Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Member of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores Detained

UPDATED May 1, 2015
Last night, Roberto de Jesus Pivaral y Pivaral was release from police custody due to lack of evidence, and all charges against him were dropped. Pivaral was charged with murder on April 21 (see information below). He was held for 10 days after being arrested by the National Civil Police accompanied by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Pivaral is a founding member of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores.

On April 21 at approximately 7:30pm, Roberto de Jesus Pivaral, founding member and part of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, was detained by members of the Guatemalan Civil Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office at his home. According to his family, a judge’s order for his capture was not presented before he was taken to the court house in San Rafael Las Flores. The Public Prosecutor’s twitter page states that Mr. Pivaral is accused of the murder of Wosbeli Gómez Sandoval in 2014, a candidate for the Unidad de Nueva Esperanza (UNE) political party.

The Committee in Defense of Life and Peace was created as a form of resistance to Tahoe Resources’ silver mine, which began extracting silver in 2014, and has organized good-faith community referenda regarding metal extraction in communities throughout municipality since 2011. Though the Committee had presented the required number of signatures to request such a vote at a municipal level, the Municipal Mayor and his council has denied the request on several occasions.

Roberto Pivaral leading a march in San Rafael Las Flores asking the
mayor of the municipality to hold a community consultation about metal
mining in the area. Photo: CPR Urbana

In April 2013, 16 out of 23 local development councils (COCODES) from the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores presented an open letter callingon the President of Guatemala to cancel the exploitation license that had recently be granted to Minera San Rafael. Last year, when Mr. Pivaral made his intention to run for mayor of San Rafael Las Flores known, he vowed to represent the more than half of the communities from the municipality that have publically shown their opposition to the mining project, in addition to those who had repeatedly asked the current administration for the right to hold a community referendum. He has also played a lead role in organizing the consultations that have taken place at a local level. Mr. Pivaral was anticipating running with the Lider political party in September’s elections.

Over 90 people have been criminalized in the municipalities around Tahoe’s Escobal mine for their opposition to the project. The Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores has been especially targeted and the trial against Oscar Morales, another founding member and coordinator of the Committee, began last Thursday. Mr. Morales has been accused of uttering threats against the Manager of External Relations for Minera San Rafael. According to his lawyer from the Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action (CALAS), this is the company’s third attempt to criminalize Mr. Morales.

Roberto de Jesus Pivaral is currently being held in the El Boqueron detention centre waiting to hear when his first audience before a judge will take place.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tahoe Resources’ Administrative Manager detained on charges of industrial contamination

(Guatemala City/Ottawa) Monday, a Guatemalan judge denied bail to the Administrative Manager and Legal Representative, Carlos Roberto Morales Monzón, of Tahoe Resources’ subsidiary, Minera San Rafael S.A., and ordered him to pre-trial detention on charges of industrial contamination. The Guatemala's Public Prosecutors' Office for Crimes Against the Environment launched an investigation in 2012 into the company’s contamination of water sources near its Escobal silver mine. The trial date is set for June 12.

Tuesday, Tahoe Resources issued a press release downplaying the decision and Carlos Roberto Morales Monzón’s role in the company, referring to him as an “employee”, not the “mine manager”. Nonetheless, a February 2013 Constitutional Court decision refers to Mr. Morales Monzón as the Administrative Manager and Legal Representative for Minera San Rafael. The company also said it will appeal Monday’s decision.

“This is remarkable. Tahoe Resources now has two managers from the Escobal mine in pre-trial detention, beginning two years ago with the company’s former security manager who was detained on charges of assault and obstruction of justice. It will be even more remarkable if these cases continue to proceed,” stated Ellen Moore for the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala.

The criminal case, which carries a sentence of up to eight years in prison if convicted, is the result of a complaint that the Center for Social Legal Action in Guatemala (CALAS) filed for contamination of the Escobal Creek and the El Dorado River, located near the community of Los Planes, just steps from Tahoe’s project. The alleged contamination occurred while the project was still in the exploration phase.

