Impacts of mining: Examples from Pan American Silver’s operations in Latin America

2020-08-20T19:10:06+00:00August 14th, 2020|Articles, Reports|

Pan American Silver is a Canadian mining company founded in 1994 that began operations with just one project — the Quiruvilca mine in Peru. Since then,  it has grown to become one of the world’s largest silver mining companies, extracting millions of ounces of silver, gold, and other precious metals from Latin America each year. 

In 2019, the company expanded when it acquired Tahoe Resources and its mines in Guatemala, Peru, and Canada.

It is important to examine Pan American Silver’s track record, not only because of its size and experience operating in Latin America, but because its operations are emblematic of how mining happens on the continent. In many of the countries that it operates, the company violates the self-determination of affected communities and has been accused of lobbying or suing provincial and national authorities to overturn or weaken existing environmental protections to advance its projects.

The company has actively participated, or has been complicit, in a number of human rights violations through forced displacement and militarization, violence, and social control in order to operate and expand their activities. Their mining operations have caused irreversible harms to the environment, especially water. And they continue to cause harm to the cultural and spiritual practices of Indigenous peoples in many areas where they operate.

As part of its business strategy, Pan American Silver says in its Sustainability Report that it focuses on “environmental stewardship and the responsible management of Earth’s finite natural resources,” fostering positive relationships with all stakeholders and adopting ethical and sustainable business practices. Ross Beaty, Pan American Silver’s founder and current Chairperson of the Board of Directors, is a major player in mining investment and has a reputation for returning huge profits to shareholders and other investors. He insists that mining is beneficial — but beneficial to whom? 

Learn more about the company’s operations in Latin American and the many ways communities are fighting to protect their lands, cultures, and livelihoods from Pan American Silver’s operations.

Pan American Silver is a Canadian mining company founded in 1994 that began operations with just one project — the Quiruvilca mine in Peru. Since then,  it has grown to become one of the world’s largest silver mining companies, extracting millions of ounces of silver, gold, and other precious metals from Latin America each year. 

In 2019, the company expanded when it acquired Tahoe Resources and its mines in Guatemala, Peru, and Canada.

It is important to examine Pan American Silver’s track record, not only because of its size and experience operating in Latin America, but because its operations are emblematic of how mining happens on the continent. In many of the countries that it operates, the company violates the self-determination of affected communities and has been accused of lobbying or suing provincial and national authorities to overturn or weaken existing environmental protections to advance its projects.

The company has actively participated, or has been complicit, in a number of human rights violations through forced displacement and militarization, violence, and social control in order to operate and expand their activities. Their mining operations have caused irreversible harms to the environment, especially water. And they continue to cause harm to the cultural and spiritual practices of Indigenous peoples in many areas where they operate.

As part of its business strategy, Pan American Silver says in its Sustainability Report that it focuses on “environmental stewardship and the responsible management of Earth’s finite natural resources,” fostering positive relationships with all stakeholders and adopting ethical and sustainable business practices. Ross Beaty, Pan American Silver’s founder and current Chairperson of the Board of Directors, is a major player in mining investment and has a reputation for returning huge profits to shareholders and other investors. He insists that mining is beneficial — but beneficial to whom? 

Learn more about the company’s operations in Latin American and the many ways communities are fighting to protect their lands, cultures, and livelihoods from Pan American Silver’s operations.

The following campaign is supported by the Xinka Parliament, the Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen (ENDEPA)- Equipo Trelew-Meseta, the Asamblea en Defensa del Territorio de Puerto Madryn, the Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados por el No a la Mina Esquel, six Indigenous Mapuche Tehuelche communities from la Meseta, Argentina (Comunidad Laguna Fría Chacay Oeste, Comunidad Yalalaubat, Comunidad Ñuke Mapu – El Escorial, Comunidad Los Pinos, Comunidad Lefimi, and Comunidad Mallín de los Cual), Earthworks, MiningWatch Canada, IPS-Global Economy Program, the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, and Environmental Justice Atlas.

