Indigenous Xinka March in Guatemala to Banish Canadian Mine

By Elizabeth McSheffrey | National Observer | April 17, 2018


Traffic grinds to a crawl on the dusty highway through Casillas, a small city in the Guatemalan Department of Santa Rosa, roughly three hours southeast of the capital.

Even on a busy work day, no vehicle may pass until the peaceful resistance stationed there has determined that it is not affiliated with or carrying supplies to the nearby Escobal silver mine, owned by Canada’s Tahoe Resources.

It’s a makeshift blockade marked by canvas signs attached to tilted power poles, demanding justice for Indigenous people as they flap in the wind. The project threatens land, water and local agriculture, argue members of the resistance, who patrol the road in shifts.

“We are willing to give our lives for Mother Earth and the children of the future,” Bernabe Rivas Ceballos told journalists, philanthropists and activists visiting the blockade on Oct. 26, 2017.

“We hold the company responsible for all the conflict they have caused in our communities of Santa Rosa. We can’t allow that invasion…We are willing to win or die.”

Seven out of eight municipalities near the Escobal mine have formally opposed it in local polls, and since 2015, at least five of their mayors have refused royalty payments from Minera San Rafael — a subsidiary of Tahoe Resources charged with the mine’s operation.

The project has been on hold since last summer over Indigenous consultation concerns, and just last month, hit a new snag as Guatemala’s Constitutional Court prolonged that suspension further with demands for new information and evidence. It’s a decision that sent more than 2,000 Indigenous Xinka people marching through the streets of Guatemala City last week, demanding permanent closure of the mine.

The delays have been costly for Tahoe Resources, which suffered an $18 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2017, largely attributed to Escobal’s suspension. More than a quarter of Minera San Rafael’s 1,030 staff have already been laid off, and Tahoe has confirmed that more layoffs are on the way as the court examines whether the mine’s operating license is legal.

The Escobal mine controversy is one of several surrounding a variety of Canadian resource companies that operate abroad. Over the last 10 years, they have prompted a wave of activist pressure that just this year, resulted in federal government action.

In January, Canada’s International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne introduced some details of his plan to create of a new watchdog with a mandate to investigate allegations of abuse in the foreign activities of Canadian companies. Tahoe’s Escobal mine could be among those it is asked to review.

To read the full article, click here.

Thousands March in Protest of Escobal Mine and in Support of Xinca People’s Right to Self-Determination

By NISGUA |April 12, 2018


A large group of Guatemalans gather in front of the Constitutional Court building, holding signs that denounce Tahoe Resources and call for the self-determination of the Xinca People to be respected.

On Monday April 9, thousands took to the streets in Guatemala City as part of the “March for Life,” organized by the Xinca Parliament and the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa and Jutiapa. Representatives from the indigenous Maya Ch’orti’, Ixil, Quiche and Garifuna Peoples showed up in support of the Xinca People and their call for the permanent closure of Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine located in Xinca territory.

The Guatemalan courts temporarily suspended the mine over eight months ago as part of ongoing legal proceedings to determine if the Xinca People’s right to consultation was violated in granting the mining license in 2013. The courts will also determine if the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines discriminated against the Xinca People by justifying the lack of consultation by denying their very existence in the region. The case is currently being decided by the Constitutional Court that most recently ordered several Guatemalan academic institutions to carry out anthropological studies to determine the existence of indigenous people in San Rafael Las Flores, the municipality where the mine is located.

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To read the full article, click here.

Xinca Parliament Makes Statement in Anticipation of Constitutional Court’s Conclusive Resolution on Escobal Proceedings

April 9, 2018

(Santa Rosa/Jalapa/Jutiapa) From the Parliament of the Xinca People of Guatemala and the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa and Jutiapa, in anticipation of the Constitutional Court’s conclusive resolution on the final appeal concerning proceedings over the “El Escobal” project operated by Minera San Rafael [Tahoe Resources’ wholly-owned Guatemalan subsidiary].