The Guatemalan Ministry of Health confirmed that a discharge of water from the mine installations was contaminated with suspended solids. Around this same time, local residents were reporting that contamination was affecting water used for crop irrigation. Since then, community members have been denouncing increasing scarcity of water in the area immediately surrounding the project, similarly believed to be a result of Tahoe’s mine. This latter concern is not part of the legal process.

“With several legal processes underway against the company and its affiliates, along with ongoing community resistance to the mine and its expansion plans, it should be ever more clear to investors that this company is a dangerous investment,” commented Jen Moore for MiningWatch Canada.

The extent of local concern over negative environmental and social impacts, present and future, of the mine on water supplies and community wellbeing has generated widespread community opposition to the project. As of March 2013, tens of thousands had voted against the project in local plebiscites and residents had filed more than 250 specific complaints against the granting of Tahoe’s final permitting license. The Ministry of Mines and Energy dismissed the complaints without consideration immediately before granting the company a license in April 2013. A lawsuit is pending in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court for lack of due process in this regard, which has raised questions about the legality of Tahoe’s exploitation license.

Protests that emerged in the wake of the Ministry’s hasty decision to grant Tahoe's final permit faced police repression and an armed attack by company security guards on April 27, 2013 that left seven men injured. This latter event is the subject of a criminal case in Guatemalan courts against Alberto Rotondo, former security manager for Tahoe Resources, accused of having ordered and then attempted to cover up the attack. The seven men have also brought a civil suit against Tahoe Resources in British Columbia for negligence and battery in connection with the shooting.

In January 2015, the Norwegian Ethical Fund recommended against investing in Tahoe Resources, citing “unacceptable risk of the company contributing to serious human rights violations through its operation” at the Escobal silver mine in southeastern Guatemala.

Ellen Moore, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), ellen(at), (510) 868-0612
Jackie McVicar, Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, jackiebtsguatemala(at), (502) 4824-0637
Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, jen(at), (613) 569-3439

For more information about this situation, follow

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two more human rights defenders from Huehuetenango imprisoned for opposing megaprojects

Since 2011, communities in northern Huehuetenango have organized more than 50 peaceful protests and dozens of community referenda in which they have actively expressed their opposition to the expansion of hydroelectric dams and other megaprojects in their territories.

This demonstration of community strength and self-determination has been met with violence, state repression, criminalization, and re-militarization. Currently, there are seven community activists unjustly imprisoned for their opposition to these projects.

Most recently, on March 24, Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar, two Q'anjob'al community leaders with the Plurinational Government of the Q'anjob'al, Chuj, Akateko, Popti' and Mestizo Peoples ("Gobierno Plurinacional") were arrested in Guatemala City. Juárez and Baltazar have joined thousands of others in speaking out against the imposition of hydroelectric dams in their territory despite community consultations rejecting them.

They were arrested on 16 charges including threats, coercion and illegal detention stemming from events that took place in 2013. After having many of their rights to due process violated, including the right to a preliminary hearing within 24 hours of arrest, a judge released them on bail. However, as they were leaving the courthouse, both men were re-arrested on new charges of abduction, kidnapping and inciting crime for events that took place on January 23, 2015. To this date, they remain in prison with no scheduled date for their first hearing - adding to the growing list of violations of speedy due process that have already occurred. 

Rigoberto Juárez awaits his preliminary hearing from a jail cell in
Guatemala City.  Photo credit: J. Abbott
The arrests of Rigoberto Juárez and Domingo Baltazar follow a pattern of criminalization of leaders who have been active in the movements to protect territory against the many threats of resource extraction and other mega-development projects in Guatemala. Leaders continue to face outlandish legal charges – occasionally for events in which they were not even present - in an effort to silence their voices and organizing capacities. As a result, movements are being forced to use much-needed resources to provide legal support to these leaders instead of using them to further strengthen the struggle in defense of life.