Violation of the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and attempts to undermine the laws and regulations that exist to protect the population

  • The Navidad project (Chubut, Argentina): In 2009, Pan American Silver acquired the Navidad project knowing that open-pit mining and the use of cyanide are prohibited by law thanks to massive popular opposition. Today, communities denounce that the company is lobbying provincial legislators and federal officials to undermine the law in order to move forward with the project.
  • In 2013, when Tahoe Resources still owned the Escobal mine, the company was involved in several efforts to silence the community voices by declaring the municipal consultations of Santa Rosa de Lima, Nueva Santa Rosa, and Casillas as illegal. It attempted to block the Mataquescuintla municipal consultation, and succeeded, in collusion with the municipality of San Rafael las Flores, in blocking the consultation in the  municipality closest to the mine.
  • Despite more than 15 municipal and good faith consultations that rejected mining, the ongoing resistance camps, and the current suspension of the mine for discrimination and lack of consultation with the Xinka, Pan American Silver saw a good investment and bought the Escobal mine in 2019 — showing no respect for the self-determination of the Xinka.

Forced displacement, violence and social division in order to operate and expand 

  • Between 2013 and 2017, Pan American Silver used private security forces to carry out the forced displacement of the community of La Colorada, occupying their land and destroying their homes to expand  operations. Some 230 people were displaced to a site where the company continues to exercise significant control over the daily lives of the families, who are living in unhealthy and suffocating conditions.
  • Pan American Silver bought the Dolores mine in 2012, at a time of extreme violence due to the militarization of the area and a territorial dispute between cartels. This context of militarization helped to impose mining in the area, severely limiting people’s freedom to exercise their rights in the face of any violation or abuse. Militarization and violence also generate high risks for journalists and social organizations that could document or otherwise show solidarity with the community.
  • In 2012, Tahoe Resources sued the Guatemalan government, claiming that protests were hindering its operations and that the government was not doing enough to allow the company’s activities to continue. Although the court rejected this claim, the government implemented a state of siege in 4 municipalities around the mine, resulting in the violation of people’s civil rights. Several leaders were criminalized, creating fear and division. To justify the militarization of the area, the government labelled the peaceful opposition to the Escobal mine as a threat to national security.

Harms caused to the environment, especially water

  • Pan American Silver was fined 22 times for environmental damages between 1995 and 2012 related to its operation of the Quiruvilca mine. Instead of taking responsibility for the pollution caused by the mine, Pan American Silver sold it. The mine was later abandoned in 2017 by the new owner. Since then, there have been five emergency declarations in the surrounding communities due to the instability of tailings deposits and the high levels of heavy metal contamination in the Rio Moche caused by acid mine drainage. While it owned the mine, Pan American Silver participated in a corporate movement to weaken the state environmental agency in Peru.
  • In 2011 and 2012, Pan American Silver’s mine suffered tailings spills after the duct linking the processing plant to the tailings dam ruptured. According to the Santa Cruz Environmental Assembly, provincial officials minimized the spill’s potential impact and defended Pan American Silver’s interests. In the province of Santa Cruz, the Provincial Mining Authority is the body in charge of approving the company’s environmental impact assessment. This means that the same body in charge of promoting the advancement of the mine is the one responsible for monitoring its environmental impact — a serious conflict of interest.
  • In 2012, Tahoe Resources and its subsidiary Minera San Rafael had formal legal complaints filed against them for the industrial contamination of the “Los Esclavos” River. The company’s administrative manager was arrested and indicted. The case remains open, while concerns about the loss of important water sources increase.  Communities surrounding the mine have denounced the noise, dust, and vibrations caused by mining operations. In 2016, 71 of 99 houses in the community of La Cuchilla, located above the Escobal mine, were cracked and some completely destroyed. The authorities declared the houses uninhabitable, leading to the forced displacement of affected families.
  • Pan American Silver acquired the Shahuindo gold mine with the purchase of Tahoe Resources. There has been ongoing resistance to the project located in the agricultural area of the Condebamba Valley, where communities are concerned about the impact of the mine on their water sources. Since 2016, Peruvian regulatory agencies have documented water contaminated with heavy metals from mining activities, finding that the water is no longer suitable for human consumption.

