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Guatemala: Conflict over mining fuels violence as companies fail to respect community rights


Mining is at the center of a campaign of repression and violence targeting environmentalists and human rights defenders in Guatemala. The government is violently quashing opposition, and foreign mining companies are pushing forward despite significant local opposition and the human rights violations taking place.


Tahoe Resources, a U.S.-Canadian company with offices in Nevada, owns the El Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores, which has been at the center of significant opposition and conflict.

The government has been targeting the most vocal opponents of mining with trumped-up false charges and arrests. The military and police, heavily armed, have come in to break up protests and the mining company has filed suits to block legal votes. Last year, mining company security guards opened fire on protestors, injuring several of them, and four indigenous community leaders were kidnapped after returning from a community referenda regarding mining. Oxfam called on the government of Guatemala to investigate the kidnapping of these four community leaders, one of whom was found dead in the following days. 

The government is “criminalizing” social protest against mining in the region of Santa Rosa and Jalapa and militarizing the region. On May 2, 2013, the government of Guatemala declared a state of siege in four towns where villagers were protesting Tahoe’s mine, sending in 8,500 troops and arresting several anti-mining leaders, who were later released due to a lack of evidence. Approximately one hundred human rights and environmental activists that oppose the Tahoe mine have been accused of false charges.

Tahoe CEO Kevin McArthur claims that the strongest support for the project comes locally and insists that there are no conflicts in San Rafael. The company also emphasizes its commitment to respect and sustainability. But the reality on the ground is dramatically different. Surrounding communities where Tahoe intends to expand have overwhelmingly rejected the mine in five municipal consultations (more than 98 percent of those consulted voted against mining in their territories) despite violence, intimidation, and a crack-down on protests.

The Canadian miner GoldCorp owns 40% of Tahoe and the only other mine currently operating in Guatemala, the Marlin Mine.  There has also been ongoing conflict around Marlin. Following recommendations from two international human rights bodies, Oxfam called for the suspension of operations at the mine while the government and company investigated a variety of violent acts in the area since the mine was established in 2005. The Maya indigenous majority living in areas near the mine is adversely affected by water and air pollution, and oppose to the environmental damage as a violation of their cultural values and human rights.

What Oxfam is doing

Oxfam is a relief and development organization that has carried out humanitarian and development projects in Guatemala for three decades. We’ve also been a global leader on addressing extractive industries issues that were once obscure on the international development agenda. Our Extractive Industries Global Program is rooted in deep relationships with local partners in 13 countries, including Guatemala, and seeks policy change through local-global research, advocacy and campaigning strategies.

Oxfam America is working with national and local organizations in Guatemala to inform communities about the possible effects of mining projects in their communities and their rights to information and participation in decision-making.

We have been funding part of the work of CALAS and Madreselva, two environmental and human rights organizations leading the defense of human rights and human rights activists in San Rafael Las Flores and the surrounding region, as well as the Consejo de Pueblos de Occidente, an indigenous organization in the western highlands that promotes the right of local populations to know and decide on projects that may affect them. This work is complemented by popular campaigning in the U.S. to support Oxfam’s partners in Guatemala. All of this is part of a larger program to help communities defend their rights to be consulted about oil, gas, and mining projects.

Take Action

Foreign companies – from the U.S. and Canada – need to respect Guatemala’s right to decide about mining. Conflict erupting into violence and human rights abuses is not the “cost of operating” in Guatemala. Visit our Extractive Industries page to find out more about how you can get involved.  

More Resources

Related publications:

Metals mining and sustainable development in Central America: An assessment of benefits and costs

Related blogs:

Oxfam very concerned about violent acts in Guatemala

Guatemala's president proposes 2-year mining moratorium

Marlin Mine: Violence and pollution lead to call for suspension Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+