After more than two years of delay, the Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM) announced on Wednesday, April 3, that it had approved the exploitation license for Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. The announcement comes less than two weeks after four indigenous Xinca leaders were abducted while returning from a community referendum in El Volcancito, in which more than 99 percent of people voted against the Escobal project. One of those abducted was found dead the next day.
“That MEM issued the license while the investigation of our friend Exaltación Marcos Ucelo’s murder is still pending is not only an affront to Exaltación’s memory, but it is also a violation of our right to consent,” said Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who was one of the four abducted, only to be released hours later. “If there is impunity for outright murder, how can we expect the Guatemalan government to protect us from harmful contamination generated by mining operations?”
More than 4,300 individuals from 43 countries have signed a letter to Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, requesting her office involve the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to carry out a robust investigation into the attack and murder. The letter also urges the government to protect human rights and environmental defenders as they exercise their rights to live in a safe and healthy environment and to free, prior and informed consent.
“That this license was issued at all is a miscarriage of justice,” said Kristen Genovese, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law. “The context of escalating violence only highlights what any impartial observer can see: the Escobal project does not have the social license to operate. Thus far the Guatemalan government has prioritized mining interests over justice and the protection of human rights, and it’s time for the CICIG to step in.”
According to declarations by Rafael Maldonado of the Center for Legal, Social and Environmental Action in Guatemala at a press conference on Thursday, the process to approve the license was “illegal, arbitrary and obscure.” He added that the license approval comes amidst ongoing reports of intimidation, violence, and provocation perpetrated by armed, clandestine groups allegedly linked to the mine private security and the State security apparatus.
“The attack against the Xinca leaders is one of a growing number of acts of intimidation and violence against communities and their allies resisting the Tahoe project,” said Ellen Moore, staff at the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala. “Indeed, since the license was issued on Wednesday, there has been a spike in threats against vocal mine opponents. The more than 3,500 signatures from around the world echo the call by Guatemalan communities for an end to the impunity that continues to benefit transnational companies at the expense of local communities.”
Local and national human rights and environmental organizations have already announced their intention to challenge the legality of the mining license (SEXT-015-11). There is also an open criminal complaint against the mine for industrial contamination of the Los Esclavos River.
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.
The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) links people in the U.S. and Guatemala in the grassroots global struggle for justice, human dignity and respect for the Earth.