Thursday, April 4, 2013

Exploitation License Granted for Tahoe Resources Escobal Project in Context of Escalating Violence

Communities in the departments of Santa Rosa and Jalapa have been peacefully resisting the proposed Escobal silver mine, operated by Minera San Rafael, Guatemalan Subsidiary of Canada's Tahoe Resources for more than three years. Since 2011, residents have carried out eight community consultations in which more than 35,000 people have rejected chemical mineral mining on their territory. "The Minera San Rafael does not have the social license to operate and they are never going to have the social license to operate," stated Oscar Morales from the Committe in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores. 

Despite this ongoing community opposition, on April 3 the Guatemalan authorities granted Tahoe Resources the final permit necessary to begin mineral exploitation.

This morning community, human rights and environmental organizations held a press conference to highlight the numerous illegalities of the Escobal exploitation license and to denounce the context of escalating violence, specifically the recent abduction of four Xinca leaders. Representatives from communities surrounding the mine site called for an investigation of the attack against the Xinca leadership, which resulted in one death, and demanded respect for their rights to free, prior and informed consent over the mine project.

Press conference to denounce granting of license (Photo: C.P.R.Urbana)
Yuri Melini and Rafael Maldonado of the Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS), the legal team supporting the peaceful community resistance to the project, also denounced the multiple attacks perpetrated against them on the same day that the Tahoe license was granted. Three gun shots were fired at the CALAS office, while Maldonado's home was ransacked for the second time in two weeks. In a interview with Guatemala's Plaza Publica, Maldonado states, “It was a direct message from the mine because we have been accompanying the entire process of legal opposition, as well as in the community consultations.”

Translation by NISGUA



1. Our profound rejection of the illegal means by which the exploration license was granted to Minera San Rafael S. A., a company formally accused of the industrial contamination of the El Escobal ravine, a direct tributary of the Los Esclavos river. The criminal complaint, identified as file 1048-2012, is investigated by the Pollution Prosecution Unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office on Crimes Against the Environment and is subject to the judicial oversight of the Court specialized in Criminal, Narcotics and Crimes against the Environment in the department of Santa Rosa. On September 10, 2012 the aforementioned Court confirmed the denouncement of the blatant industrial contamination, a situation that makes the approval of the granted license totally invalid.

2. The serious violation of the Rule of Law committed by the Ministry of Energy and Mines in refusing to process the more than 250 administrative objections to the approved mining license, which were presented by citizens of the affected municipalities. The affected citizens were notified of the arbitrary and illegal decision to dismiss the objections in the exact same moment in which the license was granted. This administrative decision, in addition to being illegal, represents a series of violations of the fundamental rights of the affected citizens in accordance with articles 46, 47, 48 and 49, which regulate administrative objections. The aforementioned articles demonstrate that there are no legal means to dismiss the [administrative] process.

3. Our complete disappointment in the attitude assumed by the Ministry of Energy and Mines who, in clear violation of the prevalence of the common good over the individual, ignored the community consultations carried out in the municipalities of Casillas, Nueva Santa Rosa and Santa Rosa de Lima, as well as the community consultations held in the communities of San Rafael Las Flores, during which more than 98% of the population rejected the development of this illegally approved mining project.

4. Our complete condemnation of the violation of the right to access the file of the approved license, perpetrated by the office advisor of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Justina Solís, and the General Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, María Mercedes Bonilla, who denied Yuri Giovanni Melini Salguero, General Director of CALAS, Moisés Divas Santos and Quelvin Otoniel Jiménez access to the requested file. This situation raises suspicion that the license had not yet been legally granted and was immediately reported to the Human Rights Ombudsman.

5. Finally, considering the evidence and the glaring illegalities that the Ministry of Energy and Mines has committed in granting the license to Minera San Rafael, we commit to exhausting all constitutional, administrative and criminal legal actions in order to invalidate the approved license, and to request an immediate criminal investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, so that the government officials responsible for this violation of national judicial regulation are punished.

Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS)
The Diocesan Commission in Defense of Nature (CODIDENA)
Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores
Xinca Peoples' Parliament of Guatemala (PAPXIGUA)

Guatemala City, April 4, 2013

NISGUA has been accompanying the consultation processes in the communities surrounding the Tahoe Resources mine site since 2011.

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