MAC: Mines and Communities

Wiretap transcripts raise troubling questions about Tahoe Resources' militarized security detail

Published by MAC on 2015-04-08
Source: Statement, iPolitics, CBC News (2015-04-08)

Wiretap transcripts raise troubling questions about Tahoe Resources' militarized security detail

Amnesty International Canada – MiningWatch Canada - Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) statement

7 April 2015

Guatemala City/Ottawa/Vancouver - Wiretap transcripts ordered by Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor of Tahoe Resources’ former head of security, Alberto Rotondo, in connection with an April 27, 2013 shooting outside its Escobal mine provide strong evidence that he targeted peaceful protesters, tried to cover up the crime and flee the country. The Public Prosecutor ordered the telephone intercepts roughly two weeks before this incident occurred, in apparent connection with suspicions over earlier violence at the mine site. The intercepts were originally presented in a public hearing in Guatemala in May 2013 at which Rotondo was charged with assault and obstruction of justice.

Hearings in a lawsuit brought by seven Guatemalan men wounded in this attack against Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources for negligence and battery are set to take place at the B.C. Supreme Court starting April 8, 2015. According to the statement of claim, Tahoe is accused of having expressly or implicitly authorized the use of excessive force by Rotondo and the security personnel against those injured, or was otherwise negligent in failing to prevent the use of excessive force. The wiretap transcripts have been filed in court as part of the lawsuit.

In Intercept No. 4010, in a conversation with Tahoe’s communications and security advisor, Rotondo makes clear his intention to quell protests against the mine through violence: “I ran them out with bullets [...] Bring on the priest Melgar then, or women and children to defend them, weren't you the real trouble-maker? That's what I told all of them. Well then, sons of bitches! [...] And I let them have it [...] There is no way I am ever going to allow these people to get confident...”.

In Intercept No.4052, apparently speaking with one of the guards under his command, Rotondo continues: “They say that one has a, a bullet wound in the face and... if it exploded in their face, it's with bullets that they learn.”

In the same intercept, Rotondo orders the evidence to be altered, while he concocts another version of events: “Clean the guns then [...] Clean them well, we're saying “nothing happened here.” There are no recordings. You understand me? [...] The version is: they entered and they attacked us. And we repelled them, right? […] The people need to be told, that they should not worry, that they come every day to attack us, with machetes and rocks; and so the people have defended themselves. There are, there are the broken shields there. But break another two so that they see that they attacked us.”

It also seems that Rotondo coordinated with a police officer, referred to as ‘Adilio’ and known to local residents by the same name, to make sure that security guards and police told the same version about the events of April 27. Local activists also suspect that an individual acting under Rotondo’s direction, referred to as “El Moreno” in the wiretap evidence, had infiltrated their meetings.

Finally, during a phone call with his son in Lima, Peru, Rotondo informs of his plans to escape: “There have been problems here in Guatemala and it's better that I'm away for awhile. Right? [...] I kicked the crap out of a bunch of lazy bastards here. They can go to hell. So, to avoid legal issues and all that.”

Shortly after this last call, Alberto Rotondo was arrested at Guatemala's international airport and charged with assault and obstruction of justice. Six farmers and one student were wounded in the attack. All of them are residents of the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores where the Escobal mine is located. Criminal proceedings against Rotondo are underway in Guatemala. The case has been subject to numerous delays since 2013.

On May 1, 2013, Tahoe Resources issued a statement trying to pin the blame elsewhere: “violence from outside influences,” accused the company, was responsible for escalating tensions around the mine site, and “a protest involving approximately 20 people armed with machetes turned hostile.” Days after the wiretap evidence was released at a public hearing in Guatemala City on May 6, 2013, in an interview with iPolitics,Tahoe’s Investor Relations official Ira Gostin denied that the wiretap evidence had been made public and stated that claims that Rotondo ordered protestors shot were made-up. The transcripts show otherwise.

