MAC: Mines and Communities

Tens of Thousands Oppose Tahoe Resource's Escobal Project in Guatemala

Published by MAC on 2013-12-18
Source: Statements (2013-12-17)

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.

Tens of Thousands Oppose Tahoe Resource's Escobal Project in Guatemala

Miningwatch Canada statement

17 December 2013

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 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 license. 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 license 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 license 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.

Contacts:

Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)miningwatch.ca
Jackie McVicar, Breaking the Silence, 011 (502) 4824-0637, btsguatemala(at)gmail.com


High Court in Guatemala Guarantees Communities’ Right to Consultation on Mining

Cultural Survival

11 December 2013

In a groundbreaking decision, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala ruled last week that community consultations against mining projects should be considered as binding legal decisions. The government is now obligated to respect the results of consultas populares or community referendums regarding mining projects.

The decision related to the case of the Municipality of Mataquescuintla, who held a consultation on a mining project in the area in November 2012. An appeal by the Chamber of Industry and the Extractive Mining Trade Association attempted to prove that the town's 96% disapproval of a mining project was "unconstitutional" because the local government had no right to seek their consent. The Constitutional Court's decision has set a precedent. In the resolution, the court declared, "The right of communities to be consulted is undeniable," and that in fact town governments do have the right to seek the opinion of the community on whether or not they are in favor of mining exploration and exploitation on their lands.

Mataquescuintla is a small rural town in the East of Guatemala, department of Jalapa. On November 11th, 2012, the population of 10,375 inhabitant voted at 96% to reject plans for mining exploration and exploitation by four private companies. The town's mayor, Hugo Loy Solares, said that the vote was convened by town councilors after a group of 3,000 community members petitioned for a referendum on mining for the community.

Yuri Melini, director of the Calas, the Center for Legal, Environmental and Social Action in Guatemala, has urged the government to comply with and implement the decision. Melini insists that the government must act to implement the courts decision immediately, which would mean the cancelation of licenses for mining in communities where the populations have voted against those projects through referendums. She added, "this is an important step forward for the rights of the dozens of communities in the country who have opposed the presence of extractive industries in their communities."

Learn more about the right to Free, Prior, Informed Consent through our portal, www.cs.org/consent

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