(Guatemala City/Ottawa) Contrary to Tahoe Resources’ recent claims, tens of thousands of people oppose its Escobal project in southeastern Guatemala. Repression and violence have been the outcome of company and government efforts to install the project without social support. A recent high-court decision in Guatemala reinforces the legitimacy and importance of local decision-making processes.
More than half of the communities in the municipality of San Rafael las Flores, where the Escobal project is located, have declared opposition to the mine. In five neighbouring municipalities, in the departments of Santa Rosa and Jalapa, a majority have voted against the mine in municipal referenda, in which tens of thousands of people participated. The most recent vote took place on November 10th in the municipality of Jalapa, department of Jalapa. Over 23,000 people participated with 98.3% voting against mining and 1.7% in favour.
“It is grossly misleading for Tahoe’s CEO Kevin McArthur to claim that the Escobal project enjoys strong community support when so many people have democratically expressed their opposition. The Constitutional Court has clearly stated that local plebiscites are an important measure of community sentiment near the mine site and they should be respected,” stated Jackie McVicar, Coordinator of the Maritimes Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network.
In early December, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court decided in support of a municipal referendum in the municipality of Mataquescuintla, Jalapa and against a suit that an individual had brought to challege its constitutionality. The decision acknowledges the responsibility that municipal authorities have to convene such votes and to make decisions according to their results, affirming their value as “adequate means by which peoples may exercise their right to give their opinion and be consulted on topics of interest.”
Community members organizing local votes have faced repression and baseless legal actions in an attempt to quash their opposition to the project. During the past fourteen months, dozens of community members have had to endure more than 70 stressful legal processes, of which nearly all have been absolved of any charges.
The most recent crackdown against opposition to the Escobal project took place in late April mere weeks after the company received its exploitation licence. Security guards fired on peaceful protestors outside of company property, injuring six, including two seriously. The company’s then head of security remains under arrest awaiting trial. Alberto Rotondo is charged with assault causing bodily harm and obstruction of justice.
Days after the attack, on May 2, 2013, the Guatemalan State declared a state of siege in four municipalities surrounding the mine project and issued multiple arrest warrants. Among the accused and imprisoned were key community leaders. In late November, a Guatemalan judge ruled that the police arrest and detention of five individuals for nearly seven months was illegal. Shortly later, arrest warrants were dropped against seven others accused in the same case.
“The President has accused of us being a few crazy people that are opposed to the mine, but we represent numerous departments, including the Xinca indigenous people, as well as people from all across Guatemala. I ask the company to please leave Guatemala because it is seriously hurting our families,” stated Teresa Muñoz a community leader from Jalapa during a press conference in early December.
Communities oppose the Escobal project given concerns over actual and potential impacts on water supplies and community wellbeing. The Ministry of Energy and Mines approved the company’s final licence right after dismissing outright more than 250 individual complaints against the company’s project.
In July, a Guatemalan Appeals Court found that the Ministry of Energy and Mines did not follow due process in considering one of these oppositions. Lawyers for affected communities believe the appeals court decision puts Tahoe's licence in limbo. Hearings on this case continued in November at which hundreds demonstrated their opposition to the project.
Tahoe is already under investigation for industrial contamination of water supplies near the Escobal mine.
“It is devastating to see the way that Tahoe is repeating the patterns of its top shareholder, Goldcorp, whose Marlin mine was built despite opposition and without community consent, leading to conflict and giving rise to broad-based opposition to mining throughout Guatemala. Instead of storming ahead and generating further upheaval, Tahoe should pack its bags and leave these communities in peace,” remarked Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.
- Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)miningwatch.ca
- Jackie McVicar, Breaking the Silence, 011 (502) 4824-0637, btsguatemala(at)gmail.com
Please show your support for mining-affected communities in the area of Tahoe's Escobal project and take action with this online petition hosted by the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) here.