The company did not make another official statement about the event until July 10th when it reported having ended its contract with Rotondo’s firm. In later communications with the Norwegian Pension Fund cited in its recent report, Tahoe Resources "[denied] that Mr. Rotondo ordered the murder of demonstrators but did not wish to expand on this in view of ongoing proceedings." The Norwegian Pension Fund concluded its investigation by recommending against investment in Tahoe Resources.

According to an affidavit filed by Tahoe’s Vice President of Operations, Donald Paul Gray, Tahoe originally employed Rotondo through a contract with the International Security and Defense Management, LLC, a U.S. company based in California and led by former military personnel with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. Under recommendation from ISDM, Rotondo was later directly contracted by Tahoe's Guatemalan subsidiary Minera San Rafael. Rotondo formerly served with the Peruvian navy and, according to his LinkedIn page, has received U.S. military training in physiological warfare and counter-terrorism in low intensity conflicts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The civil claim that the seven men filed against Tahoe Resources for its actions overseas is the first of its kind to be heard in B.C. The wiretap evidence and other declarations were submitted as part of this process. The hearings this week, pursuant to a motion brought by Tahoe Resources to dismiss the case, will address whether it is best heard in B.C. or Guatemala.

Tahoe Resources is incorporated under the B.C. Corporations Act and has its headquarters in Vancouver. Goldcorp, whose Marlin mine in northwestern Guatemala has been an ongoing source of conflict with neighbouring Indigenous communities for over ten years, holds 40% of shares in the company and annually names three directors to the company’s board.

Amnesty International Canada, MiningWatch Canada and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) have been monitoring and reporting on this case for the last several years.

Copies of the wiretap evidence and declarations referred to in this press release are linked here: wiretap transcripts and Donald Paul Gray's affadavit.

Contacts:

Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)miningwatch.ca
Megan Whelan, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), Megan(at)nisgua.org
Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada, 604.294.5160 x102, TScurr(at)amnesty.ca


Wiretaps at centre of Canadian trial for Guatemalan mine protesters

By James Munson 

http://www.ipolitics.ca/2015/04/07/wiretaps-at-centre-of-canadian-trial-for-guatemalan-mine-protesters/

7 April 2015

With political watchers focused on Senator Mike Duffy’s first week in court, another trial with potential consequences for Ottawa — and for Canadian companies’ multi-billion dollar mining operations overseas — starts tomorrow in Vancouver.

Seven Guatemalan men have filed a civil claim against silver miner Tahoe Resources Inc., owner of the Escobal mine in southern Guatemala, alleging the firm’s security manager ordered their shooting while they protested outside the mine on April 27 2013.

The prime piece of evidence in the case — a transcript of cell phone conversations by the manager obtained through a government wiretap — allegedly indicate the manager targeted the protesters, attempted a cover-up and then tried to flee for Peru.

“I ran them out,” Alberto Rotondo, head of Escobal’s security, allegedly said, according to a copy of the transcripts filed with the Supreme Court of B.C. “They can go to hell. They come here fuckin’ starving to death! They should go make a living somewhere else, get a job.”

The men were allegedly shot with rubber bullets in their protest camp, chased by guards and fired on repeatedly even after being wounded. The transcripts repeatedly refer to Rotondo gathering “casings” from the site and a discussion of whether he could be charged under Guatemalan laws related to using gunfire, not merely rubber bullets.

Rotondo was arrested shortly after the alleged shooting by Guatemalan authorities, who have been holding criminal proceedings against him over the past two years. He is still awaiting trial, according to the lawyers for protesters in the Canadian suit.

The Vancouver proceedings stem from evidence that the Guatemalan courts are not able to fairly handle Rotondo’s case. Civil society groups and NGOs have repeatedly pointed to breaches in basic judicial procedure to make that case, including allegations of improper meetings between the judge and Rotondo’s lawyers. The Guatamalan-based lawyer for the protesters, Rafael Maldonado, visited Canada in March 2014 to highlight some of those breaches.

