Monday 8 April 2013

Spike in threats reported after Tahoe Resources receives mining licence for Escobal project in Guatemala

Location of Escobal mine (source:
Vancouver-headquartered Tahoe Resources has received the final mining license for its Escobal silver deposit in southeast Guatemala. The company has indicated that it is fully funded to complete preparation and move toward commercial production in 2014.

The stock jumped 10% on the news, pushing the company’s market capitalization to $2.7 billion. However, Ellen Moore of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala also stated that “since the licence was issued on Wednesday (April 3) there has been a spike in threats against vocal mine opponents.”

The announcement came less than two weeks after the abduction of four indigenous Xinca leaders who were returning from a community consultation on the effects of the mine. One of the leaders was later found dead. No one has been held accountable for the crimes. To date, community consultations have indicated that the majority of people living in the area are opposed to the mine.

Tahoe and its shareholders clearly have their sights set on big money: Escobal is expected to generate 20 million silver-equivalent ounces a year. Given that the mine’s cash costs are estimated to come under US$5 per ounce, and silver is now trading at over US$25 an ounce, Tahoe is looking at booking $400 million in profit off Escobal in the first 12 months of operation alone.

Upon announcing that the Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM) had approved Tahoe’s license, Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who was one of the four men abducted, made the following statement:

"That MEM issued the licence while the investigation of our friend Exaltación Marcos Ucelo's murder is still pending is not only an affront to Exaltación's memory, but it is also a violation of our right to consent. If there is impunity for outright murder, how can we expect the Guatemalan government to protect us from harmful contamination generated by mining operations?"

It should be noted that there is no evidence that the company was involved in any way in the abductions and murder, though there is suspicion that the perpetrators may belong to clandestine groups allegedly linked to the mine's private security and to the State security apparatus.

Rafael Maldonado of the Centre for Legal, Social and Environmental Action in Guatemala declared that the process to approve the licence was "illegal, arbitrary and obscure." As well, more than 4,300 individuals from 43 countries have signed a letter to Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, requesting her office involve the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in carrying out an investigation into the recent abductions and murder.

The mine is by no means a done deal. A criminal complaint has been filed against the mine for industrial contamination of the Los Esclavos River, and local and national human rights and environmental organizations have announced their intention to challenge the legality of the mining licence. 

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

For related articles please see:

March 20, 2013: Tensions rise after murder of Guatemalanindigenous activist opposed to Canada’s Tahoe Resources silver project

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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