Let it be known that:

  1. We reject the disrespect shown to us by [the court] in requesting reports to assess our existence in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, [an act that] negates our existence and identity.
  2. We are concerned by the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry and the Guatemalan-American Chamber of Commerce’s (AMCHAM for its acronym in Spanish) Public Relations campaign in different media outlets as a way to pressure the Constitutional court to find in favor of Minera San Rafael.
  3. Minera San Rafael is more concerned with its billion-dollar investment in the project than with the impacts they are causing throughout the region of Santa Rosa, Jutiapa, and Jalapa, including the destruction of our social fabric, as well as pollution, criminalization, forced migration and the violation of the rights to water and housing.
  4. We are concerned about how the community of La Cuchilla in San Rafael Las Flores has been destroyed and that, in order to protect the interests of Minera San Rafael, the state has not taken responsibility. Meanwhile, other communities are also at risk.
  5. To date, the idea of development touted in the media is not evident in our communities, as claimed by company executives.
  6. Since the resistance camps began in Casillas and in front of the Constitutional Court, there have been actions taken to provoke community members in order to create the conditions for their criminalization.
  7. Tremors have ceased since the resistance camp in Casillas began, despite state institutions responsible for such matters attributing the seismic activity to natural causes.
  8. Water for human consumption is becoming ever more scarce, making it necessary to drill underground wells, while the water table is also getting deeper.
  9. We reject all forms of interference on the Court by either foreign governments or the Guatemalan government.
  10. We understand the complexity of this case, for which reason we have waited, aware that the arguments being made as part of this process underscore the necessity that mining activities be stopped and a debate take place about this country’s development model.

Given the above, we call for:

  1. The Guatemalan Chamber of Industry to respect judicial independence, peoples’ right to autonomy and their right to live in peace.
  2. Constitutional Court justices to issue a decision that would permanently suspend Minera San Rafael’s “El Escobal” mining project, for the reasons mentioned.
  3. [The recognition] that this case is not the same as in the Oxec Case such that the Minera San Rafael case cannot be based on that verdict.

WE ARE A PEOPLE OF PEACE THAT DEFENDS OUR TERRITORY

And as long as our demands are not heard, we will continue in permanent resistance.

GUATEMALA DE LA ASUNCIÓN, APRIL 2018

XincaAltepetWiriki’

Voice of the Xinca Guatemalan Nation

Translated from the original statement in Spanish by NISGUA, Earthworks and MiningWatch.

For full press release, click here.

Guatemala Court Orders Study on Mines’ Effect on Xinka People

By teleSUR | March 12, 2018


The national court is calling on several ministries and Guatemalan university researchers to produce studies in 15 working days.
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) has ordered that a three-week anthropological study be conducted on the Indigenous Xinka people in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, before moving forward with a suspended mining operation.
The national court is calling on several ministries and Guatemalan university researchers to produce – in 15 working days – various studies on how the two Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mines will affect the Xinka people who live near the border with El Salvador.

Kelvin Jimenez, attorney for the Xinka Parliament of the court’s mandate, said: “It is not up to the Constitutional Court to decide if we, the Xinka people, exist or not. That is not a disputed fact. According to jurisprudence set by the Inter-American Court, no court has the right to place in doubt how a people self-identifies. According to the same jurisprudence, we as Indigenous people, have the right to free, prior and informed consent over large projects, like the Escobal mine, that impact our lives and territory.”

Jimenez went on to say: “We believe the Court already has sufficient information to make a decision,” including an independent survey, that “confirmed that six thousand Xinka people live in San Rafael Las Flores, not to mention the thousands of Xinka in nearby municipalities that are also affected by the mine.”

He added, “Nonetheless, we trust that the Constitutional Court will continue to carry out its work with transparency … and hope that the additional information will confirm what we already know to be true. We exist and we have the right to free, prior and informed consent.”

Earthworks non-profit environmental organization says that local authorities have already conducted 18 municipal and village-level consultations processes in the affected areas where “tens of thousands” of Xinka and those in the Las Flores area have voted against any mining activity which the CC suspended last July.

Two municipalities have even refused royalties from the mining company since operations began in 2013. Three others did the same in 2015.

The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) approved Tahoe’s mine on April 3, 2013, ignoring the 200 local residents, including Jimenez, who denounced the mine based on environmental and health concerns for the region.

Jimenez appealed the MEM’s move and in July 2013 a Guatemalan appeals court ruled the ministry had not followed due process. The court ordered the MEM to address Jimenez’s complaints and hold an administrative hearing. The ministry filed an appeal in the Constitutional Court, which upheld the original decision. In June 2016, MEM began the hearing process before it was suspended shortly after.

For the three-week study the Constitutional Court is also mandating:

Two national universities “to submit an opinion” regarding an environmental assessment conducted by the MEM, the Ministry of Environment (MARN) and the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MPHSA). The MEM has been ordered to report within 48 hours about how it approved exploration and exploitation licenses for the Tahoe mining concessions and licenses.

