In recent weeks the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores has seen growing conflict around the installation of the Escobal silver mine, owned by the Canadian corporation Tahoe Resources. Local community organizers and allies from the Center for Legal, Environmental and Social Action (CALAS) denounced in August a wave of criminalization following their efforts to defend communities' right to consultation in the face of the project and last week, in an unclarified series of events, violence erupted when security forces moved to forcibly disperse a protest at the entrance to the mine site.
The operation, already in an advanced exploration stage, has come under serious public scrutiny on the grounds of grave deficiencies in its environmental impact assessment, detected by experts, previous instances of criminalization of local leaders, and failure to obtain the consent of the local population. The emerging situation in San Rafael adds to a growing climate of insecurity for those defending their right to self-determination.
The following communique describes the series of events that happened last week. Please stay tuned for more developments on the situation as we have them.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
URGENT PRESS RELEASE FROM:
The Committee in Defense of Life and Against Mining in San Rafael Las Flores, CODIDENA (the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa) the Parlamento Xinca, CALAS (Center for Legal, Environmental and Social Action in Guatemala) and the MadreSelva Environmental Collective.
Following the events of September 17 and 18, 2012 in Mataquescuintla, Jalapa and San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, we wish to make the following statement:
TIMELINE OF EVENTS:
1. On the morning of Monday, September 17, employees of the San Rafael Mining Company, accompanied by private security agents with anti-riot equipment, attack dogs, tear-gas cannons and rubber bullet guns, and escorted by the National Civil Police, turned up in Morales, Mataquescuintla, to connect high voltage electrical wires to the San Rafael mining site.
2. Over 500 local community members, men, women and children, came out to demand that the company employees remove their equipment and leave, along with the security guards that were accompanying them. The community had already contested the installation of these electrical wires. They demand a free, prior and informed public consultation on the mining project.
3. The community protest stopped the installation of electrical wires. With the support of the PDH, COPREDEH, the Justice of the Peace and the Municipal Mayors of Nueva Santa Rosa and Casillas, the parish of Mataquescuintla, CALAS and CODIDENA drew up a document stating their desire for a peaceful solution to the dispute. However, just as the document was being signed, provocateurs hired by the mine began throwing rocks at community members and authorities, causing some damage to mining company vehicles and dispersing the group of local residents that had gathered.
4. Angered by this new affront from the San Rafael Mine, residents decided to march from Morales de Mataquescuintla to the main entrance to the mine, which is located in San Rafael. When they got there, in an act of peaceful resistance, the group set up a protest at the entrance to the mine, at the junction of the road from San Rafael Las Flores to El Fusío. At no time did the protesters infringe on the property of the San Rafael mine. They stayed on the public road and on an area of private property, with the owner’s permission. Nonetheless, the national media falsely reported that the protest had invaded the property of the mine.
5. According to eye witnesses, no protesters stepped onto the property of the mine. Given that the mine is heavily guarded, it is therefore impossible that the fire that was started inside the mine was lit without the tolerance and help of the private security guards.
6. At 3 pm, the peaceful protest was attacked without warning by members of the mine’s private security agency, the National Civil Police and the army, using tear gas cannons, firearms and rubber bullet guns. Security agents attacked from inside the mine, with trained attack dogs. The Police cornered the unarmed protestors, and the army surrounded them, crouched and at the ready. The display of repressive force had all the characteristics of military counter-insurgency tactics that we had thought belonged to the past, including the bad intentions, brutality and cowardice that so characterize the tactics of the National Army.
7. This was a cowardly attack by public and private repressive forces against a peaceful civilian group exercising their constitutional right to protest, amongst whom were women with infants, elderly people and small children. Protesters were busy preparing food for all those present, which shows their intention to hold a peaceful protest.
8. From the outset, residents of Santa Rosa have opposed the San Rafael mining operation. The mine was created without prior information or due consultation on the social and environmental impacts that would affect the water supply and the life of the inhabitants of the Santa Rosa valley. This peaceful, legal resistance has included legal documents presented to the Minister of Energy and Mines; peaceful marches from the village to the mine site; protests in front of the Canadian Embassy; visits to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and the Ministry of the Environment; debates with mayoral candidates and meetings with elected mayors; all of which form part of the “Revolución de las Flores” (Revolution of the Flowers) – a peaceful movement. Three public consultations have been carried out in Nueva Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa de Lima and Casillas, and the majority of the people have expressed their opposition to mining.
9. In the meantime, residents of San Rafael have requested that their consultation be recognized as legally binding as per the Municipal Code by mining company lawyers who have boycotted it thus far. Residents also ask for recognition of the consultation by Mayor Leonel Morales Pozuelos and his Municipal Council, whom they hold directly responsible for this conflict and its consequences because of their attitude of servility to the mine and their refusal to respect the demands of the people of San Rafael.
10. As we write this press release, we have just learned that army helicopters are flying over San Rafael and Mataquescuintla, threatening residents, like in the old days of the armed conflict. Once again, the army is carrying out a psychological and military attack on the civilian population to defend the interests of foreign companies.
• The criminalization of community leaders who are legitimately defending their lands and their rights against the spurious interests of national and foreign extractive companies that take advantage of the weakness of national laws and corrupt civil servants who have sold out, allowing the destruction of natural resources of our country.
• This kind of provocation is being systematically used by national and foreign companies to further the growth of extractive projects that threaten our natural resources and our lands and are in flagrant violation of the rights of the people, as was demonstrated by what happened in Santa Cruz Barillas and San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc.
• We warn the government of the country that it should not once again attempt to suspend the constitutional rights of the residents of Santa Rosa, as they tried but failed to do in Santa Cruz Barillas.
We demand that the President of the Republic, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Public Prosecutor of the Public Ministry, the Army and the National Civil Police:
1. carry out a thorough investigation of the events we denounce here.
2. stop criminalizing the just struggle of the residents of Santa Rosa and Jalapa.
3. punish those responsible for the provocation staged by the mining company and its private security agents.
4. ensure that the Ministry of Energy and Mines deal with the many opposition documents presented by the residents of San Rafael Las Flores regarding the request for an exploitation license by the San Rafael Mine.
5. cancel the mining exploration license permanently and refuse to grant under any circumstances an exploitation license to San Rafael Mining Company.
6. respect the wishes of residents of the municipalities of the Santa Rosa Valley – they have shown their clear opposition to mining activity in the area in a public consultation.
7. refrain from using the state of siege to criminalize and try to prosecute Santa Rosa community leaders who continue the struggle for life, natural resources and land for the benefit of future generations.
8. free the more than thirty community members that have been detained.
WE APPEAL TO:
1. the International community – to pay attention to these violations of human rights in San Rafael Las Flores and Jalapa.
2. the Human Rights Prosecutor – to strictly survey and protect the human rights of our communities, peoples, leaders and social organizations.
3. indigenous, campesino, union, women’s, environmental, youth, etc., social movements – to keep watch on how the situation in Santa Rosa develops and to give their solidarity and support to this just and exemplary struggle.
Guatemala, September 19, 2012
Comité por la Vida y Contra la Minería de San Rafael Las Flores,
Consejo Diocesano para la Defensa de la Naturaleza de Santa Rosa – CODIDENA,
Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social – CALAS,
Colectivo Ecologista MadreSelva