Blog Entry

Witness for the Indefensible: A Cheat Sheet for Kevin McArthur on Tahoe Resources’ Tactics to Silence Opposition in Guatemala

Jen Moore

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

Mr. Kevin McArthur, the CEO of Tahoe Resources who came out of retirement after leaving Goldcorp in 2008 to develop the Escobal silver mine in southeastern Guatemala, has been summoned by a District Attorney’s office in Guatemala. He has been called to testify about the company’s tactics to put down opposition to the Escobal mine, such as through framing leaders on false or trumped up charges.

Just in case Kevin’s been spending a lot of time on the golf course lately and hasn’t been fully enmeshed in the day-to-day operations of his company’s only project, we thought we would put together a cheat sheet for him about the way in which community leaders and their attempts to undertake democratic, peaceful votes about mining on their lands have been criminalized since 2011.

Also, in case Mr. McArthur hasn’t read his company’s annual filings this year, we’ve described how Tahoe has been directly involved in militarizing the area around the Escobal mine. Tahoe Resources helped to set up an office in San Rafael Las Flores where the mine is located to help the company “address community issues and oversee security matters”. The office is headed by a military coronel and, in the opinion of local community leaders and activists, is a counterinsurgency and military intelligence project.


Since 2011, there have been nearly 90 legal cases filed against peaceful protesters and community leaders opposed to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine.[1] An incident report dated July 2012 and attributed to Alberto Rotondo - the former security manager for Tahoe Resources who is currently under arrest awaiting trial in connection with violence against peaceful protesters - appears to recommend the implementation of a criminalization strategy against those opposed to the mine, urging “a strategic legal and public media communications campaign to prove the involvement of the groups responsible for these actions, especially the involvement of the Catholic Church so that the authorities are forced to take legal action against them.”[2]

Tahoe Resources, with the help of the Guatemalan government and the powerful Guatemala Chamber of Commerce has used four main strategies to try to prevent people from opposing the mine.

1.    Challenge the legality of municipal referenda through lawsuits

Since 2011, five municipalities neighouring San Rafael Las Flores where Tahoe has built the Escobal mine have held referenda in which a majority voted against mining activities on their lands. Two lawsuits were filed against the legality of such municipal referenda. In both cases, the Constitutional Court dismissed the cases, finding that citizens have a right to express their views regarding whether or not they are in favour of mining.[3]

2.    Prevent referenda from taking place at all

While municipal referenda have taken place in municipalities immediately surrounding San Rafael Las Flores, in which tens of thousands have voted against the mine, in San Rafael Las Flores itself, no official municipal referendum has taken place. In this case, the mayor refused to allow it[4] despite a community request, and from late 2011 throughout the first half of 2012, numerous frivolous allegations were made against leaders of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores – the group responsible for promoting the vote. This includes a complaint filed by a representative of Tahoe Resources’ subsidiary on November 20, 2011 alleging kidnapping, terrorism and forceful entry by five leaders of the group. Legal representatives of the committee also faced accusations of violence against women and femicide.[5] As a result, by early 2013, local organizers decided to coordinate referenda at the village level in San Rafael Las Flores. Eight of nine results to date have been overwhelmingly against mining.[6] Representatives of more than half of the communities in the municipality have also signed declarations against the mine.[7] Intentions to carry out further consultations have been stymied by militarization in the area, described in more detail below.