Tahoe initially dismissed the criminal case in Guatemala as tabloid reports to Canadian media. In an interview with iPolitics in May 2013, Ira Gostin, spokesperson for Tahoe, said that mentions of government wiretaps by the Guatemalan press were not credible.

With those wiretaps about to appear as critical pieces of evidence in the Canadian case, Gostin declined to comment on them further or speak at all about the Vancouver trial.

“I’m not going to comment on anything to do with the lawsuit,” said Gostin Tuesday.

The wiretaps were initially ordered by Guatemalan authorities who were worried about violence at the mine before the April 27 2013 incident. Wednesday’s proceeding will deal with a motion, introduced by Tahoe, to have the suit dismissed on the grounds Guatemala is the better forum.

Another Canadian mining firm, Hudbay Minerals Inc., is subject to a civil suit in Toronto over alleged shootings and rapes at a mine site it once owned in Guatemala.

Two lawyers in the Canadian suit, Joe Fiorante and Matt Eisenbrandt, were not available for comment by press time.


Tahoe Resources, Vancouver mining firm, in court today over Guatemalan workers' lawsuit

Guatemalan protesters who allege they were shot by security guards want suit against firm heard in B.C.

By Greg Rasmussen

CBC News

8 April 2015

B.C. Supreme Court hearings begin today into the case of seven Guatemalan workers seeking to have a civil suit against Tahoe Resources of Vancouver heard in B.C. after they sustained injuries in their country during a protest that turned violent.

Their lawyer will begin arguing Wednesday that B.C. courts have jurisdiction, even though the events took place in another country.

The claimants, who describe themselves as farmers and students, say they were taking part in a peaceful protest on a public road outsideTahoe Resources' Escobal silver mine in Guatemala on April 27, 2013. Tahoe is a $3-billion company based in Vancouver.

They allege the guards came through a gate and started shooting at them, and they continued to fire even as they ran away.

"As a result of the shooting, the plaintiffs suffered serious injuries, including wounds to their backs, faces, feet and legs," says the written statement of facts submitted by their lawyer in the B.C. Supreme Court case.

Tahoe's Guatemala security manager, Alberto Rotondo, faces charges related to the incident. He is described as a retired Peruvian navy captain who also has received training in special warfare, mining security and risk management.

Court documents allege he assembled the security team and ordered them to open fire on the protesters with shotguns, pepper spray, buck shot and rubber bullets.

He was also already under investigation at the time of the violence, and Guatemalan prosecutors had tapped his phones. As a result, he was taped talking to various people right after the gunfire. At one point, he told a subordinate to break some equipment to make it appear the protesters had attacked the mine first, according to the court documents.

He also allegedly told a subordinate to pick up any shell casings, clean the guns and said, "'They entered and they attacked us. And we repelled them, right?'"

The unnamed subordinate on the phone line replied, "Yes, we're going to do what you say."

'It's with bullets that they learn'

Rotondo appears to have little sympathy for the wounded protesters. He describes them in derogatory terms, saying, "They say that one has a bullet wound to the face and if it exploded in their face, it's with bullets that they learn."

Tahoe Resources fired Rotondon shortly after the incident, saying he had "violated the company's rules of engagement, security protocols and direct orders from management when he ordered the use of non-lethal force to clear the mine entrance."

Tara Scurr, a human rights campaigner with Amnesty International, says the case should be tried in B.C. because Canadian courts are more likely to hold the company accountable than courts in Guatemala.

"We feel it's really important for justice to be served, for the victims in this case to be able to seek justice in Canada."

Jen Moore, the Latin America co-ordinator for MiningWatch Canada, says head offices of corporations should be "responsible for their operations in other countries given Canada's dominant role in the global mining sector today."

Legal challenges

However, Tahoe's lawyers are expected to argue that since the incident happened in Guatemala, any court case resulting from the incident should take place in that country.

The plaintiffs will argue the justice system in Guatemala is easily corrupted and the men have little chance against a large, well-financed corporation.