In a statement released after the most recent arrests, the Human Rights Convergence - a group of Guatemalan organizations working for social justice and an end to state and corporate impunity - points to a series of other incidences of criminalization that have taken place just in relation to hydroelectric projects in northern Huehuetenango, amongst which are:
  • Rubén Herrera, director of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH): charged with kidnapping and terrorism related to events that transpired before the government implemented a state of siege in Barillas, in April 2012. After spending months in prison, he was absolved of all charges for lack of proof. Like him, 30 others have had to go through legal processes only to be absolved at the time of formal accusation. 
  • Rogelio Velásquez and Saúl Méndez, community leaders from Barillas: convicted of the murder of a man and woman in their community. In the verdict reached against them in December of last year, in which both men were sentenced to 33 years in prison, the judge argued, "We cannot prove how the woman was killed. But since they [Saúl and Rogelio] are community leaders, they are responsible." This illegal verdict seeks to hold the human rights defenders legally responsible for the activities that occur in their communities. 
  • Sotero Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan Francisco and Arturo Pablo, community leaders from Barillas: indicted in February 2015 for a kidnapping allegedly committed during 2012, even after the Public Prosecutor asked that the charges be dropped for lack of proof. Not only were they indicted on charges, but also ordered to a prison in zone 18 of Guatemala City, taking them out of their community. The judge soon after withdrew from the bench, leaving those indicted without a trial judge to oversee their case and as a result, no date to appeal the indictment.
In addition to these cases and many more in which leaders have been criminalized for their roles within the movements for the defense of life and territory, at least two leaders have been murdered. Daniel Pedro Mateo, an active member within the ADH and a prominent defender of the 2007 community consultation in Barillas, was kidnapped and murdered in April, 2013. On March 27, 2015, the body of Pascual Pablo Francisco was found. He had been missing for three days, and was another prominent figure in the defense of life in Barillas.

In contrast to the disproportionate amount of charges laid against community leaders, the majority of cases of murder, assaults or threats against human rights defenders have failed to advance in the court system and remain in impunity.

In the department of Huehuetenango alone, communities are facing the expansion of the "Northern Corridor/Franja Transversal del Norte" (a mega-highway set to cut across the northern part of Guatemala), three hydroeletric dams (Cambalam of Hidro Santa Cruz in Barillas, Hidro San Luis of CM5 in Santa Eulalia and Ixquisis of the PDH, S.A., in San Mateo Ixtatán) and other possible mineral extraction in the area. In Huehuetenango, 28 of the 32 municipalities have held referenda in which communities have soundly rejected the presence of hydroelectric dams. Despite this clear message, the government continues to push these projects forward and to grant new licenses.

Given this reality, the Human Rights Convergence has called on the Guatemalan government and judicial system to respect due process and immediately halt the criminalization of community leaders. In a statement released in March, the Convergence urged the government to stop granting licenses for hydroelectric dams in the regions, and called on the companies who are already operating in the area to listen to and respect the decisions made by impacted communities.

It states, "The government of Otto Pérez Molina is using this violence to protect personal and corporate interests. The censorship and attacks - including assassinations - of journalists and other grassroots media is only one example. Indigenous communities who carry out referenda are met with racism and repression by government authorities and from company employees seeking to expand into their territories."

To read the full statement made by the Human Rights Convergence in Spanish, click here.

A report-back on NISGUA’s Rivers for Life Delegation

When Víctor Caal Tzuy came to the U.S. last fall to speak about indigenous peoples’ fight for self-determination in Guatemala, he ended many of his presentations by inviting people to his home to see for themselves how and why more than 50 communities have united in opposition to the Xalalá hydroelectric dam.

Last month, NISGUA responded to that invitation by organizing a 10-day delegation to northern Guatemala to visit the communities threatened by the mega-dam.

The trip was composed of three main areas: 
  • Directly meeting and building relationships with the communities impacted by the project
  • Deepening our analysis of the historical and current contexts of state violence through presentations from various organizations and human rights experts 
  • Taking lead from our partners in order to carry out advocacy meetings and developing our understanding of the role of international solidarity

Meeting with communities

After a short orientation in Guatemala City, we began the two-day journey to the northern lowlands of the department of Quiché to meet with the communities that would be affected by the large-scale hydroelectric project and to visit the proposed construction site.

