‘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.

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Raids, Incarceration and Decimated Indigenous Land Stains Canada’s Reputation in Guatemala

By Elizabeth McSheffrey | National Observer | December 6, 2017

In the conference room of a handsome hotel in Guatemala City, a conversation about Canada brings five grown women to tears.

Canada is a country they associate with tear gas, rubber bullets, midnight raids on rural communities, decimated Indigenous lands, and the incarceration of friends and family.

Dabbing wet eyelashes with hotel napkins, they ask a group of international delegates for help obtaining justice. Pink roses lie flat on the table — a token to thank the women, all human rights activists, for their courage and candor.

“The Government of Canada has not taken responsibility,” says Amalia Lemus, speaking in Spanish to a roomful of two dozen North American, Guatemalan and Middle Eastern philanthropists, activists and NGO workers. They came at the tail end of the rainy season in late October to hear from women about challenges to peace, land and water rights in Guatemala.

“Internationally, it’s like we don’t exist,” says Lemus. “We are all at risk and our water is at risk… the violation of human rights is enormous.”

To many Guatemalans, she explains, Canada is a country synonymous with mining — a lucrative industry in Guatemala, which is rich in gold, silver, zinc and nickel. At last count, Canadian mining companies had a major stake in the Central American country’s extraction, with five corporations holding more than $289 million in assets.

Two of the Canadian companies, Tahoe Resources and Hudbay Minerals, are now subject to court cases in Canada for alleged breaches of tort law. The lawsuits stem from extreme acts of violence allegedly committed by mine security personnel against locals opposed to the projects. Both companies deny the allegations against them and legal proceedings against Hudbay started last week.

In Guatemala, mining companies and their subsidiaries flourish in a “state that was designed for corruption and impunity,” explains Claudia Samayoa, founder of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala. The government — led by two successive presidents charged with corruption — has an “almost non-existent” will to enforce environmental and human rights law, adds Ursula Roldán Andrade, a co-ordinator for the migrations department at Guatemala’s Institute for Research and Political Management.

But Canadian mining companies could soon face new federal scrutiny for their activities, both in Guatemala and around the world. The Trudeau government is poised this week to deliver on a 2015 campaign promise to create a new human rights watchdog with powers to investigate Canadian corporations involved in extraction overseas.

Liberal MP John McKay — who has long championed the office’s creation — said he expects an announcement by the end of the week. A Global Affairs Canada spokesperson confirmed that news on the human rights ombudsperson is coming “shortly,” but would not provide a date.

“Will (the ombudsperson) fulfill all my dreams and aspirations and hopes and fantasies? No,” McKay told National Observer in an interview. “But certainly it’s one more step along a path of accountability, and I think it’s probably one of the most significant steps that could be taken.”

To read the full article, click here. 

‘New Era’: Canadian Mining Industry Closely Watching Three Civil Cases Alleging Human Rights Abuses

By Douglas Quan | National Post | November 27, 2017

Breakthrough reported in efforts to make Canadian-based mining companies accountable on home turf for violations they’re accused of abroad.

A trio of civil cases winding through the courts signal a breakthrough in efforts to hold Canadian-based mining companies accountable on home turf when they’re accused of violations abroad, human rights and legal observers say.

Historically, Canadian judges have been inclined to send such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged abuses occurred. But the three pending cases — two in British Columbia and one in Ontario — show that the legal landscape is shifting.

“Courts are now willing to hear these cases,” says Penelope Simons, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. “They’re not trying to punt them back to other places. That’s an important thing.”

Industry groups say they have taken steps to make sure members don’t run afoul of human rights and environmental laws when operating abroad. But several reports in recent years suggest more needs to be done in Canada, which is home to over half of the world’s mining companies reportedly worth $170 billion.

Last year, the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School linked 28 Canadian mining companies to 44 deaths, 403 injuries and 709 arrests, detentions and legal complaints in Latin America from 2000 through 2015. The alleged targets were often anti-mining demonstrators.

The report also found that publicly listed companies disclosed only 24 per cent of the fatalities and 12 per cent of the injuries in their company-performance reports.

This past June, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights noted that “cases of alleged human rights abuse by Canadian companies abroad … continue to be a cause for serious concern” and urged the federal government to do more to “set out clear expectations for Canadian companies operating overseas.”

Experts say increased exposure of the problem could be a reason why Canadian courts seem more willing now to take on these cases. Whatever the reason, the trend is welcomed by human rights watchers.

“It’s important that no company is above the rule of law,” said Amanda Ghahremani, legal director at the Canadian Centre for International Justice.

