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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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

‘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.

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.