The delegation spent three days in Copal’ AA La Esperanza, a returned refugee community of about 130 families who were displaced in the 1980s by the violence orchestrated by the Guatemala state during the country's internal armed conflict. These same families would again be displaced by the construction of the dam. Accompanied by leaders from Copal’AA, the delegation traveled up river to visit Victor's community, Las Margaritas Copón – home to Maya Q’eqchi’ families for hundreds of years and the site of the proposed dam.

We walked with families through their subsistence crops, which blended seamlessly with the surrounding subtropical forests. We smelled the richness of the earth and listened to the powerful currents of its turquoise blue waters. We gained nourishment from hand-made tortillas accompanied by beans, squash, fruits, and root vegetables, all of which came directly from the fertile plots of land where families grow nearly everything they consume. Community leaders and elders welcomed us and shared with us these experiences – experiences that made terribly tangible the enormity of the destruction and loss that would be inflicted with the construction of the dam.

We met with students, community spokespeople, ancestral authorities and other representatives who came from nearly a dozen other affected communities that form part of the Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Territory and Natural Resources (ACODET). In meetings translated at times between three languages – Spanish, Maya Q’eqchi, and English – community members explained the depth of connection they hold with the land and their model of consensus-based, community-wide decision making processes used to determine all projects undertaken in the communities.

During these meetings, representatives explained that the government has strategically withheld basic services as punishment for their organizing against the Xalalá Dam, likening this intentional abandonment and coercion to structural state-sponsored violence. Community members denounced the egregious and ongoing efforts of the National Electrification Institute (INDE) to illegally condition future government services on the acceptance of the Xalalá Dam, falsely promising rural expansion of electricity to their homes, road improvements and supplies for local medical clinics only if communities agree to the dam’s construction.

ACODET representatives and communities have also suffered more overt forms of violence. There have been 19 cases of defamation and 12 incidents of intimidation related to their resistance to the dam. Community members explained the ways in which INDE has deliberately misinformed communities in order to create divisions amongst them, while systematically excluding communities from participating in making the decisions that impact their territory.

Throughout our time in the communities, members of the delegation were inspired by the high level of organization and intentionally-held unity within and between communities in resistance to the dam and were moved to action by the calls for international solidarity – to continue to listen, to bring these stories back to North America, and to take action to dismantle the systems that attempt to take away the self-determination of all of our communities.

"The love we have for our land gives life to our struggle." (Community representative from Copal'AA)

"The government talks about electricity and development but they don't take into account our view of development - living from the land." (Representative of ACODET)

A sampling of the crop varieties grown in Copal'AA. Photo credit: NISGUA

In Copal'AA, a sign reads: No to the Xalalá dam! Rivers for life with
dignity. Without electricity, we can live. Without water, we can't.
Photo credit: NISGUA

"Though we may not have many resources for our struggle, we have our words, our ideas, our thoughts, that we use to defend our land.” (Representative of ACODET)

“I am taking away a new perspective on the struggles of the people of Guatemala…. I can talk about what institutions are using negative (to say the least) practices and what communities are doing to resist and organize… I am also coming home with a new perspective on my consumption in the form of food, water, and other goods and services that I don’t need.” (Delegation participant)

The delegation and members of ACODET stand on the proposed
site for the Xalalá dam. Photo credit: NISGUA
Click here for more photos from the delegation.

Deepening the contextual analysis

Both before and after the delegation’s visit to the communities, organizations such as the People’s Council of Tzututlan and independent journalists from the Center for Independent Media met with the delegates to provide a deeper analysis of how the Xalalá dam fits within a larger, interlinked system of mega-development projects, designed and negotiated by state and corporate interests.

