A Guatemalan investigative journalist named Luis Solano was in Canada last month to launch a report about a Canadian-owned silver mine in south-east Guatemala. The mine, Escobal, began operating last year and is run by Minera San Rafael (MSR), a subsidiary of the British Columbia-incorporated Tahoe Resources.
The 27-page report, titled Under Siege: Peaceful Resistance to Tahoe Resources and Militarization in Guatemala, was commissioned by the International Platform Against Impunity in Central America and MiningWatch Canada, which published it in November.
Based on the experience of several years research and interviews with local inhabitants conducted in mid-2015, one of the key allegations is that 1000s of people living in the region have voted against the mine and further expansion plans, with numerous plebiscites and peaceful marches held.
According to Solano, the percentages of those voting “No” to Escobal in municipal plebiscites were 98.86, 98.34, 98.61, 98.68, 98.3 and 98, while the percentages of people who voted “No” in “good faith” plebiscites in eight villages in one municipality where authorities prevented an official plebiscite being held were 99.27, 93.44, 99.20, 96.65, 97.33, 98.84, 98.26 and 100. In only one plebiscite did the majority – 53% – vote in the mine’s favour.
Another key allegation made in the report is that opposition to the mine is being “criminalized.” Solano states that more than 100 cases of legal charges have been brought against opponents – all “dismissed for lack of evidence or for including false evidence and/or statements” – while some people have been unlawfully detained, leaders’ homes have been raided, and MSR and Guatemala’s Chamber of Commerce have brought legal challenges to stop plebiscites. According to the report, people are being stigmatised, defamed and, in some cases, called “terrorists.”
One further key allegation is that opposition to the mine is being met with a military response. Solano alleges that an “Inter-Institutional Committee Office” installed by the government is considered by local people to be mainly intended to gather military intelligence, and, in 2013, it declared a “military state of siege” when three “military outposts” manned by the Guatemalan army were established – two of which remain to this day.
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