Recently Tahoe was forced to defend its human rights practices to the Norwegian Council on Ethics for the Government Pension Fund, an independent body that investigates companies and their track records involving Norwegian government funds.

In its written response to concerns raised by the council, Tahoe stated, "The violent criminal incidents experienced in the vicinity of the Escobal project are largely perpetrated by a few bad local actors and outside groups who financially and politically benefit from causing chaos in and around the San Rafael community."

But the council didn't accept Tahoe's argument and recommended the exclusion of the company from the government pension fund's holdings "due to an unacceptable risk of the company contributing to serious human rights violations."

A spokesman for Tahoe said the company was not commenting on the history of the incident or the current case before the courts.


B.C. mining company wants lawsuit by Guatemalan shooting victims dismissed

Tamsyn Burgmann

The Canadian Press

8 April 2015

VANCOUVER —Seven protesters hurt in a spray of rubber bullets outside a mine in Guatemala should not be allowed to sue the mine’s Canadian parent company merely because it has an office in Vancouver, the firm’s lawyer told B.C. Supreme Court.

Tahoe Resources Inc. (TSX: THO) is seeking dismissal of the civil lawsuit launched by plaintiffs in the Central American country on the basis that Canadian courts don’t have jurisdiction, said defence lawyer Karen Carteri.

“Events in Guatemala, injuries suffered in Guatemala, have nothing to do with activities undertaken in the province of British Columbia,” Carteri said Wednesday, adding Tahoe’s headquarters is in Reno, Nevada.

“There are no business activities undertaken by Tahoe in British Columbia, except in respect of its listing on the (Toronto Stock Exchange).”
But the plaintiffs, who are all men, say they have “no faith” the Guatemalan legal system will hold the company accountable, and a Vancouver law firm is seeking to fight the case on their behalf.

The lawsuit stems from actions by security guards to disperse protesters who had amassed outside the gates at the Escobal Mine on April 27, 2013.
Adolfo Garcia claims a projectile lodged in his spine when he was shot in the back. Luis Monroy said his sense of smell was destroyed when he was shot in the face.

The others, ranging in age from 17 to 40, are farmers and students who claim projectiles hit them in the legs, knee and foot. They allege shotguns, pepper spray and buck shot were also used.

Rubber bullets are often used by security forces as a less lethal means to disperse protests or riots.

The suit claims Tahoe is liable for either authorizing the use of excessive force or negligence for not preventing the violence outside the silver mine.
Prosecutors in Guatemala have charged the mine’s security chief, Alberto Rotondo, with assault, aggravated assault and obstruction of justice. The claims haven’t been proven in court.

Rotondo was contracted by the Guatemalan mine owner, Minera San Rafael, a branch owned by Tahoe.

In court, Carteri told a judge that permitting the case to go forward would involve obtaining voluminous Spanish documents only accessible in Guatemala, and compelling Spanish-speaking witnesses to travel to Canada.

It would also open the floodgates to countless claims in Canadian courts, merely because an “indirect parent” company of a foreign subsidiary sought financing on Canadian capital markets, she added.

A Guatemalan court is the most appropriate forum for the plaintiffs’ claims, Carteri said. She noted the men have also launched a lawsuit there seeking damages.

The plaintiffs contend the central issue in the case is whether a Canadian company has any responsibility under Canadian law for the conduct of the security staff, according to documents filed with the court in response to Tahoe’s motion for dismissal.

Their lawyers are expected to argue over the three-day hearing that Tahoe is trying to skirt judicial scrutiny and intends to exploit a gap in transnational law, in which “serious corporate misconduct” can occur without reparations.

“In Guatemala, judicial independence does not exist and the rule of law is extremely weak,” states the response. “Accordingly there is no real prospect that Tahoe can be held accountable there for its conduct.”

Fiona Koza, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International who attended the hearing, said the organization is concerned people won’t have access to justice even though the company is incorporated in B.C.

“There should be remedy in Canada.”

 

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