growing resentment against EXMIBAL amongst academics and the general public, and many spoke up to denounce the clear disadvantages for the Guatemalan state if the the mining project were approved. The mounting tensions in the early 1970 due to the vehement opposition to the mine and general civil unrest culminated in violence with the attack on leftist intellectual Alfonso Bauer Paiz and the murders of the leftist lawyer Julio Camey and Adolfo Mijangos Lopez, a lawyer and congressional deputy [5] [6]. In 1977, when the political climate in Guatemala finally remained calm, the Fénix mine opened for production [1]. However, after three years of production and the apparent success of the mine, none of the revenues made their way to the Guatemalan state [1]. Additionally, EXMBAL avoided paying their required taxes to the government because they claimed that the decline in the international prices were causing serious losses. Due to the failure of EXMIBAL to adhere to the government’s regulations, the government attempted to renegotiate their contracts with EXMIBAL. However, the company refused the negotiations and instead suspended its operations at the mine in 1981 [1]. Ten years later, in 1994, EXMIBAL returned to the Fénix Project because of the new mining law passed that provides them with new benefits. In 1997, the reformed mining law lowered the taxes percentage that companies must pay to the Guatemalan state from 6% to 1%. In 2003, Skye Resources, a Vancouver based company, began negotiations to buy EXMIBAL. By April 2006, Skye Resources had obtained the exploitation permit with the intention to begin extracting nickel in 2009 and to reach full production in 2012 [1] [4]. However, Skye’s 250km2 exploitation permit encompassed land that was possessed by indigenous Maya Q’eqchi communities. In 2006 in response to Skye’s exploration permit, 400 families began occupying the land which many argued was bought and paid for by the communities. Community representative Carlos Cacao claimed that 21 pages were missing from the folder with the documents in which their properties were adjudicated [1] [7]. However, Skye Resources and their subsidiary, Guatemalan Nickel Company, has ignored all community claims. The first eviction occurred on November 12th 2006 without an order signed by a judge, as required by Guatemalan law[4]. On January 8th 2007, a more violent eviction was carried out because many families have resisted and refused to leave the land[4]. This time, 430 police officers and approximately 200 members of the state military were employed in the eviction process which resulted in the dismantling and burning of houses and the forced flee of houseless families from the area. In the community of Lote 8 eleven women claim to have been gang raped by nine security, police and military personnel [8]. In June 2008, Hudbay minerals bought Skye Resources [9], however the tension over the project in the communities remained high. In addition to the land conflicts mentioned above, the communities claim they were never properly consulted [1]. In 1994 when EXMIBAL received its mining license, there was no consultation with the local communities. In 2006, when Skye Resources received its permit, an Environmental Impact Assessment was written, but the document was neither translated into the Maya Q’eqchi language nor made available to the surrounding communities, and thus the local communities remained excluded from the permitting process. The tensions peaked on October 25, 2009 when a violent conflict broke out between members of Las Nubes community, and private security guards of the Guatemala Nickel Company. During the conflict, Adolfo Ich, a community leader and teacher was captured, shot, beaten and killed by security guards hired by Hudbay [10]. In December 2010, Angelica Choc sued Hudbay for the death of her husband Adolfo Ich [11]. In March 2011 Hudbay was sued again, by 11 women of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community of Lote Ocho for the gang rapes that allegedly occurred in the 2007 evictions [11]

To read more about the ongoing court case:



Timeline of Key Events