To read the full article, click here.

Guatemalan Constitutional Court Keeps Tahoe Resources Operations Suspended, Orders Presentation of Further Documentation

March 9, 2018

(Ottawa/Washington D.C.) On Wednesday, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court published a resolution and held a press conference calling for more evidence to be presented as part of the legal process that has temporarily suspended two of Tahoe Resources’ mine licences since July.

Three Guatemalan government ministries and researchers at two Guatemalan universities have been given between 48 hours and 15 working days to present the information requested. This includes research centres at the San Carlos University and the Universidad del Valle, as well as the Ministry of Culture and Sport, that were ordered to each complete an anthropological study regarding the presence of Indigenous people in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores.

In reaction to the announcement, Kelvin Jiménez attorney for the Xinka Parliament, an intervenor in the suit said, “It is not up to the Constitutional Court to decide if we, the Xinka people, exist or not. This is not a disputed fact. According to jurisprudence set by the Inter-American Court, no court has the right to place in doubt the self-identification of a people. According to the same jurisprudence, as Indigenous people, we have the right to free, prior and informed consent over large projects – like the Escobal mine – that impact our lives and territory.”

“We believe the Court already has sufficient information to make a decision, specifically a survey that the Catholic Diocese that serves the region of Santa Rosa undertook to better know and serve the needs of their congregation. This survey was done independent of this lawsuit and confirmed that six thousand Xinka people live in San Rafael Las Flores, not to mention the thousands of Xinka in nearby municipalities that are also affected by the mine,” Jiménez continued.

“Nonetheless, we trust that the Constitutional Court will continue to carry out its work with transparency and in accordance with the law, and hope that the additional information will confirm what we already know to be true. We exist and we have the right to free, prior and informed consent.”

To date, there have been eight municipal level consultation processes held in the affected area of the Escobal project, in the departments of Santa Rosa and Jalapa, in which tens of thousands of people, including Xinka, have voted against any mining activity there. Two municipalities have refused to receive any royalties from the mining company since operations began in 2013, with three others following suit since 2015.

In addition to anthropological studies, the Constitutional Court ordered the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of the Environment to immediately report on the approval processes for Tahoe Resources’ mine licenses and environmental permissions.

Notably, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) approved the exploitation license for Tahoe’s Escobal mine on April 3, 2013, immediately after dismissing without consideration more than 200 individual complaints submitted by local residents based on environmental and health concerns, including one from Kelvin Jiménez. Jiménez appealed his complaint’s dismissal, and in July 2013, a Guatemalan Appeals Court found that the Ministry of Energy and Mines did not follow due process. The court ordered MEM to hold an administrative hearing to address the substance of Jiménez’s complaint. Lawyers for affected communities argued at the time that the appeals court decision put Tahoe’s licence in limbo.

That same month, MEM appealed the decision to the Constitutional Court, which upheld the lower court decision and again ordered MEM to carry out an administrative hearing. In June 2016, MEM began the hearing process before suspending it indefinitely. To date, the complaint remains unresolved, as does the larger issue of community right to due process concerning these complaints under the terms of the 1997 Mining Law.

Shareholders have recently raised concern about uncertainty over company permits and lack of social license in class action lawsuits filed against the company after its shares fell more than 30% in July when its mine licences were first suspended by the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice.

Contacts:

  • Ellen Moore, Earthworks, emoore@earthworksaction.org, 608-207-8690
  • Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, jen@miningwatch.ca, 613-569-3439

Further Detail: 

In its resolution, the Constitutional Court has called for:

  • Specific institutes at the San Carlos University and the Universidad del Valle, as well as the Ministry of Culture and Sport, to each complete an anthropological study regarding the presence of Indigenous people in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores within 15 days.
  • Specific institutes at these same two universities to submit an opinion to the court concerning Tahoe Resources’ Environmental Impact Assessments and studies carried out by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of Environment (MARN) related to the Escobal project, all with regard to mitigation measures to avoid water contamination and related issues within 15 working days.
  • The Ministry of Environment to present its monitoring reports related to preventing water contamination at the Escobal mine within 5 working days.
  • The Ministry of Energy and Mines to report within 48 hours about how it approved exploration and exploitation licences for the Juan Bosco and Escobal concessions respectively.
  • The Office of Sustainable Development within the Ministry of Energy and Mines to report all actions taken in relation to the Juan Bosco exploration and Escobal exploitation concessions.
  • The Ministry of Environment to send the Environmental Evaluation Instrument it approved for the Juan Bosco licence and a copy of the resolution approving the Instrument.