Harms caused to the cultural and spiritual practices of Indigenous peoples 

  • After the desecration and relocation of an ancestral site (chenque) by the previous owner of the project, Pan American Silver continues to work in areas sacred to the Mapuche Tehuelche people — despite the many artifacts present in the area that have high cultural value, and despite the Mapuche Tehuelche people’s  opposition to mining. The company does not recognize the Mapuche Tehuelche or their community organizations, causing tension and conflict in the communities of La Meseta.
  • Pan American Silver bought the Escobal mine in spite of the fact that the mine’s very existence represents an act of discrimination against the Xinka. The Escobal was built despite widespread opposition and in violation of the Xinka’s rights to self-determination, and is located within a site sacred to the Xinka. In February 2019, Xinka communities held a ceremony at the site, but had to do so under the surveillance of Pan American Silver’s private security.

The following campaign is supported by the Xinka Parliament, the Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen (ENDEPA)- Equipo Trelew-Meseta, the Asamblea en Defensa del Territorio de Puerto Madryn, the Asamblea de Vecinos Autoconvocados por el No a la Mina Esquel, six Indigenous Mapuche Tehuelche communities from la Meseta, Argentina (Comunidad Laguna Fría Chacay Oeste, Comunidad Yalalaubat, Comunidad Ñuke Mapu – El Escorial, Comunidad Los Pinos, Comunidad Lefimi, and Comunidad Mallín de los Cual), Earthworks, MiningWatch Canada, IPS-Global Economy Program, the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, and Environmental Justice Atlas.

Violation of the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and attempts to undermine the laws and regulations that exist to protect the population

  • The Navidad project (Chubut, Argentina): In 2009, Pan American Silver acquired the Navidad project knowing that open-pit mining and the use of cyanide are prohibited by law thanks to massive popular opposition. Today, communities denounce that the company is lobbying provincial legislators and federal officials to undermine the law in order to move forward with the project.
  • In 2013, when Tahoe Resources still owned the Escobal mine, the company was involved in several efforts to silence the community voices by declaring the municipal consultations of Santa Rosa de Lima, Nueva Santa Rosa, and Casillas as illegal. It attempted to block the Mataquescuintla municipal consultation, and succeeded, in collusion with the municipality of San Rafael las Flores, in blocking the consultation in the  municipality closest to the mine.
  • Despite more than 15 municipal and good faith consultations that rejected mining, the ongoing resistance camps, and the current suspension of the mine for discrimination and lack of consultation with the Xinka, Pan American Silver saw a good investment and bought the Escobal mine in 2019 — showing no respect for the self-determination of the Xinka.

Forced displacement, violence and social division in order to operate and expand 

  • Between 2013 and 2017, Pan American Silver used private security forces to carry out the forced displacement of the community of La Colorada, occupying their land and destroying their homes to expand  operations. Some 230 people were displaced to a site where the company continues to exercise significant control over the daily lives of the families, who are living in unhealthy and suffocating conditions.
  • Pan American Silver bought the Dolores mine in 2012, at a time of extreme violence due to the militarization of the area and a territorial dispute between cartels. This context of militarization helped to impose mining in the area, severely limiting people’s freedom to exercise their rights in the face of any violation or abuse. Militarization and violence also generate high risks for journalists and social organizations that could document or otherwise show solidarity with the community.
  • In 2012, Tahoe Resources sued the Guatemalan government, claiming that protests were hindering its operations and that the government was not doing enough to allow the company’s activities to continue. Although the court rejected this claim, the government implemented a state of siege in 4 municipalities around the mine, resulting in the violation of people’s civil rights. Several leaders were criminalized, creating fear and division. To justify the militarization of the area, the government labelled the peaceful opposition to the Escobal mine as a threat to national security.

