In Guatemala, the unfortunate social and economic effects of the spread of COVID-19 can be observed. Guatemala is currently situated 2nd amongst Central American countries based on biweekly confirmed COVID cases per million. On July 22nd, 2021, Guatemala surpassed 10,000 deaths and reached 344,221 cases. In the face of this tragedy, the Guatemalan Government continues to insist that the most important thing is to maintain a stable economy. In one of the most recent national broadcasts, President Alejandro Giammattei declared:
“In the midst of all the crises, not everything is bad news. The macroeconomy of our country is doing excellent, Guatemala’s economy grew 4.8% during the first quarter of the year, confirming the recovery process after the economic contraction in 2020.”
These statements may respond to the interest of the Guatemalan government to expedite the consultation processes with Indigenous Peoples on mining projects which are currently suspended by Constitutional Court orders. Two of these such projects are the Escobal Mine, located in the department of Santa Rosa, and the Fenix Mine, located in the Izabal and Alta Verapaz departments.
Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and after several months of restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by the Government of Guatemala, the Xinka Parliament published an agreement with the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) on October 15th, 2020. After resuming the dialogue in February 2020 between the Xinka Parliament and MEM, an agreement was reached to restart the pre-consultation with the Xinka People, respecting the September 3rd, 2018 decision of the Constitutional Court (file number 4785-2017). One of the main agreements was the recognition of the 59 individuals designated by the Xinka People as their representatives in the pre-consultation and consultation process. However, the consultation with the Xinka People is not the only consultation process that interests the Guatemalan government. This past July 14th, the MEM announced the first pre consultation meeting for the Fenix mine, this reflects their interest in reopening both of these projects that are currently suspended by the Constitutional Court.
The Guatemalan government, along with mining companies, could be taking advantage of the pandemic to advance the consultation processes, which may violate the principles of good faith, participation, and free and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples.
Guatemala is not the only country interested in advancing and strengthening extractive projects. In June 2020, several international organizations presented a report on how the global mining industry was benefiting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Internationally, the mining industry has publicly positioned the sector as a ‘strategic’ activity and one of the ways of taking advantage of the crisis in favor of the extractive industry has been the use of the pandemic by transnational mining companies to present themselves as the “protectors of society”. For example, Pan American Silver who operates the Escobal mine, made a donation to the Santa Rosa Health Department of 1,340 rapid COVID-19 antigen tests. Previously, Xinka Parliament has also denounced that Minera San Rafael (Pan American Silver) was giving away food in Xinka communities in exchange for personal data. These acts by the company violate the sentence issued by the Constitutional Court, which ordered a consultation with the Xinka People on the Escobal mining project.
The government of Guatemala decreed a state of calamity, taking effect August 14, which suspended the scheduled pre-consultation meeting with the Xinka people, scheduled for August 15, 2021.