More than 99% of participants in the Quesada municipal consultation oppose mining

Written by NISGUA.

This weekend, the municipality of Quesada, Jutiapa held a consultation in which 99% of voters expressed their firm opposition to resource extraction activities taking place in their territories. Consultations organized at the community and municipal levels have been one of the many ways Guatemalans have organized in defense of their lands and waterways, as they attempt to prevent transnational megadevelopment projects from operating without the free, prior and informed consent of impacted communities.

In total, more than 50% of registered voters participated, with 8,072 votes against resource extraction and 8 votes in favor.

This municipal consultation in Quesada was the first to take place in the department of Jutiapa, despite the fact that Goldcorp has had a presence in the eastern part of the department since 2007. The Canadian mining company has attempted to put its Cerro Blanco mine into operations, but was unable to proceed given high underground water temperatures – something that was not accounted for in the inadequate feasibility study. While Goldcorp announced in 2014 that the mine’s development was being put on hold until further notice, communities have never been consulted nor given their consent to the project that will negatively affect the waterways in eastern Guatemala and El Salvador.

Other municipalities in bordering departments have held municipal consultations as one strategy to express opposition to the presence of Tahoe Resources, and attempt to stop the company from expanding beyond its Escobal silver mine in San Rafael las Flores.

The municipality of Quesada is mostly Xinca territory, with the Xinca Parliament playing a big role in the administration of communal lands and daily affairs of the community.

“Companies are talking behind our backs with the government, negotiating away our land without our consent,” says Aleisar Arana, current president of the Xinca Parliament and one of the organizers of the consultation. The Xinca authorities have played an important role protecting the area for generations, and Alesiar Arana sees it as a natural extension to protect lands in the face of transnational resource extraction.

Jaime Guadalupe López Hernández, a member of the Quesada Civil Society Organization in Defense of Nature and one of the volunteer organizers of the consultation, also expresses the importance of protecting land for future generations.

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Jaime Guadalupe López Hernández

“This is Xinca territory and as Xinca organizations, our ancestors bestowed upon us both the rights and the obligation to protect Mother Earth,” he says, standing outside one of the four voting stations. “We want to give this same land to future generations so that they can enjoy what we’ve inherited.”

With the Cerro de Flores as a backdrop to the consultation, Jaime is clear in what the communities are fighting to protect.

“This Cerro has its stories. Officially, it’s named ‘Volcán Amayo,’ but it’s known to us as the Cerro de Flores. There is incredible diversity here – with trees, animals, flora and fauna. This mountain is filled with fresh water, apt for human consumption. These water sources could disappear with mining,” he continues.

Jaime is right to be concerned. After only two years of commercial production at the Escobal mine, surrounding communities have already reported wells drying up.

“Reports say that even smaller-scale mining uses the same amount of water in one hour that a typical family uses in 20 years. The chemicals they use in mining operations present a risk to the health of our communities if they get into the water supply.”

Yolanda Elisa Castañeda de Morales, another organizer with the Quesada Civil Society Organization in Defense of Nature echoes Jaime’s statements and says, “We are working here because we want to protect the environment – primarily the water – because we depend on it for life. We have important spring sources here in the municipality of Quesada.”

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Yolanda Elisa Castañeda de Morales

Jaime also expresses the value of solidarity across peoples in the country. “In Guatemala, we have lots of cultures who continue to exist and fight to not disappear,” he says. “Today, we have representatives of the Ch’orti’, Quiche, and Xinca peoples. This cultural diversity is a strength and real richness to our country. They have come to join in our cause today, and we will also join theirs when there is need.”

Three steps you can take to halt Tahoe Resources’ expansion in Guatemala!

For the past five years, communities impacted by Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala have stood up to peacefully defend their lands and livelihoods. The Diocesan Committee in the Defense of Nature (CODIDENA) has led this movement – organizing and carrying out community referenda in which more than 55,000 people in seven municipalities voted against the silver mine. Despite this clear message, Tahoe and the Guatemalan government have pushed the project forward, using violent repression, criminalization and militarization in an attempt silence the resistance.

But the resistance didn’t go away. Today, thousands of brave women and men continue to seek out new, creative and resilient ways to express their opposition to Tahoe’s Escobal project and to halt the company’s plans to develop more mines in the region.

At the end of October, CODIDENA will meet with the US Embassy in Guatemala to demand accountability for US – Canadian based companies operating in Guatemala with impunity but without the consent of impacted communities.

Here are three things you can do to support communities in resistance to Tahoe Resources:

Step 1: Call and Email Your Elected Representatives

Tell the US government: Tahoe Resources contributes to human rights violations in Guatemala!

*Find contact information for your representative by visiting opencongress.org

Hello, my name is ____________________, and I am deeply concerned that North American mining companies are contributing to human rights violations in Guatemala. There is mounting evidence that Tahoe Resources, a company operating in Guatemala with headquarters in Nevada and Vancouver, collaborated with the Guatemalan military and a US private security company to suppress local opposition to their Escobal silver mine through the criminalization of protest and violent repression. Today, military outposts line the highway on either side of the mine, intimidating communities who have consistently and democratically voted against mining in their territory.

The abusive actions of US companies abroad is a US problem and requires US government response. I ask that you share this information and concern with Roberta Jacobson, head of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US State Department and Todd Robinson, US Ambassador to Guatemala.

Step 2: Join our Thunderclap

Show that you stand with CODIDENA in opposing Tahoe Resources in Guatemala by adding your voice to our Thunderclap. The day before the meeting at the US Embassy, this messages will be posted from your Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr account along with messages from hundreds of others!

Click here to join our Thunderclap.

Continue the conversation! During the month of October, directly ask the US Embassy some hard questions about Tahoe’s operations in Guatemala. Here are some samples:

• #TahoeResources boasts popular support. So why hire a US company with operations in Iraq to develop its security strategy? @usembassyguate
• How can #TahoeResources be allowed to ignore 55,000+ votes against mining by communities neighboring the #Escobal mine? @usembassyguate

Step 3: Show Your Solidarity – a picture is worth 1000 words

Mine-impacted communities want us to know that despite repression and militarization, they are still resisting Tahoe’s operations and expansion. Let them know that you stand with them by taking a picture of yourself with a sign expressing your solidarity. Use the hashtag #StillHereWithYou or #SeguimosConUstedes and #TahoeOnTrial. Tag NISGUA_Guate on Twitter!

Crumbling political support for Tahoe Resources in Guatemala

Article co-written by the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), MiningWatch Canada and the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS). 

If the militarized security strategy that Tahoe Resources has used to put its Escobal silver mine into operation isn’t enough to raise questions about the ethics of the company’s operations in Guatemala, the recent resignation of Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina should be. Pérez Molina stepped down on September 2 after Congress voted to strip him of his political immunity. A week later, he was indicted on charges of illicit association, customs fraud, and bribery for his involvement in a customs network that robbed tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Rewind to July 2013, when former President Otto Pérez Molina made a personal site visit to the Escobal mine located in San Rafael las Flores in the department of Santa Rosa. The visit took place just a few months after Tahoe’s head of security was arrested for his role in the shooting of seven peaceful protesters and a subsequent month-long military state of siege was imposed on four municipalities in the area. While at the mine, Pérez Molina mingled with workers and filmed a national television address affirming support for the project.

For the full article, click here.