Tahoe Resources’ Social Licence in Guatemala Non-Existent, as Uncertainty Plagues Escobal Permits

September 26, 2017 | By admin | Filed in: Tahoe ResourcesGuatemalaIndigenous RightsMilitarisation/Criminalisation.

On the heels of two months of lobbying in Washington D.C. and
Ottawa seeking government intervention on its behalf, Tahoe
Resources announced on September 10th that the Guatemalan
Supreme Court of Justice had reinstated the operating licence
for its Escobal project in southeastern Guatemala. Questions
remain over this court decision, which is now under appeal, and
a final ruling from the Constitutional Court could be months
away. However, regardless of the court’s verdict, the Escobal
project clearly lacks a social licence to operate. 

Operations have been stalled since June 7th
when residents from six municipalities in the area of Tahoe’s
silver mine initiated a check-point in the municipality of
Casillas to prevent mine-related traffic from reaching the
project. Contrary to the company’s representation of this
action as an “illegal road blockade”, the community-led
demonstration is taking place roadside, on private property.
This protest, which is a reflection of six years of community
organizing, continues today.

When asked how the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate
Tahoe’s licence would affect the round-the-clock protest, Xinka
Indigenous lawyer Quelvin Jiménez remarked, “The opposition to
the Escobal project did not spring up as a result of a lawsuit,
it was already there. It is a result of violations of the
rights to housing and water, among other abuses we have
suffered since the project got underway.”

Over the last two months, dozens of international organizations
have criticized the company’s inaccurate characterization of
the protest and the smear campaign launched by the company’s
associates in Guatemala. They point out that these
misrepresentations and threats put community members at serious
risk of further repression and criminalization. Since June,
police have already tried to violently evict the protest
twice. 

Tahoe CEO Ron Clayton is also wrong when he states in a recent
press release that community opposition comes from
“non-locals”. Lack of social licence has dogged Tahoe Resources
since the beginning of its project. Since 2011, tens of
thousands of residents in eight municipalities around the
Escobal mine have voted in municipal plebiscites demonstrating
their opposition to the project, or any mining in the area, out
of concern for their water supplies, health, and local
agriculture. Five municipalities refuse to receive any royalty
payments from Tahoe’s mine operations and are now parties to
the legal proceedings over discrimination of the Xinka
Indigenous population and the Ministry of Energy and Mines’
failure to consult with them. 

In this latter regard, on July 5th, the Supreme
Court of Justice (SCJ) temporarily suspended work at the
Escobal mine due to discrimination and the lack of prior
consultation of Indigenous Xinka communities, whose ancestral
territory is affected by the project. The country’s
Constitutional Court confirmed the suspension in late August in
response to an appeal filed by the company’s Guatemalan
subsidiary. 

On September 10th, the SCJ issued a second ruling that upheld
the original decision stating that Xinka Indigenous people were
not properly consulted regarding the Escobal mine. The sentence
reiterates the order that the Ministry of Energy and Mines must
carry out a consultation process according to the International
Labour Organization’s Convention 169 within one year in
order to “restore the constitutional rights of the Xinka
Indigenous community in the departments of Santa Rosa and
Jalapa, which have been violated.” As such, the court’s
decision recognizes that Tahoe’s operations do not just affect
people living within the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores,
but also surrounding municipalities in two departments that are
experiencing or could experience negative social and
environmental consequences. 

The SCJ decision did not address, however, the central issue of
discrimination against the Xinka, which is part of the appeal
filed before the Constitutional Court by the Guatemalan Centre
for Legal, Environmental and Social Action (CALAS). CALAS is
also appealing the SCJ’s decision to lift the suspension on the
company’s licences. The Xinka Parliament and the Western Mayan
Peoples Council (CPO) are also expected to file appeals. A
decision is likely months away.

“Discrimination and lack of respect for the self-determination
of Indigenous peoples is one of the problems at the centre of
the Indigenous movement’s struggle in Guatemala, there was no
way that we could stand by while a mining company, in collusion
with the Guatemalan state, has been denying the existence of an
Indigenous people. This is an important case with national
repercussions,” remarked Francisco Rocael Mateo of the Western
Mayan Peoples Council. 


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