(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, then 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 City 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.
- Jen Moore, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 569-3439, jen(at)miningwatch.ca
- Megan Whelan, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), Megan(at)nisgua.org, (510) 763-1403
- Tara Scurr, Amnesty International Canada, (604) 294-5160 x102, TScurr(at)amnesty.ca