To read the full article, click here.

These Women Nobelists Are Fighting for Grassroots Activists in Central America

By Lauren Carlsen | The Nation | November 17, 2017

The bus pulls into a dusty vacant lot off the road. A red tarp has been strung over a few rows of folding chairs. Although there’s still a morning chill, the sun will soon be fierce in the eastern Guatemalan village of Casillas. Small groups of locals wait nervously as 30 women file off the bus, among them four Nobel Peace Prize winners.

It’s an unusual day, even for a place that propelled itself to fame by standing up to the world’s largest silver mine. Amalia Lemus, an indigenous Xinca organizer with the Diocese Council for the Defense of Nature (CODIDENA), tells the crowd assembled later in the local basketball court, “It’s a privilege that the Nobel women are here with us.” Turning toward the table where the luminaries sit beneath a large banner with their names and faces, she adds, “We’ve never had a visit of this magnitude.”

That’s the idea. Women peace-prize laureates founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative in 2006 to bring the limelight to local women-led movements in places like this, where under-the-radar conflicts kill more people than formal wars. In late October, the Nobel laureates traveled through Honduras and Guatemala with a group of women activists and journalists to look at the vital but perilous intersection of women, land and peace. For eight days, we listened to the stories of women like Amalia who have dedicated their lives to stopping land grabs and destruction from mining companies, hydroelectric plants, monoculture plantations, and other megaprojects.

“Land will continue to be the most serious problem in Guatemala and the rest of Central America in the coming years, and it causes the most conflict throughout Latin America,” laureate Rigoberta Menchú explained. Menchú was awarded the peace prize in 1992, in the midst of war in Guatemala. The biggest difference between the violence of the past and the violence today, she said—20 years after the peace accords—is that today’s resistance is nonviolent.

The offensive against indigenous lands and territory, however, is not. Honduran and Guatemalan women describe assassinations, imprisonment, threats, and beatings from companies and the state forces they work with. Faced with a new wave of intense pressure from transnational corporations, they’ve joined, and in many cases led, the defense of their communities from some of the most powerful economic interests in world. After being declared “Open for Business” following the 2009 coup d’état, Honduras is now the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists, with more than 120 land defenders assassinated since 2010. Community displacement and disruption, along with compromised justice systems, have given these two nations some of the highest homicide rates, and especially femicide rates, in the world. The wholesale granting of private mining concessions—307 at last count in Guatemala, and some 35 percent of Honduran national territory—sows conflict between corporations and local communities for generations to come.

It’s not just a question of whose land it is, but of two conflicting ways of living. The Nobel women point out that what might seem local is really universal. “Your sacrifice, your struggle, is not just for people here in Santa Rosa, not just for people in Guatemala, not just for Latin America—it’s for all human beings,” declared Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, co-recipient of the Nobel in 2011. “People around the world suffer from these corrupt companies that destroy our earth and cause climate change. They’re stealing your future and the future for all human beings.”

To read the full article, click here.

Guatemalans Denounce Tahoe Resources’ Plan to “Pick Them Apart”

By Jamie Kneen | Mining Watch Canada | October 16, 2017

On October 11th, representatives from the departments of Santa Rosa, Jalapa and Jutiapa who have been participating the protest camp against Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine since June held a press conference to denounce attempts to discredit and criminalize their movement, specifically recent damage to a helicopter.

Local leaders speaking to Guatemalan press in the municipality of Casillas repudiated the attack on the helicopter and raised concerns about this and other acts of provocation that they suspect Tahoe Resources may be behind and could be using to create conflict and an image of unlawfulness in order to justify their violent eviction.

They further stated that when they proposed a dialogue process in early June that this was never considered.

Recent statements at the Denver Gold Forum on September 25thfrom Tahoe Resources CEO Ron Clayton fail to build confidence in the company’s approach.

In his comments, Clayton repeated misinformation about the protest, stating that local residents are being manipulated, paid to participate or motivated by issues other than the Escobal mine.

Clayton also stated that, upon Tahoe’s request, the U.S. government “had a big influence on even this last court decision”, referring to U.S. intervention over a Guatemalan Supreme Court ruling in September to temporarily reinstate the company’s operating license. During July and August, the company was heavily lobbying both U.S. and Canadian authorities for support.

Clayton further explained the company’s current approach, stating: “What we are trying to do is pick them apart and get some agreements…”.

