By Jack Caldwell - Mining Engineer - Robertson GeoConsultants

Perhaps a Canadian court is the only place to sort out the mess that is the story of HudBay Minerals, the Fenix Mine near El Estorin Guatemala, and the death of Adolfo Ich Chaman.

A few facts are undisputed:

  • HudBay”owns” 98.2% of the Fenix brownfield nickel laterite project. They acquired this “ownership” in 2008 as a result of “its business combination” with Skye Resources, who acquired it from Inco.
  • The mineral rights to the deposit are held under a 25-year renewable exploitation license from the Guatemala government.
  • Adolfo Ich Chaman died on September 27th, 2009.
  • The Fenix Mine has been on a “care and maintenance” basis since 1980.
  • Guatemala has a long and sad history of civil war, genocide, suppression, and ugly politics.

The rest is in dispute.

In particular there is a major dispute about who killed Adolfo, who should be held responsible, and who should compensate his widow and five children.

Rights Action and the Klippensteins law firm have sued HudBay seeking to hold them responsible for the killing and presumably for compensating the widow & children.

HudBay’s side of the story is told at this link. I quote a small part of what they say about events surrounding the death of Adolfo:

"Throughout the attacks, CGN personnel [CompaniaGuatemala de Niquel, HudBay'ssubsidiary] showed restraint and acted only in self defense. Their measured response to the various attacks helped to prevent the further escalation of violence, thus limiting the number of injuries on both sides of the conflict. CGN has confirmed that five of its security personnel were injured during the violence, one requiring emergency transport to Guatemala City for medical treatment. Unfortunately, a protestor (Adolfo Ich Chaman) died as a result of wounds sustained that day. Based on internal investigations and eye witnessreports, HudBay and CGN are confident that CGN personnel were not involved in his death."

Not so say Klippenstein and Adolfo’s wife. They say he was an innocent protestor hacked to death by employees of CGN. Another shrill site proclaims:

"Community leader, local school teacher and vocal opponent of the mine Adolfo Ich Chamán is shot and killed by the security forces of a subsidiary of Canada’s HudBay Minerals. Several other community members are wounded -one is rendered a paraplegic."

Nobody in Guatemala has been indicted for the death.

A relatively balanced account is given at this site. Again I quote key statements:

"One such clash occurred last year, on the 27thof September. Company officials and security guards, accompanied by the Governor of the region, entered the town of Las Nubes around 3:30pm to exhort a number of families living just outside the town to do as the company wanted and to move elsewhere. Dan explained that the community was frightened by the arrival of this convoy and weren’t sure they understood what was being asked of them. Community members phoned friends in nearby villages, letting them know that the Governor was trying to evict them. They quickly organized and succeeded at blocking the road by 4pm, such that the convoy, upon leaving Las Nubes, was met by activists. They intended to peacefully protest the eviction and to have a discussion with the Governor. She had already found out about the road block, however, and had left by boat, while the rest of the convoy reached the road block. The whole situation quickly degraded into a direct and violent confrontation, ultimately resulting in the death of one activist, Adolfo Ich. While it is hard to determine exactly who killed him, many assert that, regardless, the company holds ultimate responsibility for its attempt to convince the community to move when they had no legal obligation to do so."

And that I suppose is what a Canadian court may be called upon to determine: Is HudBay responsible for the death of a protestor in an event, associated with their property, which was the culmination of years of bad history?

HudBay says it is continuing to evaluate the property. I bet that they, as many other Canadian mining companies, will choose to stay away from mining in Guatemala for the foreseeable future. I for one would not buy shares in the hope of successful mining by Canadians in Guatemala.