Guatemala: emergency over mining protests

The Guatemalan government declared a state of emergency and banned public gatherings May 2 in four municipalities in the eastern highlands following clashes between police and anti-mining protesters.  The 30-day “state of siege” effects Jalapa and Mataquescuintla (Jalapa department), and Casillas and San Rafael las Flores (Santa Rosa department). (See map.) Constitutional guarantees are suspended, and the powers of local municipalities dissolved, placing them under the direct control of Pesident Otto Pérez Molina. Clashes between local residents and National Police and security guards this week left one officer dead, six residents wounded, and police cars burned near the Escobal silver mine at San Rafael las Flores. Protesters also briefly detained 23 police officers. The government says the protesters are armed with guns and explosives. The mine’s owner, Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources Inc., said protesters armed with machetes “turned hostile” at the gate on on April 27, and security guards fired tear gas and rubber bullets, setting off days of angry protests.

Authorities detained Tahoe’s Guatemala security manager on as he eas trying to leave the country April 30, although he has not been charged with any crimes. Tahoe Resources says it expects development of the Escobal mine to commence shortly. Residents say they fear the underground mine will dry up local springs and water sources. Ira Gostin, vice president of investor relations for Tahoe Resources, said complaints that the mine could affect the springs “are totally unfounded.”

In September, a Guatemalan judge and a work crew were pelted with stones and detained by protesters at the site where a power line was being built to connect the Escobal silver project to the grid. Tahoe says it employs some 665 workers at Escobal, 96% of them Guatemalan, with 1 300 more contractors. (Prensa Latina, AP, UDW, May 2; Mining Weekly, May 1)

After more than two years of delay, Guatemala’s Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM) announced April 3 approval the exploitation license for the Escobal mine. The announcement came less than two weeks after four indigenous Xinca leaders were abducted while returning from a community referendum in El Volcancito, in which more than 99% of people voted against the Escobal project. One of those abducted was found dead the next day. (CIEL-NISGUA via UDW, April 10)