In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have been collateral damage in the violence surrounding Canadian-owned resource projects. Now, they’re bringing the fight for justice here
Walking around in the village of San Rafael Las Flores—quiet, poor and picturesque—there’s little sign that, not long ago, this tranquil spot near Guatemala’s Indigenous heartland hummed with one of the biggest mining booms in the Americas. The nearby Escobal mine, built by Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources, sits atop the world’s third-biggest silver deposit, estimated to be worth $5 billion, and three times that at peak silver prices.
In 2016, Escobal, which is nestled in a paradisaically verdant valley, produced about $300 million worth of silver and employed more than 1,000 people. According to mine officials, it supported a further 6,000 jobs in an impoverished hinterland otherwise dependent on smallscale coffee farming.
But trouble was brewing. In an area known for rebel sympathies during the decades-long civil war that ravaged Guatemala until 1996, sensitivities to interlopers have always run high.
As word travelled down the valleys that foreigners were intent on carting away a mountain of local treasure—with the blessing of a deeply distrusted federal government—skepticism soon intensified into resistance. The opposition was backed by local politicians and activist groups from as far away as Nova Scotia.
They blame the government, as much as they do the mine’s managers, for making many local people angry enough to gather at a protest camp that was pitched adjacent to the mine site as it was being built.