The larger context

The Escobal mine is an underground silver project in the department of Santa Rosa in southeastern Guatemala and one of the largest and most contentious mines in Latin America. Tahoe Resources brought it into operation in 2014. Operations have been suspended since mid 2017 due to strong local opposition to the mine.

Tahoe’s losses as a result of its flagship project being shuttered led to its acquisition by Vancouver-based Pan American Silver in early 2019.

At Pan American Silver’s 2019 annual shareholder meeting, founder and CEO Ross Beaty declared that he saw no social, environmental, or political reason the Escobal mine shouldn’t be generating $400 million in profit a year. But he ignores the tens of thousands of people in southeastern Guatemala who have rejected mining in their territories through local votes and whose peaceful resistance continues to remain firm. Beaty also ignores the legacy of violence and criminalization that communities have suffered at the hands of Tahoe Resources and the Guatemalan government to put the mine into operation. And he ignores the 2018 decision by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court that ordered the state to meaningfully consult with affected Xinka People in accordance with their own traditions before operations could resume. This means their self-determination must be respected. No consent. No mine.

Key dates to understand community opposition to the Escobal mine

Community Referenda

Since 2011, seven municipalities and nine communities near the Escobal mine have held referendums on mining, in which the vast majority voted no. Yearly, thousands have taken to the streets or participated in peaceful encampments to reaffirm these results and express their continued commitment to the health of their communities.

In June 2017, local residents took direct action and erected a peaceful resistance encampment near the Escobal mine, halting operations by preventing truck traffic from reaching the mine. The next month, the Supreme Court found that the Xinka had their Indigenous rights violated when they were not consulted prior to the start of operations, ordering the mine suspended. The Constitutional Court upheld the decision in 2018 and ordered a state-led consultation to take place. 

While the consultation process officially began in November 2018, it has so far failed to respect Xinka customs and traditions and excluded the participation of their governing body, the Xinka Parliament. The consultation has also been marred by procedural irregularities. In response, the Xinka Parliament has filed more than a dozen complaints over the lack of due process, Indigenous participation, and discrimination. None have been adequately resolved.

This has coincided with a sharp uptick in threats, intimidation and criminalization against communities in resistance. In July 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures for Xinka Parliament lawyer, Quelvin Jiménez, after he received multiple death threats. International human rights organizations have also documented acts of provocation, intimidation, and criminalization, as well as defamation campaigns and pressure by armed groups and groups of people aligned with the mining project.

By participating in a discriminatory process on dubious legal footing, Pan American Silver helps perpetuate the legacy of discrimination and conflict that has plagued Escobal from the beginning.

Complaint filed with the British Columbia Securities Commission against Pan American Silver

Ahead of Pan American Silver’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Tahoe Resources, complaints were filed in January 2019 with the British Columbia Securities Commission, asking the Commission to investigate Pan American Silver’s misleading statements to shareholders about the progress of the consultation with the Xinka and the overall viability of the Escobal mine.

> More on investor complaints

A mine brought into operation through violence

The threats that the Peaceful Resistance faces today are nothing new. To get Escobal operational, former owner Tahoe Resources relied on a militarized security strategy that suppressed local opposition, including supporting the creation of a government office that framed the peaceful resistance as a threat to national security. As a result, communities faced intense repression, militarization and an increase in social control and surveillance. Nearly 100 people were criminalized, being accused of baseless criminal charges for their legitimate roles organizing community referenda and peaceful protests. All were eventually absolved for lack of evidence.

In 2013, private security for the Escobal mine opened fire on a peaceful protest and seriously injured seven men who were shot at close range. This violence formed the basis for a successful civil lawsuit against Tahoe Resources in British Columbia. Meanwhile, the company’s former head of security has fled the country with an extradition process underway. All other acts of violence against mine opponents remain in impunity.

> For more information on attacks against human rights and environmental defenders, see the timeline

Environmental Impacts

Prior to the suspension of mining activities, a community closest to the Escobal mine denounced significant damage to their homes and were forcibly displaced, which they believe to be caused by underground mine blasting. Others continue to denounce the drying up of wells and natural water sources.