3.    Criminalization of social protest against the mine

On September 17, 2012, 31 people were arrested during a peaceful protest. According to the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), “Community members, many active members in the local Catholic parishes, were charged with terrorism and arson, accusations that were finally thrown out more than six months later when a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial.”[8] Another 26 were detained on April 11, 2013, reportedly on private property and without an arrest warrant. [9] People were protesting at the time because the Ministry of Energy and Mines had just approved the exploitation license for the Escobal project, dismissing without due process over 200 official complaints that local residents had filed against the license based on their concerns about the potential environmental and health impacts of the mine.[10] All 26 were all freed without charge four days later.[11]

4.    Militarization and violence to stifle protests

In June 2012, Tahoe filed a suit against the Guatemalan government stating that protests were hindering its operations and claiming that the State was not doing enough to allow its exploration and construction activities to proceed.[12] The Constitutional Court dismissed the suit in February 2013. Nonetheless, on March 26, 2013, the Guatemalan government secretly commenced a pilot initiative in San Rafael Las Flores called the “Inter-institutional Group on Mining Affairs” that frames opposition to mining as a threat to national security.[13] The Governmental Accord drawn up to create the group was presented to the General Attorney’s office, but never officially published. It states that the group’s purpose is “To draw up recommendations, policies, strategies and political, social, economic and security projects for the National Security Commission in order to provide holistic attention to the security problems created by natural resources exploration and extraction.”[14] Coronel Ricardo Bustamante, Technical Secretary for the National Security Commission oversees the group.[15] It has a low profile office on the edge of San Rafael Las Flores that was established with the help of Tahoe Resources.[16] Locally, the office goes under a different name: “The Interinstitutional Office for Comprehensive Development.” Guatemalan Minister of the Interior Mauricio López Bonilla has remarked, “Its role is to figure out what has failed” and, “We believe as a state, when we attract foreign investment, it is important to provide accompaniment from start to finish.”[17] Tahoe Resources refers to it as a “High Level Commission […] to address community issues and oversee security matters.”[18] Guatemalan activists call it “counterinsurgency” and “a military intelligence operation.”[19]

That same month, on April 27, 2013, Tahoe’s private security group shot and injured seven men who were peacefully protesting outside the mine site.[20] While Tahoe blamed outside influences,[21] Tahoe’s head of security, Alberto Rotondo, was arrested as he was trying to leave the country.[22] Rotondo remains under arrest awaiting trial for his alleged role in the attack.[23] On May 2nd, the Guatemalan government imposed a state of siege for about a month in municipalities that had voted against the project.[24] The state blamed delinquency as necessitating this action, but it is widely held that the state of siege was intended for the communities that had been peacefully protesting the mine project through protests and community consultation processes. Twelve members of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael had their homes raided by police and military forces, and at least 18 had warrants issued for their arrest.[25] Five were arrested and made to suffer months in jail.[26] All eighteen have had the arrest warrants lifted or were released without charge for lack of evidence.

Tension and a climate of fear persist given ongoing militarization. A military post remains in the area since the stage of siege[27] and the Interinstitutional Group on Mining Affairs continues to be present.[28] This, and continued violence have slowed organization of community consultations. Notably, on April 13, 2014, a well-known leader of the Mataquescuintla youth movement against mining, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, was murdered. She was 16 years old. Her father, Alex Reynoso, a community leader and key representative of the Peaceful Resistance in Defense of Natural Resources of Mataquescuintla, was shot four times and spent weeks in intensive care in the hospital.[29] Alex Reynoso is recognized for his role in organizing a community consultation in this municipality. Guatemalan authorities have yet to arrest anyone in connection with this crime.[30]


