Blog Entry

URGENT ACTION: Call for investigation and company departure in response to recurring violence in area of Canadian-owned silver project

Jen Moore

Latin America Program Coordinator / Coordinadora del programa para América Latina, 2010-2018.

Background: On Sunday, March 17, 2013, at around 8 pm, the President of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament and three other Xinca leaders were abducted by a group of heavily armed masked men while on their way home from observing a public referendum on Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine in El Volcancito, San Rafael Las Flores, in the department of Santa Rosa. This comes only two days after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on the Government of Guatemala to protect human rights defenders.

The following four men were kidnapped: President of the Xinca Parliament Roberto González Ucelo, who is also President of the indigenous Community of Santa María Xalapán, as well as other members of Santa María Xalapán leadership including Administrator Rigoberto Aguilar, Secretary Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, and Cabinet Member Rodolfo López Jiménez. They were forcibly taken in an area of the neighbouring department of Jalapa known as Pino Dulce.

Rigoberto Aguilar and Rodolfo López escaped and sounded the alarm. On the morning of Monday, March 18, 2013, Roberto González’ vehicle was found with multiple bullet holes and Exaltación Rámirez López was found dead. About four hundred people peacefully gathered in the immediate area in order to protect the scene of the crime while demanding that authorities initiate a proper and full investigation. That evening, President Roberto González Ucelo was found alive.

In response, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla made statements in the press, incorrectly conflating the non-violent community organizing in the municipalities of Mataquescuintla and San Rafael Las Flores with this and other recent violence. His statements are further evidence of ongoing stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, an issue that was raised specifically with regard to the situation in San Rafael Las Flores in the UN’s report on Guatemala delivered this January.

For more than two years, communities in the municipalities of San Rafael Las Flores and Mataquescuintla have been peacefully resisting the development of Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine. Recently, individual villages located in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores began carrying out a series of 26 public referenda to determine whether community members support development of extractive industry projects. UDEFEGUA, an NGO dedicated to the projection of human rights defenders, confirms that these consultations have been undertaken peacefully. Guatemala City-based and local environmental organizations, priests and lawyers who accompany local community activists involved in the local referenda have also faced various unjust legal processes, accusations and threats during the last year as part of attempts to undermine their work in defence of human rights and the environment. The four Xinca leaders attended the March 17th referendum in El Volcancito in order to demonstrate their solidarity with the communities in San Rafael Las Flores.

Escobal is operated by Minera San Rafael, a subsidiary of Tahoe Resources, a closely related company to Vancouver-based Goldcorp. Goldcorp holds 40% of Tahoe Resources shares and most of Tahoe’s current directors and management currently work for Goldcorp, or did previously. The project is advanced, but lacks the final permit it needs to put the mine into operation and the social license to operate.

In response to the recent events, we:

  • Urge Guatemala’s Attorney General to request that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) undertake a full and impartial investigation into the violence in the area, in particular the existence of an armed group, and to ensure the protection of the human rights and environmental defenders who are demanding respect for their rights to live in a safe and healthy environment and to free, prior and informed consent over the mine project.
  • Call on the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of the Environment in Guatemala to reject Tahoe Resources’ request for an exploitation license for the Escobal mine.
  • Call on Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources to pull out from San Rafael Las Flores given lack of social license for its Escobal project and the prevailing climate of violence that prohibits communities from peacefully conducting public referenda.  Its presence in the communities is generating conflict.

To take action: following this link and submit your name to the online petitions that will direct your support to these three urgent actions to the appropriate contacts.