How is it that when community leaders are wrongfully targeted in the aftermath of violence connected with Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine they spend months in jail, while the company’s former head of security who faces criminal charges for his alleged role in the violence last April is first given house arrest and then allowed to avoid prison by arguing that he is sick?
That’s what happened last week.
Former head of security Alberto Rotondo has been under house arrest since May 2013, when he was linked to an April shooting that left six injured outside Tahoe Resources’ mine in southeastern Guatemala. On January 22, he was declared in contempt of court for failure to attend a hearing. As a result, the substitute measures that allowed him to be under house arrest were lifted and an arrest warrant issued. But instead of going to jail, on January 23, he called in sick and went to the hospital instead where he remains under arrest.
In sharp contrast to the leniency shown Rotondo, when the Guatemalan government responded to last April's violence by declaring a state of siege in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores in May, five community members were immediately jailed. Two were released on bail after a couple of months and three others spent six miserable months in prison. Finally, they were released without charge given lack of evidence that they had done anything wrong.
It is in this context that Tahoe Resources is celebrating that the Escobal mine reached commercial production this month, claiming that: “unanticipated social issues have been addressed.”
But for the affected communities in peaceful resistance to the mine operation, there is little to celebrate. Diverse community efforts to make their voices heard have been undermined or flat out rejected by the Guatemalan government and Tahoe Resources. For example, just days before the company obtained its exploitation license, the Ministry of Energy and Mines dismissed outright more than 250 individual claims against the license over concerns about potential impacts on health and water supplies in the surrounding area. Community-convened plebiscites in accord with Municipal Law, in which thousands have demonstrated their opposition to the mine project, have also been ignored. Indeed, there is truly nothing to celebrate when a mine is being built in the midst of repression and violence.
The only thing that Tahoe Resources seems to have resolved is how to operate despite ongoing conflict in Guatemala where the company and its principal investor, Goldcorp, wield considerable political and economic influence. Contrary to company claims, the conflict with local communities continues; it does not have a social license to operate. Furthermore, a national opinion poll released early last week shows opposition to mining across the country is up, at 66%, something for which Goldcorp and Tahoe can take considerable credit.
If the company were really to take “social issues” seriously, it would stop operations to avoid further repression, criminalization and violence, and out of respect for the local communities. Join us in calling for Tahoe to pack up its bags and leave San Rafael Las Flores in peace and add your name to this call for support: here.
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