Given repeat court decisions in past months denouncing the discrimination and lack of consultation over Tahoe’s mine project, and overwhelming results in local municipal and community plebiscites against the project since before it went into operation, it is deeply troubling that Tahoe would opt for a strategy based on “picking apart” anyone. The mere suggestion infers a process intent on creating division or escalating tension, which is problematic given the company’s track record in dealing with opposition to its project. From 2011-2014 Tahoe employed a militarized security strategy to get the mine operating, during which time seven people were killed, over thirty injured and nearly one hundred legally persecuted for participating in protests or trying to organize local consultation processes.

Tahoe’s refusal to face up to its lack of social licence in the region, and disregard for the impacts from its mining activities that communities have felt – and still fear – on their lives and livelihoods, makes future human rights abuses and violence at the Escobal mine all the more likely.

To read the full article, click here. 

Guatemala Court Clarifies Consultation Area, Denies Action on Export Permit

By Henry Lazenby | Mining Weekly | September 27, 2017

VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – The TSX-listed stock of beleaguered minerTahoe Resources fell as much as 13.5% on Wednesday, after the Guatemalan Supreme Court issued a ruling clarifying the specific geographical areas that need to be included in a fresh round of indigenous consultations; the court also denied action to force the Energy and Mines Ministry (MEM) to renew the company’s mineral export permit.

The Vancouver-based miner noted that the court directed the MEM to undertake a new consultation process, under the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, with the Xinca communities in four municipalities in the region of the flagship Escobal mine, including Casillas, Nueva Santa Rosa, Mataquescuintla and San Rafael Las Flores.

The Supreme Court also declined to review Tahoe’s request to order the MEM to issue the annual renewal of Escobal’s export credential. The company said it was evaluating its legal and administrative options.

The Constitutional Court is expected to rule on all appeals of the Supreme Court’s decision on the definitive amparo by the end of the year.

To read the full article, click here.

Tahoe Resources’ Social License in Guatemala Non-Existent, as Uncertainty Plagues Escobal Permits

By Jen Moore | Mining Watch Canada | September 26, 2017

On the heels of two months of lobbying in Washington D.C. and Ottawa seeking government intervention on its behalf, Tahoe Resources announced on September 10th that the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice had reinstated the operating licence for its Escobal project in southeastern Guatemala. Questions remain over this court decision, which is now under appeal, and a final ruling from the Constitutional Court could be months away. However, regardless of the court’s verdict, the Escobal project clearly lacks a social licence to operate.

Operations have been stalled since June 7th when residents from six municipalities in the area of Tahoe’s silver mine initiated a check-point in the municipality of Casillas to prevent mine-related traffic from reaching the project. Contrary to the company’s representation of this action as an “illegal road blockade”, the community-led demonstration is taking place roadside, on private property. This protest, which is a reflection of six years of community organizing, continues today.

When asked how the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate Tahoe’s licence would affect the round-the-clock protest, Xinka Indigenous lawyer Quelvin Jiménez remarked, “The opposition to the Escobal project did not spring up as a result of a lawsuit, it was already there. It is a result of violations of the rights to housing and water, among other abuses we have suffered since the project got underway.”

Over the last two months, dozens of international organizations have criticized the company’s inaccurate characterization of the protest and the smear campaign launched by the company’s associates in Guatemala. They point out that these misrepresentations and threats put community members at serious risk of further repression and criminalization. Since June, police have already tried to violently evict the protest twice.

To read the full article, click here.

Digging for the Truth

By Michael Swan | The Catholic Register | September 3, 2017

Earlier this year protesters in a small Guatemala village blockaded a giant silver mine operated by a Canadian company and for a month stood their ground despite being regularly tear-gassed by paramilitary police.

Their action culminated July 5 in a Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice decision that suspended two mining licenses held by Tahoe Resources Inc. of Vancouver until complaints by the Xinka Indigenous people who live near the mine can be heard.

The Xinka, who say the mine was opened on their land before they were properly consulted, allege the ground is now shifting in the nearby town of Casillas, damaging homes because of heavy equipment and explosions at the mine, and they complain water has become scarce since the mine opened. They have the support of their archbishop, a local bishop, the Loretto Sisters and many clergy.

It is stories like the Xinka’s struggle that have prompted Canada’s bishops to join the fight, in solidarity with Latin American bishops, to end what they call “unethical, unjust and irresponsible” practices by some Canadian mining companies operating in Latin America.

In an Aug. 9 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged the government to honour a 2015 campaign promise to hire an ombudsperson to field international complaints about Canadian mining. The letter talked about “threats, violence, extortion and even murder” in the mining industry and said the bishops “cannot accept the unethical way Canadian mining companies have been operating in Latin America.”

