On July 30th, 2019, lawyers representing four Guatemalan members of the peaceful resistance to the Escobal mine announced the conclusion of a precedent-setting lawsuit against Tahoe Resources, acquired in 2019 by Pan American Silver.
On April 27, 2013, Tahoe Resources’ private security opened fire on peaceful protestors who were standing outside the company’s flagship Escobal silver mine, in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores in southeastern Guatemala. At least six men and a teenager were seriously injured when they were shot at close range on a public access road while attempting to flee the violence. The lawsuit, filed in the Canadian province of British Columbia where Tahoe was headquartered, alleged that the company was negligent in the use of excessive force and should be held liable for significant harm caused to the plaintiffs.
The 2019 settlement came shortly after Pan American Silver acquired Tahoe Resources and included a public apology in which the company took responsibility for the shooting and the violation of the peaceful protestors’ human rights. Of note, this case marked the first time plaintiffs proved that Canadian courts are the right place to hear human rights claims against Canadian mining projects for abuses at an overseas project.
The settlement of the lawsuit in B.C. courts did not resolve, however, the outstanding criminal trial in Guatemala against the former head of mine security, Alberto Rotondo, who was caught on wiretap ordering the 2013 shooting of protestors and the destruction of evidence. Rotondo, a former military officer from Peru, was arrested days after the shooting as he attempted to flee the country. He was awarded house arrest despite the obvious flight risk, and fled to Peru in 2015 where he was re-arrested. Guatemala has initiated the extradition process in order to continue criminal prosecution, but little progress has been made to date.
Nor did the settlement resolve the issues underlying the ongoing and widespread community opposition to the Escobal mine, which was imposed on affected communities despite their broad opposition to the project. Tahoe Resources, with support from the Guatemalan government, used a militarized security strategy to suppress this opposition and put the mine into operation in early 2014. This gave rise to serious violence and repression against community members, including the criminalization of movement leaders. The 2013 shooting was only one example of this violence. For more information, see the “Larger Context.”
This case also forms part of a broader movement to defend land, the environment, and Indigenous rights in Guatemala, and is emblematic in the fight for corporate accountability given widespread human rights abuses tied to Canadian mining companies. To learn more, the verdict from the “Permanent People’s Tribunal: Canadian mining abuses in Latin America” provides an important overview. Five Canadian mining companies, including Tahoe Resources, were among the accused at this ethical tribunal, along with the Canadian government given its extensive promotion and protection of the Canadian mining industry abroad despite widespread abuse.
Shortly after Pan American Silver’s acquisition of Tahoe Resources, affected communities demanded the company respond: Why would Pan American Silver, which has branded itself as a socially responsible company, buy a mine that clearly violated Xinka Indigenous rights in Guatemala from the start, and continues to violate their rights today?
Pan American Silver has yet to respond.