MAC: Mines and Communities

Indigenous organizations denounce proposed mining moratorium

Published by MAC on 2013-07-17
Source: Statement, Reuters

Indigenous organizations denounce proposed mining moratorium

11 July 2013

In a televised program broadcast from outside Tahoe Resources' conflictive Escobal mine project, President Otto Pérez Molina announced a proposed two-year moratorium on the granting of new mineral mining licenses. A similar moratorium put in place under the Colom presidency was lifted under the Molina administration, allowing for the issuance of roughly 100 exploration and exploitation licenses during the last year and a half. The President and Minister of Energy and Mines, Erick Archila, took care in assuring the public and Tahoe executives in particular, that the decision would not impact the Escobal project,approved for mineral exploitation in April of 2013.

He also explained that the purpose of the moratorium is to allow the government to pass reforms to the 1997 Mining Law. In a groundbreaking legal action filed in July 2012, this same law was denounced by the Western Peoples Council (CPO) as unconstitutional, as it fails to fulfill national and international mandates that require the State to consult with indigenous people regarding policies that will significantly impact their territories. In March, 2013, more than eight months after the action was filed, Guatemala's highest court upheld the Mining Law, rejecting the CPO appeal.

Indigenous and campesino organizations denounced the latest moratorium as a political show intended to calm widespread resistance to harmful mining projects, while pushing through reforms that do nothing to address the real issues including the lack of respect for communities' right to consultation on projects that impact their lives, livelihoods and territories.

Read NISGUA's translation of the declaration from the Western Peoples' Council and the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango below. See the original Spanish version here.


The announcement of the President of the Republic of Guatemala to present a law initiative to the Congress of the Republic to decree "a two year moratorium on the granting of additional licenses for mineral mining" in the country, while starting the debate for a new Mining Law in the legislative branch, is neither novel nor substantive for the Original Peoples of Guatemala. The current president's predecessor, Mr. Alvaro Colom Caballeros, had already put this into practice.

To bring back a moratorium on the granting of mining licenses is more evidence of the hasty and improvised attitude of the current government in lifting the moratorium previously in place.
Furthermore, after the Original Peoples presented a legal action of unconstitutionality against the current Mining Law, the Executive Branch carried out two desperate actions: a) the suspension of the moratorium put in place by the previous president, and b) the presentation of a new initiative to reform the Mining Law.

The suspension of the first moratorium brought the massive granting of un-consulted licenses for mining in indigenous territories, while the Mining Law reform initiative demonstrates the lack of patriotic interest in protecting national sovereignty. This Machiavellian initiative makes clear that the recently announced proposed moratorium would be repealed in the case of reforms to Mining Law Decree 48-97, or if a new law is created.

The moratorium law initiative - "suspension of the granting of licenses" - will not immediately go into effect as it must be read in the plenary, sent to the Commission of Energy and Mines for analysis and then sent back to Congress for discussion.

This initiative is a "smoke screen and a perfect show" that seeks to placate community resistance and conflicts as a result of the imposition of the mining model in the country. This proposal is contradictory because during the last year and a half the Executive has granted roughly 100 mineral mining licenses.

The people have not asked for a moratorium on community consultations; the people have demanded that the government respect the decisions of the good-faith community consultations that have overwhelmingly rejected this model of death disguised as mining activity.

Guatemala does not need to plunder the country in order to generate its own development. Mining activity is not the only alternative nor is it a priority for an integral development model.

Huehuetenango, July 2013


Guatemala seek 2-year moratorium on new metal mining

By Mike McDonald


10 July 2013

Guatemala President Otto Perez asked the country's congress on Wednesday to impose a two-year moratorium on new mining licenses to calm tensions in mostly indigenous communities opposed to the industry.

"We are bringing a bill to congress in which we declare a two-year moratorium," Perez said in a speech late Tuesday night. "We are asking congress to not give any more metal-mining licenses."

In May, Guatemala's government declared an emergency in four towns, suspending citizens' rights to protest in an area where people died during demonstrations against the Escobal silver mine belonging to Canadian miner Tahoe Resources Inc.

Tahoe Resources received the final operating permits in April for its Escobal mine. The company's top executive, Kevin McArthur, has said he does not expect the project to be affected by the moratorium request.

Government officials said they hope the request for the moratorium will also encourage congress to consider reforms to Guatemala's mining law, including a proposal presented last year to hike mining royalties from 1 percent of a company's gross income to 5 percent.

"We hope Congress opens a great debate ... so we can have a law that is in accordance with all our needs," Perez added.

However, mining companies invested in Guatemala were less enthusiastic about the proposal, and pointed to a growing aversion to foreign investment in the mining sector.

"They've been less receptive to foreign investment," said Randy Reifel, president of Canadian miner Chesapeake Gold Corp , which owns the 900 hectare El Escorpion concession, 85 kilometers (53 miles) southeast of Guatemala City.

"It's a challenging place," he added, noting that a recent fall in metals prices only lessened the country's attraction.

Reifel added that the El Escorpion project would not be affected by the proposed moratorium.

For a moratorium to pass, Guatemala's 158-member congress must approve it with a majority vote in three separate debates.

It remains unclear when those votes will be cast due to an extended backlog of pending legislation.

Last year, Guatemala's government, under pressure from industry, withdrew a proposal to acquire as much as a 40 percent stake in new mining projects.

Mining in Guatemala accounts for about 2 percent of gross domestic product.

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