We visited the House of Memory, an interactive museum created by the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) as well as the National Police Archives, to better understand the historical context of state violence and repression, the Guatemala people’s resilience, and the ongoing social movements to seek justice, to honor collective memory, and to end impunity. Through those visits, we saw how the legacy of that violence continues on in the repressive tactics of the government that currently target communities working in defense of culture, life and territory.

Those tactics became very present throughout the ten days of the delegation, as participants heard the news of arrests and violent attacks against leaders of the resistance to the Hidro Santa Cruz dam in Barillas, Huehuetenango and other hydroelectric projects in the country. In a very real contextualization of the human rights abuses in the country, delegates had the chance to converse with the family and friends of political prisoners that have been captured for organizing community referenda and defending their territory.

Delegates also had the chance to learn about the positive projects that communities are employing as alternatives to the state’s dominant model of development. Madre Selva, an environmental justice collective based in Guatemala City, met with the delegation to give examples of communities that have successfully undertaken sustainable, small-scale electrification projects to bring energy to their homes, and where popular education techniques have been successful in supporting self-sufficiency and sustainability in rural communities.

Following the calls for advocacy

Resourced with the conversations and experiences with communities and human rights organizations, the delegation joined ACODET in meeting with the Inter-American Development Bank to raise concerns about bank funding being used to condition rural electricity expansion upon acceptance of the dam. Delegates also met with the U.S. Embassy in order to underscore NISGUA’s accompaniment in the region and highlight increasing concerns about the safety of those standing up in defense of the right to consultation and self-determination.

In their first advocacy meeting, the delegation and two members of ACODET spoke with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The IDB has proposed funding to bring rural electrification to communities in the departments of Alta Verapaz and Quiché, amongst others, and is awaiting approval from the Guatemalan Congress. While the funding is not dependent on the construction of the Xalalá dam, community members denounce that representatives from INDE are acting as the gatekeepers to rural electrification, intentionally misinforming communities and conditioning access to electricity on their acceptance of the Xalalá dam. The bank claimed to be unaware of INDE's actions and agreed to follow up, sharing information directly with communities. 

During the meting with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) the delegation:
  • Facilitated a conversation directly between ACODET representatives and the bank in order to highlight the potential of INDE mishandling the $60 million in IDB funding destined for rural electrification.
  • Provided specific examples of INDE conditioning social programs and deliberately misinforming communities regarding IDB funded rural electrification plans
As international observers from the U.S. and Canada, two countries that hold 34% of the voting power at the IDB, the NISGUA delegation demonstrated international concern for the violation of the rights of ACODET communities and further discussed what mechanisms exist to prevent human rights violations from occurring during the implementation of IDB projects.

While these official spaces are incredibly important in advocating for the rights to consultation and self-determination, perhaps more impactful are the advocacy opportunities in our communities back home. Delegates had the chance to discuss and support each other in creating plans to raise awareness and advocate for action and change in their home networks in North America. Plans for educational house parties, report-backs, art exhibitions, and article-writing all sprung into place on the delegation’s last day together.

“Participating in this delegation has been one of the most important and impactful experiences for me! Visiting the spaces and communities, meeting specific actors, experiencing things I’ve previously only read about in an embodied and sensory way has been a turning point in my personal engagement. I feel so inspired and energized to continue this work and to maintain and deepen these relationships.” (Delegation participant)

NISGUA invites everyone in our base to continue to reflect on the knowledge and inspiration we have gained from these relationships with Guatemalan human rights defenders and activists. We also encourage you to reflect on the ways to incite change and to create alternatives to the dominant globalized model that results in the exploitation, displacement and destruction of our communities and our lands.

Monday, April 13, 2015

ACOGUATE turns 15!

This year, ACOGUATE honors 15 years providing a physical international presence to threatened Guatemalan human rights defenders as they work towards social justice and transformation. 

