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Guatemala revokes environmental license for Canadian-backed open-pit mine amid controversy

The Guatemalan government has revoked the environmental license for a proposed open-pit mine near the border with El Salvador, citing multiple “anomalies,” including forged signatures and missing documentation. This decision, announced on Friday, comes amid growing opposition from environmentalists and local communities.

Patricia Orantes, the head of the Ministry of Environment, stated at a press conference, “The procedure for obtaining an environmental license must be amended.” The mine, still in its planning stages, is owned by Bluestone Resources, a Canadian company. They aim to extract over 250 million cubic meters of soil and subsoil from a gold and silver deposit located in Asunción Mita, a municipality east of the Guatemalan capital.

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The controversial license, which allowed the transition from underground to open-pit mining, was issued on January 9, just days before the end of right-wing President Alejandro Giammattei’s term. Orantes highlighted that the change to open-pit mining represented “an entirely new and different project from the original one,” and noted the discovery of forged signatures and the disappearance of more than 900 pages of project documentation.

Open-pit mining poses significant environmental risks, including potential water pollution, loss of fertile soil, destruction of flora and fauna, and significant changes to the landscape due to the extraction of millions of cubic meters of material, Orantes explained.

Local leaders and environmental groups are particularly concerned about the mine’s potential impact on Lake Güija, a transboundary lake shared with El Salvador, and the Lempa River, which starts in Guatemala and serves as the primary water source for San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital.

In 2022, despite a community referendum in Asunción Mita rejecting the mine, the Giammattei administration proceeded with plans to approve it. Minister of Energy and Mines, Víctor Hugo Ventura, confirmed that due to the identified irregularities, “the license for open-pit mining cannot be granted to this company; they will have to conduct a new environmental impact study.”

This decision marks a significant victory for environmental advocates and local residents who have long opposed the project due to its potential environmental and social impacts.

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