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Guatemalan activist murdered near mine site

By Oxfam
The El Escobal silver mine, in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala, is partly owned by Canadian and US mining companies. Farmers in the area are critical of the mine and are opposing its expansion. Photo by James Rodriguez

Human rights groups are calling for investigation of the killing of a member of group critical of proposal to expand silver mine.

Oxfam’s office in Guatemala is joining with 23 other organizations to call for the government to investigate the murder of Telésforo Odilio Pivaral González, 33, member of the Committee for the Defense of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores, in the area near the El Escobal silver mine owned by the American/Canadian company Tahoe Resources.

According to the statement released by the members of the “Campaign to Defend Life and Rights: We are Human Rights Defenders” in Guatemala, Telesforo Pivaral died immediately after being attacked on Sunday 5 April “by unknown persons with firearms.” The statement added that Pivaral was married, and had six children between the ages of 1 and 11.

“As a member of the Committee for the Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores,” the statement reads, “Señor Telesforo Pivaral participated in actions protesting the establishment and expansion of mining projects in the region, and supporting municipal consultations of residents and peaceful actions of communities.” Residents of this area have been highly critical of the establishment of the silver mine in 2013, and are trying to block its proposed expansion. Pivaral lived in El Volcancito, one of the communities where the mining company was exploring for minerals.

With the support of a grant from the European Union, Oxfam is working to support human rights activists engaged on mining and other issues in Guatemala and Honduras. 

The statement from the human rights defenders group in Guatemala says the mining company has requested 16 licenses to explore for minerals in an area covering 2,400 square kilometers (960 square miles).

The area near the El Escobal silver mine has been a scene of conflict since the mine was established. Opponents of the mine have held numerous peaceful protests, however some were met with violence by mine guards and police Some of the communities in this agricultural area affected by the mine (or likely to be by its proposed expansion) have held votes, expressing their opposition to mining. Following one such referendum in 2013, the government sent in the military, and later falsely accused 17 people well known for their opposition to the silver mine of violent crimes.

The human rights campaign statement concludes:

“We express our deep outrage at this act of violence, which brings such pain and grief to the family of Mr. Telesforo Pivaral, as well as to the members of the Committee in Defense of Life and the Peace in San Rafael Las Flores, to whom we send our condolences and solidarity. We call upon the authorities involved to direct their best efforts to … find the perpetrators and masterminds of the assassination of Mr Telesforo Pivaral. We appeal to your commitment to the truth, and the fight against impunity in the country.”

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