[1] NISGUA, Communications with the Center for Environmental Legal and Social Action in Guatemala City, April 2013 and April 2014; NISGUA, “Criminalization of violence erupt in the shadow of the Escobal mine,” September 25, 2012;; NISGUA, “Guatemalan gov't declares state of siege in municipalities surrounding Tahoe Escobal mine,” May 3, 2013;; NISGUA, “Communities of Santa Rosa and Jalapa denounce criminalization of leaders opposing Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine,” July 5, 2013;
[2] Ibid.
[3] Expedientes Acumulados No. 2432-2011 and 2481-2011, Constitutional Court, Guatemala, December 5, 2012; Expedientes Acumulados No. 4639 and 4646-2012, Constitutional Court, Guatemala, December 4, 2013; El Periódico, Álvaro Montenegro, “CC valida consulta sobre mina en Mataquescuintla,” December 10, 2013;
[4] NISGUA, “Tahoe Investor Alert,” May 8, 2013, See appendix A, “Declaration of COCODES from San Rafael las Flores,” December 6, 2012;
[5] Diocesan Committee in Defense of Nature (CODIDENA), “Criminalización, Difamación y Estigmatización de las Comunidades a Causa de Minera San Rafael,” no date.
[6] Danilo Zuleta, “Consulta San Juan Bosco,” Video Published, April 2, 2013;; Prensa Libre, “Pobladores Organizan Consulta Comunitaria,” February 28, 2013;; El Periódico, “La población de San Rafael Las Flores se opone a la minería,” March 25, 2013;; Comunidades de Población en Resistencia, “Tres Consultas de Buena Fe se llevaran acabo este 21 de Abril en San Rafael las Flores,” April 17, 2013;; CERIGUA, “Continúan consultas de buena fe, resisten explotación minera,” April 16, 2013;; El Periódico, “Tensiones en Jalapa tras asesinato de líder xinca,” March 19, 2013;; Panorama Noticias, “Continúa consulta comunitaria de buena fe en la Aldea Sabana Redonda,” January 12, 2014;
[7] NISGUA, “Tahoe Investor Alert,” May 8, 2013;
[8] NISGUA, “Report reveals company strategy to criminalize opposition to Escobal mine,” October 7, 2013;
[9] CODIDENA, no date.
[10] MiningWatch Canada, NISGUA and Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), “Guatemala: Tahoe’s Mining Licence Approved in Wake of Violence; Investigation into Murder Pending,” April 8, 2013.
[11] CODIDENA, no date.
[12] Expediente 2728-2012, Corte de Constitucionalidad, Guatemala, February 26, 2013, Apelación de Sentencia de Amparo
[13] Plaza Pública, Oswaldo J. Hernández, “El Gobierno crea en secreto un Grupo Interinstitucional de Asuntos Mineros,” July 16, 2014;ón%20a%20la%20miner%C3%ADa%2C%20la%20nueva%20amenaza%20a%20la%20seguridad%20nacional
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Tahoe Resources Inc, Annual Information Form, March 12, 2014, p12.
[17] Plaza Pública, July 16, 2014.
[18] Tahoe Resources Inc, March 12, 2014.
[19] Plaza Pública, July 16, 2014.
[20] Prensa Libre, “Incidente deja seis heridos de bala frente a mina San Rafael,” April 29, 2013;
[21] Tahoe Resources, Press Release, “Tahoe Clarifies Reports Regarding Incidents Near Escobal Project,” May 1, 2013;
[22] Ministerio Publico de Guatemala, “Juez autorizó orden de aprehensión contra ex jefe de seguridad de Mina San Rafael,” January 23, 2014;
[23] La República, Peru, “Justicia de Guatemala solicita captura de ex marino peruano,” February 8, 2014;
[24] El Periódico, S.Menchú/A.Montenegro/ O.Archila, “Estado de Sitio se decretó por hechos delictivos, dice Pérez,” May 3, 2013;
[25] Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), “Communities of Santa Rosa and Jalapa denounce criminalization of leaders opposing Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine,” July 5, 2013;
[26] Emisoras Unidas, “Capturados en estado de Sitio en Jalapa aún no son escuchados,” May 13, 2013;; Prensa Comunitaria, Nelton Rivera, “Sufrimos mucho, pero sabemos que pronto nos vamos a reponer,” November 27, 2013;
[27] MiningWatch Canada, Personal observations during visit to San Rafael Las Flores and Mataquescuintla, August 1-4, 2014.
[28] Plaza Pública, July 16, 2014.
[29] Nina Lakhani, “Guatemala's growing mining sector brings violence against indigenous communities with it,” April 29, 2014;
[30] Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala / NISGUA, “International organizations demand justice in deadly attack against opponents of Tahoe Resources' mine,” May 1, 2014;