Tahoe Resources’ Escobal Mine

Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine in Guatemala became militarized in mid 2013. This included a state of emergency declared in the area during the month of May 2013, as part of efforts to suppress growing peaceful opposition to the project. The company obtained the final permit that it needed to put the mine into operation in early April 2013, at which time the Ministry of Mines and Energy dismissed without consideration over 250 individual complaints against the permit. Photo: Plaza Pública
Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Guatemala became militarized in mid 2013. This included a state of emergency declared in the area during the month of May 2013, as part of efforts to suppress growing peaceful opposition to the project. Photo: Plaza Pública

Following the Molina administration’s lifting of the moratorium on mining concessions in 2012, Tahoe Resources ramped up construction of its Escobal silver mine east of San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. Since 2011, communities living in the area of the Escobal mine have peacefully resisted the project through marches and community referenda.

More than half of the communities in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, where the Escobal project is located, have declared opposition to the mine. In five neighbouring municipalities, in the departments of Santa Rosa and Jalapa, tens of thousands of people have participated in formal municipal referenda and voted against the project.

The Strategy of Tahoe Resources and their Allies

  1. The mining company has challenged the legality of municipal referenda in two lawsuits brought to the Constitutional Court. They have done this twice, and both times the Constitutional Court dismissed the cases, finding that citizens have a right to express their views regarding whether or not they are in favour of mining.
  2. They have actively prevented referenda from taking place at all, as was the case where the Escobal mine has been installed. In San Rafael Las Flores, no official municipal referendum took place because the mayor refused to allow it despite a community request.
  3. They frequently use and have used force to quell social protest against the mine.

Timeline

2011 – 2012

A crowd of people march from the left. Someone leading the march hold a Guatemalan flag.
Activist Roberto Pivaral leades a march in San Rafael Las Flores asking the mayor to hold a community consultation about metal mining in the area. Photo: CPR Urbana

The Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores was created by community members to to provide organized opposition to mining in the region.

handcuffs▷ Numerous frivolous allegations were made against leaders of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace, including a complaint filed by a representative of Tahoe Resources’ subsidiary on November 20, 2011 alleging kidnapping, terrorism and forceful entry by five leaders of the group.

2012

With the inauguration of the Molina administration, the moratorium on mining concessions was lifted.

September 2012

Hundreds of community members rally behind a black, white and yellow banner.
“Communities in Peaceful Resistance.” A peaceful march opposing Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine.

Community members peacefully protested Tahoe Resources proposed Escobal silver mine on September 17, 2012.

handcuffs▷ Thirty-one people were arrested.

▷ According to the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), “community members, many active members in the local Catholic parishes, were charged with terrorism and arson, accusations that were finally thrown out more than six months later when a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial.”

Early 2013

Local organizers decided to hold referenda at the village level in San Rafael Las Flores. The results of eight out of nine held to date have been overwhelmingly against mining.

March  2013

Police in riot gear line up in a field.
National civil police were stationed on mining lands in San José del Golfo. Photo: Sandra Sebastián and Oswaldo J. Hernández

handcuffs▷ In an effort to stigmatize and criminalize opposition, the Guatemalan government secretly commenced a pilot initiative in San Rafael Las Flores called the “Interinstitutional Group on Mining Affairs” that frames opposition to mining as a threat to national security.

April-May 2013

A large crowd of protesters in Toronto, Canada
The Mining Injustice Network (MISN) take to the streets in Toronto. A Banner commemorates murdered Guatemalan activist Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco. Photo: Allan Lissner

handcuffs▷ Twenty-six people detained, reportedly on private property and without an arrest warrant.

▷ A well-known leader of the Mataquescuintla youth movement against mining, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco, was murdered.

▷ Tahoe’s private security group shot and injured seven men who were peacefully protesting outside the mine site.

▷ The Guatemalan government imposed a state of siege for about a month in municipalities that had voted against the project.

2014

Tahoe Resources initiated operations at the Escobal silver mine.