In 2000, NISGUA joined international accompaniment organizations from Canada and Austria to form ACOGUATE, drawing from experiences accompanying refugee communities during their return to Guatemala from Mexico in the mid 1990s. Since that time, committees from seven other European countries - including France, Sweden, Germany, Spain, England, Denmark and Switzerland - have joined the coalition. While the initial request for accompaniment came from the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) as they launched the legal cases against former military for committing genocide and crimes against humanity during the internal armed conflict, ACOGUATE's mandate has expanded over the past 15 years to include other cases of truth and justice, labor rights and the defense of land, life, and territory. 

Since ACOGUATE's inception, more than 600 international volunteers have dedicated anywhere from 3 months to two years to this project and have returned home to continue to ensure that Guatemalan voices speaking out against human rights violations do not go unheard.

Read NISGUA's reflections on how accompaniment has changed over the years.

ACOGUATE's report, "Enduring bonds: Although we part ways, we walk together" was published to commemorate the anniversary. In the report's introduction, the founding coordinators of the project remark: 

"Celebrating 15 years is two sides of the same coin: on the one side, we value the efforts of many volunteers from different parts of the world who continue to be involved in the project; on the flipside, we are witnessing continued insecurity at the level of the state, which should be guaranteeing the rights of its citizens without exception. In spite of advances in truth, justice and defense of life in Guatemala, extreme poverty continues alongside violence, racism and the exploitation of natural resources without the free, prior and informed consent of communities."

Víctor Sales of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH)
calls for continued solidarity. Photo credit: Jhonathan F. Goméz

Their comments were echoed by many of the people who attended the publication launch, including several people and organizations that we accompany.

Anselmo Roldán, the current president of the AJR and former NISGUA speaking tour participant spoke about his experiences with accompaniment:

"I remember the beginnings of international accompaniment, when agreements were made between the refugee-led Permanent Commissions and the government. At the time, accompaniment was the eyes for Guatemala as we once again reintegrated into our normal lives and continued our fight for justice. We must recognize this important work - a type of accompaniment that is up close and personal, near to us, that each accompanier plays a role in our struggle. They are our compañeros. They help us denounce what is happening - not only the crimes of the past but the current reality as well. 

Thank you. I am grateful to the international accompaniment that is present today and continues to act in solidarity with Guatemala."

AJR President Anselmo Roldán speaks about the importance of ongoing
accompaniment.  Photo credit: Jhonathan F. Goméz

Online copies of ACOGUATE's publication are expected soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How a quasi-military project was created to protect the Escobal mine

An affidavit given on November 24, 2014 by Donald Paul Gray, vice president of the Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources Inc., has shed light on the strong interests at play since 2011 in contracting private security companies for the Escobal mining project in San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa. His affidavit points to the relationship between private security companies, with ties to military and intelligence services that carry out large military projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the mining and construction operations in Guatemala.

Written by Luis Solano / Translation by NISGUA
Read the original article in Spanish.
April 7, 2015

The affidavit was given by the vice president of the mining company to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in response to a lawsuit filed against Tahoe Resources on June 18, 2014 by community members of San Rafael Las Flores. The lawsuit stems from an attack carried out by private security acting on orders from the head of mine security, Alberto Rotondo Dall'Orso, in which the seven plaintiffs were injured.

Tahoe Resources Inc., a mining company with offices in Reno, Nevada, United States and in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, operates the mining project in San Rafael through its subsidiary, Minera San Rafael, S.A. (MINERASA). It is for this reason that the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit with the Supreme Court of British Columbia, where it is currently being processed.

Tahoe Resources Inc. was founded by senior executives of the Canadian mining industry, particularly linked to Glamis Gold and Goldcorp. The company came to the forefront in 2010 thanks to the Escobal project, which it acquired from Goldcorp on May 3, 2010, seven months after Tahoe was incorporated under the Business Corporations Act of British Columbia. The sale was finalized on June 8 and included control of the Minera San Rafael, S.A., recently registered by attorney Jorge Asencio Aguirre and which Goldcorp maintains 40% of shares.

