Guatemala: Recurring violence in area of Escobal mine project demands investigation and company withdrawal
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is being urged carry out a full and impartial investigation into recurring violence against Xinca communities in the area of the Escobal silver mine project in the department of Santa Rosa, Guatemala.
The latest spate of violence took place on 17 March 2013, when group of heavily armed masked men abducted the President of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament and three other Xinca leaders as they returned home from a public referendum on the Escobal mine, a project jointly owned by the Canadian mining companies Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp.
Two of the abducted Xinca leaders, Rigoberto Aguilar and Rodolfo López, managed to escape from their abductors and place their communities on alert.
The following day, “The President of the Xinca Parliament’s vehicle was found with multiple bullet holes and Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, one of the four who were kidnapped, was found dead,” reports the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “About four hundred people peacefully gathered in the immediate area in order to protect the scene of the crime while demanding that authorities initiate a proper and full investigation. That evening, President Roberto González Ucelo was found alive.”
Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp are not believed to be directly involved in the attack; however, the Escobal silver mine is being operated without the support of affected Xinca communities in the municipalities of San Rafael Las Flores and Mataquescuintla.
The absence of a social license has generated a climate of criminalization, persecution and violence targeting the Xinca as well as priests, environmentalists and anyone else who opposes the mine.
The Xinca themselves have been peacefully resisting the development of the Escobal mine for more than two years. Late last year, the affected Xinca communities started organizing community consultations in order to finally have their say on the mining project.
“In November 2012, the municipality of Mataquescuintla held a community consultation in which 96% voted against mining in the municipality,” notes a recent joint statement from NGOs in Canada and Guatemala. “Efforts to hold a municipal-wide community consultation in San Rafael Las Flores were long thwarted through various attempts to criminalize local human rights activists and their legal advisors. On February 17, however, the community of San Juan Bosco [in San Rafael Las Flores] held a community consultation in which 93% voted against the mining project. It was the first in a series of 26 consultations planned for communities in the municipality of San Rafael.”
The four abducted Xinca leaders were attending another consultation in El Volcancito in order to demonstrate their solidarity with the communities in San Rafael Las Flores.
In response to their abduction, CIEL, Mining Watch and many others are urging Guatemala’s Attorney General to request that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) undertake a full and impartial investigation into the violence in the area, in particular the existence of an armed group, and to ensure the protection of the human rights and environmental defenders who are demanding respect for their rights to live in a safe and healthy environment and to free, prior and informed consent over the mine project.
Given lack of social license for its Escobal project, Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp are also being urged to withdraw the project area in order to help deescalate growing tensions.
he Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of the Environment is also being urged to reject Tahoe Resources’ request for an exploitation license for the Escobal mine based on the lack of consultation, environmental concerns and conflict in the area.
What you can do
To add your voice to this international call, please add your name to this online petition: Call for investigation and company departure in response to recurring violence in area of Canadian-owned silver project.