Why is it that Guatemalan community leaders spend months in jail after being wrongfully targeted in violence connected to the Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, while the company’s former head of security, accused of ordering guards to open fire on protesters last April, is given house arrest and then allowed to avoid jail time by arguing that he is sick?

This is just one of the many stark asymmetries in the current conflict between the Toronto-listed mining firm and communities in southeastern Guatemala, where repression and violence have been the outcome of efforts to install the mineral resource project without social support.

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, the majority of the population, which numbers in the tens of thousands, has voted against the mine in municipal referenda.
Nonetheless, in January, Tahoe Resources reported that the Escobal mine is operational, claiming that “unanticipated social issues have been addressed.” According to local reports, the only thing that Tahoe Resources seems to have resolved is how to continue the project despite the ongoing conflict in the country where the company and its principal investor, Goldcorp, wield considerable political and economic influence.

This conflict brings to the forefront the need for the Canadian government to facilitate access to justice for abuses committed abroad. The ‘On the Road for Justice’ speaking tour is being led by a small group of Guatemalans and will include stops in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, and Vancouver, with links to the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA) Open for Justice campaign. The CNCA campaign calls for legislated access to Canadian courts for people who have been harmed by Canadian companies’ international operations. It also calls for the creation of an extractive-sector Ombuds office in Canada mandated to investigate accusations of abuses and make recommendations to the government and the companies involved.
 
To provide a firsthand community account of the situation around Tahoe’s Escobal mine, Oscar Morales will be in Peterborough on Monday, March 24 at the Sadleir House Lecture hall (room 106) at 6:30pm to talk about this current conflict regarding Canadian involvement in Guatemala’s mining sector.

Oscar Morales is an agronomist, deeply concerned about the environmental and social impacts of mining, and is the coordinator of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, Guatemala. He is an advocate for the community consultations that have taken place throughout the province of Santa Rosa, as a response to the arrival of mining companies. He has also worked to support the six men shot by the mine security in April 2013. He is also a legal petitioner against another mine being proposed by Tahoe Resources in the same area.