By Sandra Cuffe: CIM Magazine
Tahoe Resources’ fiercely contested Escobal silver mine in Guatemala will remain idled for the time being.
On Monday, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court upheld the suspension of the Nevada-based company’s mining licence, pending consultation with Indigenous Xinca residents of the surrounding area.
Tahoe Resources subsidiary Minera San Rafael had argued that Xinca people were not from the affected area, so there was no need for Indigenous consultation. Anthropological studies ordered by the court refuted that claim.
The court ordered the country’s Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) to carry out consultation immediately in compliance with the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.
“At this time, the Company does not have a timeline for completion of MEM’s ILO 169 consultation. However, in the similar case of OXEC [a hydroelectric dam project that the ministry was also ordered to conduct consultation for], MEM completed the consultation within six months,” Tahoe said in a statement Monday.
Tahoe did not respond to a CIM Magazine request for comment, but said in its statement that it would have further updates after the constitutional court issued a “formal resolution.”
According to the ruling, Escobal’s licence will only remain suspended until consultation is completed. After that, it is implied that operations may resume regardless of the outcome of the consultation process.
“Consultation should be seen as an intercultural dialogue in good faith, in which consensus and the reciprocal accommodation of the parties’ legitimate interests is sought,” noted the Constitutional Court ruling.
Juan Castro, a Guatemalan lawyer with the Bufete para Pueblos Indígenas, a law firm for Indigenous peoples, was critical of the consultation standards laid out in the ruling and what he considered the disregard for the principle of free, prior and informed consent.
“What we interpret is that they maintain that it is not necessary to obtain consent and that, instead, the result of the consultation is not binding,” Castro told CIM Magazine.
“The licence is suspended, but once they fulfill the consultation requirement the company can continue operating,” he said. “The tendency is to convert consultation into a simple requirement, as they have done in Peru.”
The Guatemalan government suspended its mining licence in July 2017 in response to the lawsuit against the MEM.
Located a 75-kilometre drive southeast of Guatemala City in San Rafael las Flores, in the Santa Rosa department, the mine, which started up in early 2014, was fast-tracked to production, moving from a preliminary economic assessment to commercial production in less than two years. In 2016 it produced over 21 million ounces of silver, making it one of the largest primary silver producers in the world. Conflict, violent confrontations and protests, however, have plagued the project.
“We do it for the children,” Máximo Abrego, a 79-year-old grandfather from Casillas, a town a few kilometres southwest of the mine, told CIM Magazine after the ruling. Abrego was one of the people from the regional resistance movement who have been camped out near the court in Guatemala City. Community members from the region around the mine have maintained a permanent presence outside the court since late last year. Residents are fighting to protect the water and land from pollution, he said.
Casillas has been the site of a partial road-block for more than a year. Vehicles suspected of carrying materials to the mine are prevented from passing.
Last month, residents of Mataquescuintla set up a similar roadblock along the highway north of the mine to prevent mine-related traffic from accessing the site from the other direction.
The road blocks will not end because of the court ruling, residents said.