But Crosby’s claims are refuted by Pierre Gratton, president and chief executive officer of the Mining Association of Canada.

“I don’t accept the argument that Canadians are as bad as he says they are,” he told The Catholic Register. “In fact, what the evidence is now showing is that we’re better than our competition. And that actually what’s good for Latin America is probably more Canadian mining, not less.”

The one point on which the two sides do agree is that it’s time for an ombudsperson, although stark differences remain about how that person should operate. NGOs and church groups want an ombudsperson with power to investigate and sanction companies implicated in overseas human rights violations and environmental disasters. The mining industry wants the ombud limited to mediation, conciliation and joint fact finding, and wants penalties for bad behaviour left to the courts, preferably courts where the mine is located, not in Canada where the company’s stocks are listed and its executives make the deals.

To read the full article, click here.

Tahoe Resources Lobbies U.S., Canada to Intervene Over Guatemala Court Decision to Suspend Escobal Mine

By Jen Moore | Mining Watch Canada | August 31, 2017

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

Tahoe Resources is lobbying U.S. and Canadian authorities to intervene on its behalf following a July decision by Guatemala’s Supreme Court to temporarily suspend operations at the company’s Escobal silver mine. The decision cites discrimination and lack of prior consultation of Indigenous Xinka communities, whose ancestral territory in southeastern Guatemala is affected by the project. The country’s Constitutional Court confirmed the suspension last week in response to an appeal filed by the company’s Guatemalan subsidiary. Arguments to determine a final decision in the case were heard in the Supreme Court on August 28.

In a public letter to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala dated August 23, 2017, Tahoe Resources accused the Constitutional Court of “potential judicial impropriety,” alleging that the judges involved in last week’s decision were manipulated. In the letter, the company also repeated slanderous accusations against people from six municipalities who have been peacefully demonstrating since June over the current and future impacts of the mine in the municipality of Casillas.

The company’s unsubstantiated accusations against the country’s highest court are concerning as Guatemala entered into another political crisis last week, with justice officials under attack. On August 25, the United Nations-backed anti-corruption unit CICIG and the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office requested that the court strip President Jimmy Morales of his presidential immunity in order to proceed with charges linked to illegal funding of his 2015 presidential campaign. Two days later, Morales announced the expulsion of the UN official commissioned to lead CICIG, Iván Velásquez of Colombia, declaring him a persona non-grata. Within hours, the Constitutional Court reversed the action. Nine countries with diplomatic presence in Guatemala, including Canada and the U.S., released a statement in support of Velásquez and the CICIG.

Tahoe’s lobbying efforts began in July, according to a follow-up letter from Tahoe to the Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. State Department. Tahoe has also enlisted support from Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller and Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who wrote letters to the Secretaries of State and Commerce, respectively. In both letters, the representatives allege politically motivated attacks on Tahoe’s operations in Guatemala and warn of economic and political instability and damage to US relations with Latin America if the court decision is allowed to stand. Both urge the Drumpf Administration to intervene to protect U.S. interests in Guatemala.

The Canadian lobby registry shows that Tahoe has also been very active lobbying Canadian public officials since its mine licenses were suspended in July. While records are still not available for August and are generally short on details, Tahoe lobbyists met with the Director General of Trade Commission Services, policy advisors from the office of the Minister of International Trade, the chairs of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor.

To read the full article, click here.

Guatemala Top Court Confirms Suspension of Tahoe Mining Licenses

By Reuters | August 25, 2017

GUATEMALA CITY, Aug 24 (Reuters) – Guatemala’s constitutional court confirmed on Thursday the provisional suspension of two mining licenses belonging to a local unit of Canadian miner Tahoe Resources Inc., two people involved in the case said.

The court is assessing whether the company consulted appropriately with indigenous communities, after an environmental organization argued that indigenous people in the region had not been consulted about the projects.

The mining licenses of the company’s Escobal unit, one of the world’s largest silver mines, as well as the smaller Juan Bosco unit have been suspended since July 5.

“We are sorry about the court’s decision,” said Andrés Dávila, a spokesman for San Rafael, Tahoe’s local unit. “We will continue exhausting all the legal avenues that Guatemalan law permits us.”

The parties will present their arguments before the court at a hearing scheduled for Aug. 28.

“We celebrate the decision, and we are ready for the (hearing),” said Kelvin Jiménez, a lawyer representing Parlamento Xinca, an indigenous group affected by the mines.

To read the full article, click here.