Fishing requires patience and silence. And that was what the fishermen of El Estor lost in May 2017. This is the short story, almost unnoticeable and on the point of being forgotten, of some fishermen who decided to leave their rafts when their lake began to turn red. They blame the contamination of the water on the nickel mine that has operated in this municipality in northeastern Guatemala for the past 50 years. Carlos Maaz Coc, Alfredo Maquín and the other members of the fishing guild were fed up with the neglect and went out to demonstrate on the highway. One of them is dead, another carries a bullet embedded in his body, two more are imprisoned, and five others are facing criminal charges and live in fear.
He still had time to go to lunch at his house at noon. He could take a break with Cristina and the little one. The quiet routine of fisherman Carlos Maaz had already been interrupted two weeks before, when a red spot appeared on the lake and he decided to join the protests of the fishing guild.
Carlos Maaz did not have time to scream. Not an exhalation, nor a moan. The bullet lodged in the heart. The fisherman collapsed and was lying on the pavement, while other bullets whistled past the fishermen who had decided to block the road that leads from El Estor to the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN), located seven kilometers from the central park of the town - or 15 minutes by car - and, like El Estor, situated on the shore of Lake Izabal.
Everyone runs, they scream, the tear gas bombs rumble. The stones rebound from one side to the other. Meanwhile, the body of Carlos Maaz is frozen, lifeless, in the middle of the Dantesque scene. This is documented in the photos of May 27, 2017.
There are few portraits of Carlos Maaz alive: the photo of his ID and another blurred family photo, which Cristina, his widow, shows to the journalists who appear, although fewer each time, to try to unravel a story that has remained entangled for decades. On the other hand, there are dozens of photos of Carlos Maaz dead, lying on his back, wearing a white polo shirt printed with stars. It is possible to see the pale red stain, the size of a carnation, on his chest.
Little was spoken of this revolt in a municipality of the department of Izabal prone to sporadic uproars. The town functioned for decades as a lake shore port with an exit to the Atlantic Ocean, where a single store supplied the farms of the tropical region, originally dubbed “The Store”. The village founded in 1886 grew and became a municipality of 40,000 inhabitants, which is still the center of trade for the monoculture farms of the area - African palm, bananas and cattle. For fifty years (1971) it has also been ‘the store’ of the nickel mine that operates next to the largest lake in Guatemala, originally inhabited by the Q'eqchi Mayan ethnicity, and in which Q'eqchis, mestizos (mixed race people), and at least 216 foreign workers from the mine now live together.
That Saturday 27, for a few more minutes, they all continued with the choreography of a demonstration, of a blockade, of a police contingent that dissolved the uprising using blows and tear gases... and, possibly, bullets. Hours passed before the body of Carlos Maaz was lifted. The Attorney General’s Office never arrived to collect evidence, take photographs, write down the names of possible witnesses and take the body to Puerto Barrios, the departmental capital, to do the forensic examination.
Almost two years have passed and few people say anything about the case of Carlos Maaz, the 27-year-old fisherman who had been fishing all his life, who, in two weeks, became an activist, an environmentalist, a lake defender and a martyr. The witnesses point to the Police, to the State, but in Guatemala, that is no reason for scandal.