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Guatemalans fight for clean water vs Canadian mining operation

Photo by @NISGUA_Guate

About 50 peasant farmers have set up a roadblock to stop all mine-related traffic on a highway that leads to the Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources Escobal silver-gold-lead-zinc mine, which is located about 40 kilometres south-east of Guatemala City. The roadblock has been held continuously since June 7 (staying in place even after a police tear gas attack on the encampment on June 22).

The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) notes, “For more than five years, communities surrounding Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala have opposed the project operating in their territories. Through 18 community and municipal referenda, multiple legal actions, and different sits-ins, encampments, and protests, impacted communities continue to show that Tahoe Resources has no social license for its project. Most recently, residents of the municipality of Casillas and surrounding municipalities began a demonstration along the main road of Casillas – 15 kilometers from the Escobal mine.”

The Guardian reports, “The deep mine, which was acquired by Canadian company Tahoe Resources in 2010, is thought to hold the third biggest silver deposit in the world. But it is situated in the middle of Guatemala’s southern agricultural heartlands where thousands of families live off the land. Tahoe was granted a 25-year licence to exploit a 20 sq km area in San Rafael las Flores – almost a quarter of the municipality’s territory – in April 2013 despite numerous community votes against the mine. Its environmental impact study (EIA) was flawed and should not have been approved, according to independent experts, whose assessment Tahoe rejects.”

The article notes, “Days after the Escobal license was granted, seven protesters were shot outside the mine. …Efforts to pursue the man accused of ordering the guards to open fire have been shambolic. Alberto Rotondo, then head of security who was fired by Tahoe soon after the event, was detained trying to flee Guatemala in 2013. He was held under house arrest but escaped with the help of his police guards and fled to Peru where he is awaiting extradition. …[Furthermore], the government declared a state of siege around the mine and deployed troops armed with arrest warrants for anti-mining activists. No charges were ever proven, but dozens were detained arbitrarily for months, demoralising the movement.”

And it highlights, “Water is at the heart of the opposition to Escobal. Several locals told the Guardian that water sources were polluted and shortages increasingly common, even during rainy season. Locals fear that Escobal is part of a much larger project that includes numerous concessions across several farming regions – also dependent on clean plentiful water.”

On July 5, Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice confirmed a preliminary three-month suspension of the licence for the Escobal mine until a suit over lack of consultation with Indigenous peoples against the Ministry of Energy and Mines is reolved. On August 25, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court upheld the lower court’s ruling on the suspension (meaning the mine will be closed even longer). Reuters has reported, “Tahoe said the constitutional court’s hearing on the ‘definitive’ constitutional claim is scheduled for Aug. 28, and a ruling is expected ‘several months’ afterwards.”

The full Guardian article can be read here. Further information from Mining Watch Canada can be found here.