For full press release, click here.

Guatemalan Communities Denounce Tahoe Resources for Trying to Provoke Conflict During Suspension of Escobal Mine

By NISGUA, MiningWatch Canada, & Earthworks | February 22, 2018


The following article was co-written by MiningWatch Canada, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), and Earthworks.

It has been seven months since operations at Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine have been suspended and, once again, residents are speaking out about what they perceive as a further attempt on the part of the company and its supporters to provoke conflict, delegitimize their right to peaceful and lawful protest, and undermine the independence of a judicial process over two of the company’s licenses.

Below is a translation of a press release from the Xinka Parliament and the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa and Jutiapa concerning an incident on Thursday February 15th in which representatives of Tahoe’s Guatemala subsidiary, Minera San Rafael (MSR), were stopped and questioned by local residents in El Tablón in the municipality of Casillas. The situation occurred after company representatives, accompanied by private security, reportedly refused to answer community member’s questions regarding the purpose of a meeting they had just held with a handful of coffee growers near Ayarza, a community located in the mountains near the Escobal mine.

The statement denounces Tahoe for continuing work in the region, despite a judicial decision suspending operations since July. They consider this incident, and others leading up to it, to be acts of provocation from company representatives and supporters seeking to elicit a negative reaction from communities who already feel under threat as they defend their water, land and way of life in a context marked by tension, violence and criminalization since 2011.

Miguel Colop Hernádez from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) told Guatemalan media about how his office mediated the incident in El Tablón, stating that residents were “acting in defense of their rights” when they stopped the Tahoe representatives along the road insisting that they identify themselves and that they respect the suspension. In contrast, a sensationalist article published Friday in a UK newspaper that has been banned as a reference by Wikileaks describes the incident as a terrifying hostage-taking by a gang of armed men. The Guatemalan human rights official, on the other hand, made no mention of violence or threat of violence in his report, stating that the incident was resolved through dialogue and that the company representatives were freed immediately.

To read full article and press release, click here.

 

 

Xinca Parlament Denounces Provocations by Tahoe Resources and Minera San Rafael

February 16, 2018

The following information was published by the Xinca Parliament regarding the misreporting by local news sources, which are alleging the “detention” of two Tahoe Resources/Minera San Rafael executives in a community in Santa Rosa. The original publication can be found in its entirety at the bottom of the page. The translation by NISGUA is as follows:

(Santa Rosa/Jalapa/Jutiapa) URGENT URGENT! We reject this clear attempt by Minera San Rafael [subsidiary of Tahoe Resources] to provoke communities, acting against the legal resolution [suspending mining operations], they continue to work and challenge communities. That situation motivated residents to ask the two people from Minera San Rafael [and Tahoe Resources] to sign an agreement that they promise to stop entering into their territories. There have been no attempts to harm them in any moment, as has been misreported to the public.

We reject the biased declarations made by the Chamber of Industry and by José Valdizan of Emisoras Unidas, Prensa Libre and other media outlets which are attempts to blame and pressure the Constitutional Court.

We call on the National Civil Police and the Ombudsman for Human Rights to enact the correct protocol to resolve this conflict and call for both parties’ human rights to be respected.


Original publication in Spanish:

URGENTE URGENTE! Rechazamos la clara provocación de Minera San Rafael a las Comunidades, pues aún contra una resolución judicial, siguen trabajando y retando a las Comunidades, situación que provocó que la población esta pida 2 personeros de Minera San Rafael firmen un acta de compromiso para no seguir entrando a sus territorios, en ningún momento se ha intentado agredirles, cómo se ha mal informado a la población.

Rechazamos las declaraciones tendenciosas del representante de la Cámara de Industria y José Valdizan en Emisoras Unidas, Prensa Libre y otros medios de comunicación, pues tratan de culpar y presionar a la Corte de Constitucionalidad.

Hacemos un llamado a la PDH y PNC para que se usen los protocolos adecuados para resolver este conflicto y que se respeten los DDHH de ambas partes.

 

For full press release, click here.

