Deadly Protests Over Mining in Guatemala

Two are dead and another nine were injured during a confrontation near the Escobal silver mine in the department of San Rafael, Guatemala, on Saturday, January 12. The Escobal mine is a joint-operation by Canadian companies Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp, both with headquarters in Vancouver, BC.

According to Guatemalan national newspaper, La Hora, just before dawn protesters blocked the road between the municipalities of Casillas and Mataquescuintla with fallen trees. They successfully blocked both trucks and people from getting to the Escobal mine. At dawn, the blockade created violent protests between employees of the mine, the private security agents, and the protestors. The confrontation resulted in a car being set on fire, five light posts knocked down, and seven men with non-life-threatening injuries sent to a hospital in the capital for treatment. Two young men, aged 25 and 28, died from multiple gun shot wounds. Both these men worked as private security guards for the mining company.

Confrontation over mining developments is not a new thing for Goldcorp– the controversial Marlin Mine is also run by them. Tahoe Resources only has the Escobal project, but the company is very intimately connected with Goldcorp. The founder is Kevin McArthur, former CEO of Goldcorp. As well, several members sit on the Board of Directors for both companies.

In a media statement, Tahoe Resources claimed that “the protestors are not from the local area” and that they were “individuals transported into the area from outside regions, organized and funded by local and international NGO’s.” According to locals, this statement is not entirely accurate.

Three municipalities adjacent to the Escobal mine have reported strong rejection of mining activities in their communities. In San Rafael Las Flores, which is separated from the mine site by a chain link fence, there is division because some do benefit from jobs. However, according to Oscar Morales, vice-president of the Commission in Charge of the Community Consultation regarding Mining Activity in the community, “The majority are fearful of contamination in a region that lives off agriculture and livestock.” The bigger fear is the contamination of the Ayarza Lagoon, a volcanic body of water located 2.5 kilometres downstream from the Escobal project.

Tahoe Resources has also stated in their media release that during an altercation in September of 2012, crew members were held against their will by protestors while trying to install a power line. In this particular incident, police, human rights officials, and a judge were brought in to intercede. The judge deemed the work to be lawful. The protestors would not leave the site. Esobal Security guards fired rubber bullets and the National Police fired guns. No one was killed, but three were injured.

Amadeo de Jesus Rodriguez Aguilar, a leading member of the Local Committee of In Defense of Life, has been accused of ‘kidnapping’ by Tahoe Resources. Amadeo denies this accusation, saying it was attributed to him because he interrupted a meeting involving shareholders from North America. He says because he speaks English, he felt it necessary to attend and tell the visitors about the issues the community is struggling with.

Guatemalan President Molina lifted a moratorium on mining that was set in 2008 when the Constitutional Court ruled that seven articles of the mining law were unconstitutional. The moratorium was to stall any new claims or projects until a national consensus could be reached on reforms. In the first six months of Molina’s term as President, he approved 68 new exploration and exploitation licenses. As of July 2012, there was a total of 387 mining concessions granted, and another 734 pending a decision. Most of these concessions are on Indigenous lands. Guatemala has signed on to several international laws and codes that require proper and meaningful consultation with Indigenous people before development can happen on their lands.

Guatemala, like several other countries in the Western Hemisphere, is long over due for updated and responsible mining codes. It is reasonable to expect many more conflicts over mining projects this coming year, but hopefully we will not have to report any more lives lost on either side.