Asencio Aguirre is an important cornerstone to this process. He is the legal representative of the mining companies Montana Exploradora, Entre Mares, Explotaciones Mineras of Guatemala (EXMINGUA) and MINERASA and helped create reforms to the 1997 Mining Law, according to statements he made on January 23, 2005 on the television program "Libre Encuentro."

Since 2011, when the mining project came under the control of Tahoe Resources, community opposition has intensified as demonstrated by protest marches and municipal consultations that have taken place in the neighboring municipalities of Nueva Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa de Lima and Casillas.

During this period, several acts of violence have occurred. One of the most dramatic events took place on April 27, 2013, when private security guards from the company Alfa Uno – associated with the Israeli company Golan Group - acted on orders of the then-head of security Alberto Rotondo Dall'Orso and indiscriminately shot at community members who were peacefully protesting in front of mining facilities in San Rafael Las Flores. Seven community members were injured.
"We have to protect investors." Óscar Berger, President of the Republic of Guatemala. Press conference, January 11, 2005.
As a result, on May 2, 2013, the government declared a State of Siege in four municipalities in the departments of Jalapa and Santa Rosa, militarizing the area under the guise of combating organized crime. The underlying reasons for the government’s response were published by Plaza Pública and revealed the contradictions between the actions taken and the real purpose behind them: to protect private mining interests.

On June 18, 2014, the seven people injured filed a lawsuit against Tahoe Resources Inc. with the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The plaintiffs are: Adolfo Agustín García, Luis Fernando García Monroy, Artemio Humberto Castillo Herrera, Wilmer Francisco Pérez Martínez, Erik Fernando Castillo Pérez, Noé Aguilar Castillo and Misael Eberto Martínez Sasvin.

The lawsuit charges the company with the violent repression of peaceful protesters, based on the fact that Tahoe controls all important aspects of the operation of the Escobal mine, including security practices and policies, and community relations.

The lawsuit states, "Tahoe expressly or implicitly authorized the conduct of Rotondo and security personnel" and was negligent in preventing Rotondo and other security personnel from using excessive force. The plaintiffs argue that as owner of the subsidiary MINERASA, Tahoe is responsible for what transpired.

Tahoe denies that Rotondo is responsible. Instead, the company places blame on the Golan Group for not following international standards for security service providers. This stance is expressed by the company in the 2014 Annual Report of the Board of Ethics for the Government Pension Fund Global of Norway, published on January 26 of 2015. The report recommends the "exclusion of Tahoe Resources Inc. due to unacceptable risks of the company contributing to serious human rights violations."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wiretap transcripts raise troubling questions about Tahoe Resources' militarized security detail

Source: Amnesty International Canada – MiningWatch Canada - Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)

April 7, 2015

(Guatemala City/Ottawa/Vancouver) Wiretap transcripts ordered by Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor of Tahoe Resources’ former head of security, Alberto Rotondo, in connection with an April 27, 2013 shooting outside its Escobal mine provide strong evidence that he targeted peaceful protesters, tried to cover up the crime and flee the country. The Public Prosecutor ordered the telephone intercepts roughly two weeks before this incident occurred, in apparent connection with suspicions over earlier violence at the mine site. The intercepts were originally presented in a public hearing in Guatemala in May 2013 at which Rotondo was charged with assault and obstruction of justice.

Hearings in a lawsuit brought by seven Guatemalan men wounded in this attack against Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources for negligence and battery are set to take place at the B.C. Supreme Court starting April 8, 2015. According to the statement of claim, Tahoe is accused of having expressly or implicitly authorized the use of excessive force by Rotondo and the security personnel against those injured, or was otherwise negligent in failing to prevent the use of excessive force. The wiretap transcripts have been filed in court as part of the lawsuit.

In Intercept No. 4010, in a conversation with Tahoe’s communications and security advisor, Rotondo makes clear his intention to quell protests against the mine through violence: “I ran them out with bullets [...] Bring on the priest Melgar then, or women and children to defend them, weren't you the real trouble-maker? That's what I told all of them. Well then, sons of bitches! [...] And I let them have it [...] There is no way I am ever going to allow these people to get confident...”.

