On October 15, 2020, the Xinka Parliament announced that Guatemalan authorities have finally recognized their representatives elected to participate in a consultation on the Escobal silver mine. Along with other agreements, this breakthrough could allow the court-ordered process over the future of the mine to advance after being stalled for over two years.
As part of its commitments, the Guatemalan government is to inform Vancouver-based Pan American Silver that the Xinka consider the company’s ongoing community relations activities to be acts of bad faith that threaten the integrity of the consultation process.
Operations at the mine have been suspended since June 2017 as a result of direct community action and court decisions finding that the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) discriminated against the Xinka and violated their Indigenous rights when it failed to consult with them. In September 2018, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court upheld the mine suspension and ordered MEM to consult with the Xinka in a manner that respects their representatives, customs and traditions. The Court recognized the Xinka Parliament as the legitimate representative body of the Xinka People.
The process to date, however, has been marked by ongoing illegalities and discrimination against the Xinka. MEM fought to dictate the terms of Xinka participation and limit them to just two representatives and two alternates -- a far cry from the 59 representatives from the three departments surrounding the mine elected by the Xinka to participate in the consultation. In violation of their Indigenous rights and in contravention of the Constitutional Court order, MEM disregarded their ancestral ways of organizing. But after a series of Xinka-led marches, press conferences, official complaints, and the continued presence of peaceful resistance encampments along access routes to the Escobal mine, the Guatemalan Government has accepted in writing the 59 Xinka representatives and has committed to carry out the consultation in accordance with Xinka worldview, institutions, and decision-making systems.
A joint statement issued by the Xinka Parliament and MEM lays out the parties’ commitments and alludes to heightened tension and threats against leaders in the region stating that the consultation will be “carried out without pressure or conditions imposed by any of the parties”. Since Escobal was acquired by Pan American Silver in early 2019, criminalization of Xinka leaders and defamation of members of the peaceful resistance has risen, as have organizing efforts of parallel groups determined to undermine the Xinka Parliament and the broader movement organized in two resistance camps. The Constitutional Court was emphatic in its 2018 decision that confrontations, violence, and distrust would undermine any meaningful consultation.
Another concern raised in the statement is Pan American Silver’s insistence on continuing social programs and so-called dialogue in the region. Since the mine was suspended, the Xinka Parliament and others organized through the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, and Jutiapa, have demanded Pan American Silver halt its activities. They have also documented a number of instances where the company has intervened in community affairs, creating tension and undermining the “free” nature of the consultation process. While the Constitutional Court order was clear that the company was to suspend all operations in the area, Pan American Silver has been active in distributing foodstuffs and collecting people’s personal information, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company also recently participated in a meeting with a parallel group led by a former security officer at the mine who has defamed and threatened Xinka leaders. This group is actively trying to divide the local resistance camps and weaken community confidence in the Xinka Parliament.
Any next steps rely on MEM following through on the agreement. Equally important to the future of the consultation is Pan American Silver‘s willingness to ensure a consultation process without coercion, conditions or threats, including to suspend all activities in the region.
Written in collaboration with Breaking the Silence Maritimes-Guatemala, Earthworks and the Institute for Policy Studies – Global Economy Program