Harms caused to the environment, especially water

  • Pan American Silver was fined 22 times for environmental damages between 1995 and 2012 related to its operation of the Quiruvilca mine. Instead of taking responsibility for the pollution caused by the mine, Pan American Silver sold it. The mine was later abandoned in 2017 by the new owner. Since then, there have been five emergency declarations in the surrounding communities due to the instability of tailings deposits and the high levels of heavy metal contamination in the Rio Moche caused by acid mine drainage. While it owned the mine, Pan American Silver participated in a corporate movement to weaken the state environmental agency in Peru.
  • In 2011 and 2012, Pan American Silver’s mine suffered tailings spills after the duct linking the processing plant to the tailings dam ruptured. According to the Santa Cruz Environmental Assembly, provincial officials minimized the spill’s potential impact and defended Pan American Silver’s interests. In the province of Santa Cruz, the Provincial Mining Authority is the body in charge of approving the company’s environmental impact assessment. This means that the same body in charge of promoting the advancement of the mine is the one responsible for monitoring its environmental impact — a serious conflict of interest.
  • In 2012, Tahoe Resources and its subsidiary Minera San Rafael had formal legal complaints filed against them for the industrial contamination of the “Los Esclavos” River. The company’s administrative manager was arrested and indicted. The case remains open, while concerns about the loss of important water sources increase.  Communities surrounding the mine have denounced the noise, dust, and vibrations caused by mining operations. In 2016, 71 of 99 houses in the community of La Cuchilla, located above the Escobal mine, were cracked and some completely destroyed. The authorities declared the houses uninhabitable, leading to the forced displacement of affected families.
  • Pan American Silver acquired the Shahuindo gold mine with the purchase of Tahoe Resources. There has been ongoing resistance to the project located in the agricultural area of the Condebamba Valley, where communities are concerned about the impact of the mine on their water sources. Since 2016, Peruvian regulatory agencies have documented water contaminated with heavy metals from mining activities, finding that the water is no longer suitable for human consumption.

Harms caused to the cultural and spiritual practices of Indigenous peoples 

  • After the desecration and relocation of an ancestral site (chenque) by the previous owner of the project, Pan American Silver continues to work in areas sacred to the Mapuche Tehuelche people — despite the many artifacts present in the area that have high cultural value, and despite the Mapuche Tehuelche people’s  opposition to mining. The company does not recognize the Mapuche Tehuelche or their community organizations, causing tension and conflict in the communities of La Meseta.
  • Pan American Silver bought the Escobal mine in spite of the fact that the mine’s very existence represents an act of discrimination against the Xinka. The Escobal was built despite widespread opposition and in violation of the Xinka’s rights to self-determination, and is located within a site sacred to the Xinka. In February 2019, Xinka communities held a ceremony at the site, but had to do so under the surveillance of Pan American Silver’s private security.

Community statements

Public Statement: Communities from the Meseta region in Argentina tell Pan American Silver to get out!

Public StatementTo the Mapuche Tehuelche People and the general population We, the undersigned Mapuche Tehuelche communities of the central northern “Meseta” region of Chubut, once again express our profound rejection of mega-mining. Specifically, we reject the Navidad Project, in the hands of Pan American Silver, for the following reasons: Mega-mining destroys elements of the natural world, of our territory, of the ñuke

August 4th, 2020|Categories: Articles|Tags: , , , , |

Community statements

Public Statement: Communities from the Meseta region in Argentina tell Pan American Silver to get out!

Public StatementTo the Mapuche Tehuelche People and the general population We, the undersigned Mapuche Tehuelche communities of the central northern “Meseta” region of Chubut, once again express our profound rejection of mega-mining. Specifically, we reject the Navidad Project, in the hands of Pan American Silver, for the following reasons: Mega-mining destroys elements of the natural world, of our territory, of the ñuke

August 4th, 2020|Categories: Articles|Tags: , , , , |