In Intercept No.4052, apparently speaking with one of the guards under his command, Rotondo continues: “They say that one has a, a bullet wound in the face and... if it exploded in their face, it's with bullets that they learn.”

In the same intercept, Rotondo orders the evidence to be altered, while he concocts another version of events: “Clean the guns then [...] Clean them well, we're saying “nothing happened here.” There are no recordings. You understand me? [...] The version is: they entered and they attacked us. And we repelled them, right? […] The people need to be told, that they should not worry, that they come every day to attack us, with machetes and rocks; and so the people have defended themselves. There are, there are the broken shields there. But break another two so that they see that they attacked us.”

It also seems that Rotondo coordinated with a police officer, referred to as ‘Adilio’ and known to local residents by the same name, to make sure that security guards and police told the same version about the events of April 27. Local activists also suspect that an individual acting under Rotondo’s direction, referred to as “El Moreno” in the wiretap evidence, had infiltrated their meetings.

Finally, during a phone call with his son in Lima, Peru, Rotondo informs of his plans to escape: “There have been problems here in Guatemala and it's better that I'm away for awhile. Right? [...] I kicked the crap out of a bunch of lazy bastards here. They can go to hell. So, to avoid legal issues and all that.”

Shortly after this last call, Alberto Rotondo was arrested at Guatemala's international airport and charged with assault and obstruction of justice. Six farmers and one student were wounded in the attack. All of them are residents of the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores where the Escobal mine is located. Criminal proceedings against Rotondo are underway in Guatemala. The case has been subject to numerous delays since 2013.

On May 1, 2013, Tahoe Resources issued a statement trying to pin the blame elsewhere: “violence from outside influences,” accused the company, was responsible for escalating tensions around the mine site, and “a protest involving approximately 20 people armed with machetes turned hostile.” Days after the wiretap evidence was released at a public hearing in Guatemala on May 6, 2013, in an interview with iPolitics, Tahoe’s Investor Relations official Ira Gostin denied that the wiretap evidence had been made public and stated that claims that Rotondo ordered protestors shot were made-up. The transcripts show otherwise.

The company did not make another official statement about the event until July 10th when it reported having ended its contract with Rotondo’s firm. In later communications with the Norwegian Pension Fund cited in its recent report, Tahoe Resources "[denied] that Mr. Rotondo ordered the murder of demonstrators but did not wish to expand on this in view of ongoing proceedings." The Norwegian Pension Fund concluded its investigation by recommending against investment in Tahoe Resources.

According to an affidavit filed by Tahoe’s Vice President of Operations, Donald Paul Gray, Tahoe originally employed Rotondo through a contract with the International Security and Defense Management, LLC, a U.S. company based in California and led by former military personnel with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. Under recommendation from ISDM, Rotondo was later directly contracted by Tahoe's Guatemalan subsidiary Minera San Rafael. Rotondo formerly served with the Peruvian navy and, according to his LinkedIn page, has received U.S. military training in physiological warfare and counter-terrorism in low intensity conflicts at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The civil claim that the seven men filed against Tahoe Resources for its actions overseas is the first of its kind to be heard in B.C. The wiretap evidence and other declarations were submitted as part of this process. The hearings this week, pursuant to a motion brought by Tahoe Resources to dismiss the case, will address whether it is best heard in B.C. or Guatemala.

Tahoe Resources is incorporated under the B.C. Corporations Act and has its headquarters in Vancouver. Goldcorp, whose Marlin mine in northwestern Guatemala has been an ongoing source of conflict with neighbouring Indigenous communities for over ten years, holds 40% of shares in the company and annually names three directors to the company’s board.

Amnesty International Canada, MiningWatch Canada and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) have been monitoring and reporting on this case for the last several years.

Copies of the wiretap evidence and declarations referred to in this press release are linked here: wiretap evidence and Donald Paul Gray's affidavit.


Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)

Megan Whelan, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), (510) 763-1403, Megan(at)

Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada, 604.294.5160 x102, TScurr(at)