MAC: Mines and Communities

Guatemala: Call for investigation and company departure in response to recurring violence

Published by MAC on 2013-03-25
Source: Statement, La Politica es la Politica

Call for investigation and company departure in response to recurring violence in area of Canadian-owned silver project

Miningwatch Canada urgent action

20 March 2013

On Sunday, March 17, 2013, at around 8 pm, the President of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament and three other Xinca leaders were abducted by a group of heavily armed masked men while on their way home from observing a public referendum on Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine in El Volcancito, San Rafael Las Flores, in the department of Santa Rosa. This comes only two days after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on the Government of Guatemala to protect human rights defenders.

The following four men were kidnapped: President of the Xinca Parliament Roberto González Ucelo, who is also President of the indigenous Community of Santa María Xalapán, as well as other members of Santa María Xalapán leadership including Administrator Rigoberto Aguilar, Secretary Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, and Cabinet Member Rodolfo López Jiménez. They were forcibly taken in an area of the neighboring department of Jalapa known as Pino Dulce.

Rigoberto Aguilar and Rodolfo López escaped and sounded the alarm. On the morning of Monday, March 18, 2013, Roberto González' vehicle was found with multiple bullet holes and Exaltación Rámirez López was found dead. About four hundred people peacefully gathered in the immediate area in order to protect the scene of the crime while demanding that authorities initiate a proper and full investigation. That evening, President Roberto González Ucelo was found alive.

In response, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla made statements in the press, incorrectly conflating the non-violent community organizing in the municipalities of Mataquescuintla and San Rafael Las Flores with this and other recent violence. His statements are further evidence of ongoing stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, an issue that was raised specifically with regard to the situation in San Rafael Las Flores in the UN's report on Guatemala delivered this January.

For more than two years, communities in the municipalities of San Rafael Las Flores and Mataquescuintla have been peacefully resisting the development of Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine. Recently, individual villages located in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores began carrying out a series of 26 public referenda to determine whether community members support development of extractive industry projects. UDEFEGUA, an NGO dedicated to the projection of human rights defenders, confirms that these consultations have been undertaken peacefully. Guatemala City-based and local environmental organizations, priests and lawyers who accompany local community activists involved in the local referenda have also faced various unjust legal processes, accusations and threats during the last year as part of attempts to undermine their work in defense of human rights and the environment. The four Xinca leaders attended the March 17th referendum in El Volcancito in order to demonstrate their solidarity with the communities in San Rafael Las Flores.

Escobal is operated by Minera San Rafael, a subsidiary of Tahoe Resources, a closely related company to Vancouver-based Goldcorp. Goldcorp holds 40% of Tahoe Resources shares and most of Tahoe's current directors and management currently work for Goldcorp, or did previously. The project is advanced, but lacks the final permit it needs to put the mine into operation and the social license to operate.

In response to the recent events, we:

Urge Guatemala's Attorney General to request that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) undertake a full and impartial investigation into the violence in the area, in particular the existence of an armed group, and to ensure the protection of the human rights and environmental defenders who are demanding respect for their rights to live in a safe and healthy environment and to free, prior and informed consent over the mine project.
Call on the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of the Environment in Guatemala to reject Tahoe Resources' request for an exploitation license for the Escobal mine.
Call on Goldcorp and Tahoe Resources to pull out from San Rafael Las Flores given lack of social license for its Escobal project and the prevailing climate of violence that prohibits communities from peacefully conducting public referenda. Its presence in the communities is generating conflict.

To take action: following this link and submit your name to the online petitions that will direct your support to these three urgent actions to the appropriate contacts.

CEO Kevin McArthur Says Suggestions of Possible Tahoe Resources Complicity in Murder of  Guatemalan Indigenous Leader "a Complete Fabrication"

La Politica es la Politica

22 March 2013

In response to a query from La politica, Ira M. Gostin, Vice President Investor Relations for the Canadian silver mining company Tahoe Resources Inc., as well as CEO Kevin McArthur, have rejected any suggestion that the company or its subsidiary, Minera San Rafael (MSR), were involved in the murder earlier this week of the indigenous activist Exaltación Marcos Ucelo.

"Tahoe Resources along with its Guatemala operating company Minera San Rafael (MSR) emphatically reject and condemn criminal activities in our surrounding communities and in Guatemala at-large," Mr. Gostin told La politica in an email. "Tahoe and MSR are responsibly developing the Escobal project, and recent false accusations that the companies may have been involved in threats or violent actions are unfortunate. A recent kidnapping event occurred in a locale 15 km by road from our project site, in Jalapa state, with one fatality reported in the press."

In his response Mr. Gostin emphasized the 15 km distance. At the time of his murder, Marcos Ucelo was returning home along with three colleagues after observing a community consultation process with regard to the development of the mine in the town of El Volcancito, near the proposed site and the larger town of San Rafael Las Flores.

According to umbrella NGO Congcoop, 99.2% of the community rejected the proposed mine during that consultation. The community consultation, regulated by the Guatemalan Municipal Code, is the third in a series of 26 planned in the area. However, the mayor of the larger community of San Rafael Las Flores has so far rejected the possibility of a referendum at the municipal level.

No one has been detained in connection with the murder and kidnapping of the three colleagues, all of whom are now free. There is also no clear motive. The four men were active in the Xinca indigenous community, but were present only as observers of the community consultation process.

According to Tahoe President and CEO Kevin McArthur, "The insinuation that our employees or contractors were somehow involved in the very unfortunate death of Marcos Ucelo is a complete fabrication. We urge the authorities to fully investigate these criminal activities as well as the past attacks that have been made against our project".

The company is still waiting on final permitting for the Escobal project, but has been investing in infrastructure and has made public statements suggesting it is confident production will begin in 2014. Guatemala has one of the highest crime rates in the world, with the United States Bureau of consular Affairs stating that "violent crime is a serious concern due to endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and weak law enforcement and judicial systems."

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