Tahoe Burnishes CSR Profile in Undertaking to Develop Indigenous Peoples Policy

By Henry Lazenby | Mining Weekly | February 14, 2018


VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Embattled Canadian miner Tahoe Resources has given itself until the end of the year to formalise a comprehensive new indigenous peoples policy as it deals with community protests in Guatemala, that have shuttered operations at its flagship Escobal silver mine for months.

The policy is aimed at formalising and further enhancing the company’s approach to engaging with indigenous people across its operations, after its Guatemala operations became ensnarled in legal action by a nongovernmental organisation against the government, which has resulted in the temporary suspension of the mining licence, until formal engagements have been completed.

According to the miner, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court on October 25, 2017, heard appeals of the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the Escobal mining licence. According to Guatemalan law, the Constitutional Court must rule within five calendar days of the public hearing. However, the Constitutional Court is yet to rule.

In its latest news release, the company for the first time recognised the “presence and importance” of the Xinka nation, located near the Escobal mine.

“In conjunction with formalising an indigenous peoples policy, we are working to take a more proactive approach to improving key relationships with indigenous peoples near our operations. It is in this spirit that Tahoe wishes to clarify and specifically acknowledge the presence and importance of the indigenous peoples located in the communities near Escobal, particularly the Xinka,” president and CEO Ron Clayton said in a statement.

This commitment follows Tahoe’s announcement last week that it had signed the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). As a participant in UNGC, Tahoe is undertaking a review of its policies and practices to ensure alignment with the UNGC’s ten principles on human rights, labour, environment and anticorruption.

According to the company, the indigenous peoples policy will serve to enhance the company’s existing human rights policy that advocates respect for the rights of all peoples, including indigenous peoples. It will reflect Tahoe’s commitment to, and the UNGC’s emphasis on, human rights and responsible practices, and will endeavour to encompass the specific and collective rights of indigenous groups.

“We are focused on finding a way to work constructively with the Xinka communities and other indigenous groups across the region. Tahoe respects the rights, customs and cultural heritage of all indigenous peoples, and we are committed to engagement and dialogue in all regions of our operations for the mutual benefit of everyone,” Clayton noted.

To read the full article, click here.

Canadian Lawyers Rally to Support Guatemalan Colleague Fighting World’s Second Largest Silver Mine

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 10.53.09 AM

Guatemalan lawyer under attack after representing Indigenous people opposed to controversial Canadian miner Tahoe Resources.

Toronto, January 3, 2018 – Canadian lawyers and international organizations are pressuring the Canadian and Guatemalan governments to ensure the safety of Guatemalan lawyer Rafael Maldonado. The Canadian Bar Association wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland expressing concern for Mr. Maldonado’s safety on December 20, 2017. Earlier in the fall, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a group located at Osgoode Hall Law School wrote to the Canadian Embassy in Guatemala. Letters were also sent to the President of Guatemala by the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Law Society of England and Wales.

Mr. Maldonado has actively defended community members concerned about the impacts of Canadian silver miner Tahoe Resources. He has received death threats, his office has been ransacked and shots were fired at his car earlier this year. The director and founder of the environmental organization where he works, the Guatemala Centre for Social and Environmental Legal Action (CALAS), survived an assassination attempt in 2008, and an employee was murdered in 2016. No one has been charged for any of these crimes.

In June, 2017, Mr. Maldonado successfully argued that the silver mine should be suspended because the Guatemalan government had ignored the existence of Xinca Indigenous people in the area affected by Tahoe’s Escobal project. Within two days, Tahoe stocks plummeted 40%. Supporters of the Tahoe mine took out advertisements attacking Mr. Maldonado’s organization, CALAS.

“Advertisements like this are very dangerous in a country like Guatemala, which has one of the worst records in the world for the murder of human rights defenders,” said Lisa Rankin who has supported communities around the mine for the last five years. International organizations such as Frontline Defenders, from Ireland and Amnesty International have also profiled Mr. Maldonado as a human rights defender in need of protection.

“Canada needs to be seen to be protecting the right to carry out legal representation without being intimidated or murdered” said Shin Imai, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and counsel to the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project.

 

Contact:

Shin Imai, Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, simai@justice-project.org, +1 416 524 2312

Lisa Rankin, Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, btscoordinator@gmail.com, +11 502 4906 5626

For full press release, click here.

‘If We’re Attacked, We’ll Die Together,’ A Teenage Anti-Mining Activist Told Her Family. But When the Bullets Came, They Killed Only Her.

