Community members protest damage to homes near Tahoe Resources’ mine, fear violent reprisal

November 8, 2016 | By admin | Filed in: Tahoe ResourcesGuatemalaImpact on Communities.

In February 2016, houses in the village of La Cuchilla in the
municipality of San Rafael Las Flores, began to crack and on
April 19th, the houses began to fall down. The community is
located less than 3 kilometers from Tahoe Resources’ Escobal
mine, which has been operating an underground silver mine since
January 2014. Like many of those who live near the Escobal
mine, community members from La Cuchilla have denounced
constant vibrations from blasting and heavy truck traffic
related to mining activity. The vibrations are so prevalent
that community members have been registering the times of
explosions for months.

After their homes began to crack and crumble, community leaders
formed the Reparations Committee of the Community of La
Cuchilla and tried to negotiate a fair and dignified
compensation from the company beginning in May 2016. The
Reparations Committee then
took their demands to the Guatemalan Congress on October
19th
.

Tahoe’s wholly-owned Guatemalan subsidiary, Minera San Rafael,
denies that the cracked homes are related to the mine, instead
blaming the problem on climate change. The company has relied
on an evaluation by Guatemala’s National Coordination for
Disaster Reduction (CONRED), which did not consider blasting at
the mine or heavy truck traffic as possible causes of the
structural damage to homes, blaming the village’s problems on
its location in a steep area.

Unconvinced by the CONRED study and concerned that Guatemalan
authorities lack the political will to identify the root causes
of the damage, community members continue to demand answers and
seek reparations, believing that the company is
responsible.   

On November 3rd, 2016, after almost a year of waiting for an
acceptable solution, men, women, children, and elders from La
Cuchilla mobilized to peacefully protest outside of Tahoe’s
Escobal mine. According to an October 31st statement from the
Reparations
Committee:         
 

“The village is not uninhabitable due to being located on a
steep or dangerous incline but due to the fact that the
houses are cracked. This has been caused by tremors resulting
from the blasting that Minera San Rafael carries out in the
underground tunnel…. We invite everyone to join our cause in
the coming days. We will carry out a sit-in and a peaceful
protest at Minera San Rafael’s facility for an indefinite
period of time…”

This is not the first time houses have cracked in communities
near large-scale mining operations in Guatemala. Nor is it the
first time it has happened on the watch of Tahoe Resources’
CEO, Kevin McArthur.

In 2009,
a two-year monitoring study
carried out by a team of
Guatemalan and international engineers found that the most
probable cause of cracked homes and building damage in
communities near Goldcorp’s Marlin mine were the explosions and
heavy transport used by the company. McArthur was CEO of
Goldcorp until the end of 2008 and founded Tahoe Resources
roughly a year later. Tahoe acquired the Escobal project from
Goldcorp in mid 2010.

Similar to Escobal, Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in northwestern
Guatemala was put into operation in the midst of widespread
opposition and repression. As a result, international human
rights bodies have repeatedly called for suspension of the
mine, raising concern over impacts on human rights, community
health, the environment, and the self-determination of Maya
Indigenous communities.

The complaints of affected communities around the Marlin mine
are echoed in the voices of communities facing devastating
environmental and economic consequences from operations at the
Escobal mine today:

“They say this is development for San Miguel, but what
they’re developing are cracked homes and social conflicts.” –

Land defender Crisanta Hernández Pérez
on Goldcorp’s
Marlin mine in San Marcos, Guatemala, 2010

“The company talks about development in the municipality,
about the development that could occur, all the while it is
displacing and making a whole village disappear in order to
hide its environmental horrors and as a result of its lack of
social responsibility.” – Reparations Committee of the
Community of La Cuchilla in Santa Rosa, Guatemala, 2016

Since 2011, the Escobal mine has given rise to local opposition
and non-violent direct action. Over 55,000 people, including
the community La Cuchilla, have voted against Tahoe’s mine in
over a dozen locally convened votes. In return, peaceful
protest and organizers of local votes have been met with
violence and criminalization as part of
Tahoe Resources’ and the Guatemalan state’s militarized
security strategy
for the area. Public demonstrations
subsided after a violent attack in front of the mine in which
seven unarmed protestors
were shot and wounded
by Tahoe’s private security.
A state of siege
was declared in the region in May 2013,
one month after Tahoe’s final exploitation permit was granted,
further entrenching a climate of fear in the region.

As a result, there is justified concern that the Guatemalan
armed forces and Tahoe’s militarized private security apparatus
could respond with violence and criminalization against La
Cuchilla’s peaceful protest. Community leaders have already
reported receiving threats of criminalization, saying that a
complaint for damages will be brought against them if they do
not cease and desist.

International human rights and environmental organizations are
calling on the Guatemalan security forces and Tahoe Resources
private security to refrain from responding with violence or
criminalization against local leaders. They are also
encouraging the broader international community to be on alert
to potential repression and trumped up legal charges against
community members that may result from this peaceful protest.

Article written in collaboration with the
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, MiningWatch
Canada, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala,
and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

Photo: Reparations Committee of the Community of La
Cuchilla


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