State of Fear and Terror Deliberately Created to Force Tahoe Resources’ Mine on Guatemalan Communities – Report

(Ottawa) A new report reveals the dramatic extent of the militarized security strategy that Canadian-US mining company Tahoe Resources developed to quash community opposition to its Escobal project in southeastern Guatemala. In ‘Under Siege: Peaceful Resistance to Tahoe Resources and Militarization in Guatemala’, Guatemalan investigative journalist Luis Solano untangles the web of relationships and tactics that led to the militarization of farming communities in the area of the company’s operations.

“From the outset, Tahoe Resources hired a US security and defence contractor that boasts experience with corporations working in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan to develop a security plan that treated peaceful protest and community leaders as if they were armed insurgents,” remarks Solano.

“Working hand in hand with a military government in Guatemala and other strategic players at the local and national level, a state of fear and terror was created at the local level to divide and weaken broad opposition to this company’s mine project.”

Some of the tactics used by private and state security forces against communities opposed to they company’s project given concerns over potential impacts on water, health and agriculture include:

  • The company and other actors brought constitutional challenges against local plebiscites over mining;
  • Some hundred people faced legal persecution, only to later be absolved of all charges for lack of evidence;
  • Under pressure from the company to protect its interests, the Guatemalan government installed an “inter-institutional pilot project” in the municipality where the mine is located, characterising those opposed to mining as a threat to national security. Local residents consider it to be a military intelligence gathering exercise;
  • Peaceful protests were violently repressed by police and private security forces on more than one occasion. In particular, on April 27, 2013, private security guards fired on peaceful protesters demonstrating outside the mine site, wounding seven men;
  • Days after the April 27 shooting, the Guatemalan government declared a state of siege in the local area during which time the homes of community leaders opposed to the mine were raided. Several people were jailed for months and then released;
  • The “inter-institutional project” continues; two military outposts have remained in the area.

Notably, the seven men wounded in the April 27 attack have sued Tahoe Resources in British Columbia for negligence and battery, for either implicitly or explicitly having had a hand in the attack. On Monday, the British Columbia Supreme Court declined jurisdiction over the case, concluding that Guatemala would be the more appropriate place to hear it.

“This report was developed, in part, on documentation submitted to the B.C. court which provides considerable evidence that Tahoe Resources worked with a series of security groups ready for war, not communities peacefully protesting threats to their water and farms,” remarks Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada.

“It is tremendously disappointing that the judge was unwilling to accept the case, failing to consider the power dynamics at work or to ask if hiring a U.S. defence contractor to help build a mine in rural Guatemala -- among other agents trained in counterinsurgency -- might not lay the conditions for the sort of violence that took place in 2013.”

The report is available as a summary or full length. Luis Solano is currently visiting Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to speak about the report and is available to speak with the media.