By Kate Linthicum | Los Angeles Times | December 27, 2017


Topacio Reynoso was so precocious her mother sometimes joked she was an extraterrestrial. A farmer’s daughter from a remote village in Guatemala reachable by a rugged mountain pass, she was playing perfect Metallica riffs on the guitar by age 12. She won beauty contests, filled notebooks with pages of heady poetry and moved through life with a fearlessness that made her parents proud — if also nervous. At 14, she devoted herself to opposing construction of a large silver mine planned for a town nearby.

Topacio formed her own anti-mining youth group, wrote protest songs and toured the country talking about the environmental risks she believed the mine posed to her community. During a school trip to Guatemala’s capital, she led her classmates in refusing the small welcome gifts from a congressman who supported the mine. Then she heckled him so mercilessly that he fled the meeting.

The teenager’s efforts were not popular with everyone. Although some in the community worried chemicals used at the mine might contaminate nearby rivers, threatening the corn and coffee fields that have long been the region’s lifeblood, others said it would bring needed jobs and tax revenue. The community was split and violence was coming.

Topacio’s father, Alex, knew that speaking out could put the family in peril. Latin America is the most dangerous region in the world for environmental activists, with at least 120 killed last year alone, according to the nonprofit Global Witness.

But Topacio convinced him that it wasn’t a choice to oppose the mine, that it was an obligation: His father had left him land that was uncontaminated; it was up to him to pass on clean land to his kids. He threw himself alongside his daughter into the fight.

These days, when he touches the bullet scars on his body or gazes at the memorial to Topacio that the family has erected on the porch, he wonders whether his decision was right.

The small coffee farm where Topacio grew up might be one of the greenest places on Earth. Half an hour outside Mataquescuintla, a town of 30,000 in southern Guatemala, there are no neighbors in sight, just neat rows of coffee plants, then slopes planted with banana and palm groves, and up near the cloud line, towering pines.

Like her grandparents before her, Topacio grew up living off the land. The corn her family planted, dried and ground into powder was pressed into thick tortillas. Milk produced by a herd of bleating goats was churned into cheese. Yucca root plucked by her younger brothers was fried by her mother and served with salsa and rice.

Many nights, Topacio would sit on the porch or in her cramped, dirt-floor bedroom and strum the guitar, draw pictures and write poems. She filled a spiral notebook with drawings of the planet cracking open and butterflies flying out, and wrote verse after verse about “the betrayal of cowards” against “our generous Mother Earth.”

Nature, she scribbled in blue pen, “is a paradise where we sow dreams and reap happiness.” She dreamed of a day when “no hero will have to die in defense of his land.”

Controversy came to her community in 2010 when a Canadian mining company called Tahoe Resources bought El Escobal silver deposit for more than half a billion dollars. Located on about 250 acres of former farmland in a small town called San Rafael las Flores, just a few miles from Mataquescuintla, El Escobal had never been mined but was believed to contain one of the world’s largest caches of silver, along with deposits of lead, zinc and gold.

As Tahoe sought a license from the Guatemalan government that would allow it to start pulling ore from the earth, some locals fought back. They complained the environmental impact report commissioned by Tahoe didn’t adequately assess all the risks to the region, and said the company hadn’t properly consulted with community members — though the company said it had thoroughly evaluated the impacts and had won popular support.

It was 2012 when Topacio went to her first protest, a demonstration outside the mine entrance organized by the local Catholic diocese. It transformed her, said her mother, Irma Pacheco. The people she met while protesting were deeply principled, she told her parents, especially an articulate teenager with a kind face named Luis Fernando, who would become a close friend.

Soon Topacio had persuaded her parents to join “the resistance,” as locals called the anti-mining effort. Although the idea made her father nervous, he was well suited to bucking the local establishment. Growing up, he had often fought off bullies unnerved by his long hair and taste for black clothes and heavy metal music that carried a strong political message. In rural Guatemala, most men favored cowboy hats and tight jeans with a gun tucked into their waistband — and listened to brassy ranchera.

Ahead of a 2012 referendum in Mataquescuintla that asked locals whether they supported the mine, Topacio and her father traversed the countryside on behalf of the “no” campaign. They were successful: More than 98% of voters said they opposed it. There were similar outcomes in referendums in several other towns. Tahoe executives argued that the votes were nonbinding. The company poured millions of dollars into the community to demonstrate the project’s benefits, opening a vocational center for young people, giving out free vaccines for livestock and planting tens of thousands of trees.

To read the full article, click here.