In March 2012 the The Caribbean Council released a report funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO) informing the British public about the investment opportunities that currently exist in Guatemala. The report was then distributed on the website of the British embassy in Guatemala. It also coincides with the EU-Central America Association Agreement, a free trade deal which in theory should contribute significantly to the further opening of markets.
The report focused on 5 areas: Construction Infrastructure, Renewable energy, Mining, Agribusiness and Retail Fashion. Titled, “Business Opportunities in Guatemala and El Salvador”, the report guides foreign investors on the different facets of the five areas mentioned above. Nearly all the investments opportunities proposed by the Caribbean Council are taken from the document “Invest in Guatemala”, produced by a company called PRONACOM which aims to bring foreign investment to the country.
While the Caribbean Council document is careful to warn that “as in any other country, a UK company entering the mining sector in Guatemala will need to ensure proper consultation with local community interests”, some of the projects in Guatemala, especially, have dreadful past and dubious current records. In particular, the cement plant in San Juan Sacatepequez and the nickel mine in El Estor have been the scene of serious human rights violations affecting the local indigenous communities.
El Estor in the department of Izabal is a region characterized by land conflicts and was heavily affected during Guatermala’s armed conflict. Even though a license to exploit nickel had existed since the 1970’s, it was not until Skye Resources bought the contract in 2005 that the project was activated. The result was the eviction of 500 families from their land in 2007. Among those who spoke out against the mine there have been various accounts of threats, imprisonment, gang rapes and murders. The majority of the crimes appear to have been committed by the mine’s private security guards. Five years later, none of the 500 families that were evicted has been relocated. The aim of the Solway Investment Groupis to now extract 590 million tonnes of nickel over 30 years.
In San Juan Sacatepequez, despite a community consultation which rejected the proposed cement plant in 2008, the Guatemalan company Cemento Progreso installed its new business, as shown in the photograph. Cemento Progreso is another company that has been invested in by the CDC. As at El Estor, since the installation of the cement plant the local population has suffered threats, imprisonment, gang rapes and murders, again mostly attributed to the company’s private security apparatus. As at San Marcos, after violence occurred between community members opposed to and those in favour of the cement plant, a ‘state of prevention’ was declared in San Juan Sacatepequez by the government. While the state of prevention decree was in effect, Cemento Progreso brought in machinery to begin operations under the protection of the Guatemalan army and police.
The British Embassy has a very close relationship with Cemento Progreso. Many of the embassy’s social programs are channeled through the company’s charity organization, Grupo Progreso. The Embassy also sponsors Guatemalan students to study in the UK, many of whom return to Guatemala to work with Cemento Progreso. Also the company regularly funds the annual British ball and donates prizes for its raffle.
The full analysis of the Caribbean Council report, by Samuel Jones, for Getresilent.com, can be downloaded here..