Guest blog by Ellen Moore, EARTHWORKS
Tahoe Resources, a Canadian mining company with head offices in Reno, NV, began production at the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores located in southeastern Guatemala in January 2014. Beginning in 2011, residents in San Rafael Las Flores, Mataquescuintla, and other nearby municipalities who oppose the project have suffered violent repression and systematic criminalization of local leaders. Operations at Escobar have been effectively suspended beginning in June 2017, first as a result of direct community action, and then by order of the court in July 2017 over discrimination and failure to consult with Xinka Indigenous people.
On August 25th Tahoe Resources and its Guatemalan subsidiary Minera San Rafael MINERASA) each released statements accusing the Peaceful Resistance of Mataquescuintla of kidnapping private security contractors. On Thursday, August 30th, the Peaceful Resistance of Mataquescuintla and members of surrounding communities held a press conference in Guatemala City to vigorously refute the company’s claims. Read the English translation of their statement here.
At the press conference, spokespeople from the Peaceful Resistance of Mataquescuintla called Tahoe’s media attacks desperate and manipulative. They reminded the public and especially the international community of the company’s history of using fear and intimidation to impose the Escobal mine. Representatives made clear that conflict and tension in the region only benefit the company, whereas the current situation puts their safety at greater risk.
Since June 7th, 2017, thousands of residents from Santa Rosa and Jalapa have maintained a 24 hour a day encampment in Casillas, on the road to the mine. For more than a year, the protest has stopped the flow of mine-related traffic. The Peaceful Resistance of Mataquescuintla has been participating in the encampment in Casillas, and recently set up another camp to restrict mine related traffic coming from the department of Jalapa. Community members who were at the encampment the night of the alleged incident report that the bus carrying private security did arrive at the checkpoint, but maintain it was turned around without incident. They stated that they didn’t know about the alleged attack until the local police told them about it the following morning. The members present at the encampment on the night of the 24th were surprised to read the details in MINERASA’s statement the next day.
The tactics of fear and intimidation used by Minera San Rafael, Tahoe’s wholly owned Guatemala subsidiary, to push through development of the Escobal mine are outlined in the 2015 report, “Under Siege: Peaceful Resistance to Tahoe Resources and Militarization in Guatemala”. The report provides examples of spurious criminal accusations, some filed by MINERASA, referred to in the resistance’s press release. It also includes a description of the counter-insurgency tactics that opposition communities were subjected to which labeled activists as a threat to national security.
Section 5.2 Robbery of Explosives is an explanation of the ‘lost explosives’ described in the Resistance Statement. At the time, this incident was used to defame the resistance movement in Mataquescuintla and surrounding communities and the basis for arrest warrants for at least 18 people. It was a key incident that was used to justify the ordering of Martial Law (State of Siege) in Mataquescuintla and three other municipalities surrounding the mine, which allowed the mine to move ahead while attempting to silence community opposition to the project. Wiretap evidence later revealed that the robbery of explosives was indeed a setup.
Separate wiretap recordings of Alberto Rotondo, the head of security for Tahoe Resources at the time of the April 2013 attack outside the mine, support the assertion in the Resistance Statement that the shooting was intended to quell peaceful protests. Examples of Tahoe Resources making incomplete and inaccurate statements regarding the attack at the Escobal mine are documented in a 2013 complaint to the Ontario Securities Commission.