Tahoe Resources Lobbies U.S., Canada to Intervene Over Guatemala Court Decision to Suspend Escobal Mine

August 31, 2017 | By admin | Filed in: Tahoe ResourcesGuatemalaHuman RightsIndigenous Rights.

The following article was co-written by MiningWatch Canada
and Network in Solidarity with the
People of Guatemala
(NISGUA) with support from former
NISGUA staff, Ellen Moore.

Tahoe Resources is lobbying U.S. and Canadian authorities to
intervene on its behalf following a July decision by
Guatemala’s Supreme Court to temporarily suspend operations at
the company’s Escobal silver mine. The decision cites
discrimination and lack of prior consultation of Indigenous
Xinka communities, whose ancestral territory in southeastern
Guatemala is affected by the project. The country’s
Constitutional Court confirmed the suspension last week in
response to an appeal filed by the company’s Guatemalan
subsidiary. Arguments to determine a final decision in the case
were heard in the Supreme Court on August 28.

In a
public letter to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala
dated August
23, 2017, Tahoe Resources accused the Constitutional Court of
“potential judicial impropriety,” alleging that the judges
involved in last week’s decision were manipulated. In the
letter, the company also repeated slanderous accusations
against people from six municipalities who have been peacefully
demonstrating since June over the current and future impacts of
the mine in the municipality of Casillas.

The company’s unsubstantiated accusations against the country’s
highest court are concerning as Guatemala entered into another
political crisis last week, with justice officials under
attack. On August 25, the United Nations-backed anti-corruption
unit CICIG and the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office
requested that the court strip President Jimmy Morales of his
presidential immunity in order to proceed with charges linked
to illegal funding of his 2015 presidential campaign. Two days
later, Morales announced the expulsion of the UN official
commissioned to lead CICIG, Iván Velásquez of Colombia,
declaring him a persona non-grata. Within hours, the
Constitutional Court reversed the action. Nine countries with
diplomatic presence in Guatemala, including Canada and the
U.S., released a statement in support of Velásquez and the
CICIG.

Tahoe’s lobbying efforts began in July, according to a
follow-up letter from
Tahoe to the Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. State
Department
. Tahoe has also enlisted support from
Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller
and Republican

Congressman Mark Amodei
, who wrote letters to the
Secretaries of State and Commerce, respectively. In both
letters, the representatives allege politically motivated
attacks on Tahoe’s operations in Guatemala and warn of economic
and political instability and damage to US relations with Latin
America if the court decision is allowed to stand. Both urge
the Trump Administration to intervene to protect U.S. interests
in Guatemala.

The Canadian lobby registry shows that Tahoe has also been very
active lobbying Canadian public officials since its mine
licences were suspended in July. While records are still not
available for August and are generally short on details, Tahoe
lobbyists met with the Director General of Trade Commission
Services, policy advisors from the office of the Minister of
International Trade, the chairs of the Standing Committee on
Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing
Committee on Natural Resources, the Parliamentary Secretary to
the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the office of the
Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor.

While few details are known about the content of these
meetings, the company’s strategy may be illuminated in a recent

article featuring Representative Amodei
, who suggests that
the mine’s permanent closure could lead to a rise in drug
trafficking and crime in the region. In his appeal to fear,
Amodei fails to acknowledge that Tahoe’s arrival to the region
in 2010 has led to destabilization, and that residents who
oppose the company’s operations have faced a counterinsurgency
strategy marked by criminalization of dissent, repression, and
targeted violence. The argument that without the Escobal mine,
residents of Santa Rosa and Jalapa will have no choice but to
turn to a life of crime “to make ends meet,” is not only false
and paternalistic, but an affront to the dignity of local
residents in this largely agricultural area.

In its August 23 letter to the U.S. Embassy, Tahoe also
continued to misrepresent a local protest in the municipality
of Casillas as “an illegal road blockade”, claiming that the
“government has not been successful in enforcing rule of law in
the area and today the blockade continues.” Since early June,
residents from six municipalities in the area of the Escobal
mine have maintained a peaceful assembly on private property
from which they have been selectively turning back mine-related
traffic. Work at the mine had stopped as a result of this
demonstration before the Supreme Court suspended two of the
company’s licences in July. In late June, police cracked down
on the protest using tear gas, but were unsuccessful in
intimidating local residents, who resumed their action, with
thousands of people coming out to participate just hours after
the repression. Again, at about 2:00 a.m. on July 21, members
of the national police attacked the 15-20 men, women, and
children present at the peaceful encampment in Casillas.
Community members have challenged the legality of the attempted
eviction and have reported that four people were poisoned by
pepper spray and that three others beaten by police had to be
hospitalized.

During the last two months, Tahoe Resources’ suppliers,
workers, and the Guatemalan Industrial Association have also
engaged in a smear campaign in the Guatemalan press against the
Centre for Environmental, Social, and Legal Action (CALAS) and
its supporters for having brought the claim against the
Ministry of Energy and Mines that led to the Supreme Court
decision.

August 28 Supreme Court hearing

During its arguments before the Supreme Court on August 28,
legal counsel for Tahoe’s wholly owned subsidiary, Minera San
Rafael once again denied the presence of Xinka communities in
the immediate area of influence of the Escobal mine. She
claimed that the Environmental Impact Evaluation approved by
the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which used data from a
15-year old census and the notoriously exclusionary national
birth registry, was sufficient to determine the presence of the
indigenous people according to national and international law.

Regarding the Escobal project, President of the Xinka
Parliament Aleisar Arana remarked, “[The project] poses a
threat to our territories. As Xinka people, we still have our
own ways of life and our own communal lands that we want them
to respect. I come in representation of the Xinka Parliament
and the Xinka people who live throughout the department [of
Santa Rosa], including in San Rafael. We know that we have a
long journey to overcome the stigmatization with which they
treat us. Just as we heard today, they say that we don’t
exist.”

Mr. Arana’s legal representative Quelvin Jiménez, also Xinka,
asked the court to consider that their decision is not just
about the right to consultation, but also the right to
indigenous self-identification. “It is a shame that the
Ministry of Energy and Mines, in order to protect the interests
of a multinational company, says that the Xinka people don’t
exist. If it is true that we don’t wear traditional clothing
that identifies us or that we have almost lost our language,
then it is also true that the most important element of our
ethnic identify is our territory… Today, there is more at play
than the simple right of the Xinka people to consultation. This
is about the right to self-determination recognized by the
declaration of the United Nations on indigenous peoples…You
have the obligation to uphold the values and principles of the
constitution which recognizes and guarantees the right to life
which is intimately tied to the right to consultation, a daily
practice that we carry out as Xinka people,” stated Jiménez.

International concern over risks facing human rights
defenders

In response to the company’s lobby and with profound concern
about the potential for greater repression and criminalization
while the mine remains suspended, forty Canadian and U.S.
organizations sent a letter last week to both the US and
Canadian Embassies. The letter calls on Canadian and U.S.
authorities to insist that due process be followed in the
Supreme Court case and not to intervene on Tahoe Resources’
behalf. It further calls for the Embassies to denounce the
smear campaign against activists and to demonstrate support,
publicly and through diplomatic channels, for the legitimacy
and importance of the efforts of the organizations, indigenous
and non-indigenous communities, and individuals who are
peacefully defending their wellbeing and safe living
environment from the harms being felt from Tahoe Resources’
Escobal mine.


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