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When Pan American Silver bought the Escobal mine, it bought a legacy of violence

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Two people carry a banner in the streets of Guatemala City that reads, "The march for life: We demand that the Constitutional Court respect our rights." Photo credit: CPR-Urbana. Used with permission.

Shareholders of one of the world's largest silver mining companies will meet in Vancouver today to discuss their latest acquisition -- the conflict-ridden Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala, acquired by Pan American Silver when it bought Tahoe Resources earlier this year. The mine is set to play a key role securing Pan American Silver's place on the world's stage as a premiere silver mining company that, in 2018, boldly committed to a year with no significant community conflict.

The problem? The Escobal mine -- set to represent nearly 25 per cent of the company's earnings -- is currently suspended due to widespread and long-term community opposition to the project.

Impacted communities argue that mining is incompatible with their ways of life, culture, and spirituality. For nearly two years, operations have been suspended -- first by massive community protest and later, by a court injunction that found the local Indigenous Xinka population were discriminated against and had their rights violated when they were not adequately consulted prior to the start of mining operations. The Constitutional Court has since ordered that the Xinka people be consulted in accordance with international standards before mining operations can resume.

Pan American Silver's claim to be "conflict free" doesn't hold up to even a cursory glance at the Escobal project. The company bought a mine that has caused extensive community conflict in Guatemala. Communities in opposition to the project have faced a series of assassinations, kidnappings, criminalization of movement leaders, and the militarization of areas surrounding the mine.

As shareholders meet today, they should recognize this well-documented and violent legacy they now inherit and seriously question Pan American Silver's claim that it's only a matter of time before the Escobal mine is back up and running.

Ongoing threats and intimidation as court-ordered consultation takes place

According to international standards, the Xinka people must give their free, prior, and informed consent before operations can begin. Circumstances being what they are -- there can be no "prior" since the mine has already spent multiple years in operation and irreversible harms have already been done -- members of the Xinka Parliament are calling for a transparent consultation process free from company interference.

The Xinka Parliament is the legitimate ancestral body that represents the Xinka people. And since denouncing interference in the consultation process, they have seen a spike in threats and intimidation. Today, they issued a press release denouncing the multiple acts of surveillance and verbal death threats that their lawyer, Quelvin Jiménez, has received. They call on Pan American Silver to cease all efforts at dialogue with communities on the sidelines, as it generates more conflict and insecurity for local leaders and violates the free nature of the consultation.

In the past, threats against local leaders have ended in serious violence and the Xinka Parliament has reason to be concerned. In 2013, four members were kidnapped returning from a community-organized consultation and one person was killed. Weeks later, the mine's private security opened fire on peaceful protesters on a public road outside the mine's entrance, causing serious injuries. This violence is now the cause of a civil lawsuit in Canada against Tahoe Resources.

In 2014, 16-year-old Guatemalan youth leader and environmental activist Topacio Reynoso Pacheco was killed. Her father, Alex, was seriously injured in the same attack. He survived another assassination attempt in 2015, when he was shot returning home from a community meeting. Since then, the family has continued to face threats, intimidation and defamation related to their work as environmental defenders. There has been no investigation into the attacks.

A message from the Xinka Parliament to Pan American Silver shareholders

Ahead of today's shareholder meeting, the Xinka Parliament issued a call to shareholders:

"It is important that the shareholders and the general public are fully aware that the consultation ordered by the Constitutional Court is not a simple administrative process as the mining company has presented it. The continuation or not of the Escobal mining project depends on the consultation, given the size of the project and its impact on the Xinka People. The purpose of the consultation is not to come to an agreement, but to obtain our consent.

We want to emphasize that the legal and social struggle that we have been carrying out to recover our territory is not over. We are not willing to allow the continual violation of our rights, and we will not rest until our territory is completely free of mining."

Read the full translation here.

Valerie Croft is a mining justice activist who organizes with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) in Toronto, Canada. She has spent over a decade working in solidarity with communities in Guatemala who are protecting their lands from Canadian mining projects.

The Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN) is a Tkaronto-based activist group that organizes to resist the harmful practices of Canadian mining companies. We write about the struggles of communities directly impacted by these mines, as well as allied movements fighting for environmental justice. 

Photo credit: CPR-Urbana. Used with permission.

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