Since early June, community members affected by the Escobal mine in San Rafael las Flores, Santa Rosa have held a permanent encampment 15 km from the entrance of the mine. Communities from 7 municipalities rotate in 24-hour shifts and serve as a check-point for mine-related traffic. Any vehicles owned or contracted by the mine are sent back, while all other traffic flows as normal. The communities are protesting the constant tremors they believe are the result of mining activities, the daily heavy truck traffic, mounting environmental impacts, and the lack of respect for the 18 municipal and community referendum rejecting the project. This check-point has effectively stopped mine production over the past four months. The Escobal mine is owned by Minera San Rafael, subsidiary of Tahoe Resources, a Canadian-US company.
Since the encampment began, Minera San Rafael has criminalized protesters. The latest incident occurred this week, when trucks from the mine tried to pass through the check-point on Tuesday, September 26. After trucks were turned around peacefully, the company immediately released various press releases in national papers, stating the highway was blocked in a “violent manner” and made a “call on citizens in general and the State to stop this illegal and premeditated blockade, avoiding violence and peacefully end the pressure of groups who only want to stop work and progress.” This statement is worrisome and sends a threatening message to communities who are defending their rights.
This latest attempt to enter the push through the check-point came after a decision by the Guatemalan Supreme Court to uphold a decision by the Constitutional Court which states that the indigenous Xinka people were not properly consulted before mine exploitation. However unlike the Constitutional Court decision, the Supreme Court decision states the mine can continue operations while the consultations are carried out. Appeals have been submitted on this decision, therefore it is not considered a final sentence. Despite the fact the check-point in Casillas is not related to the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court decisions, Minera San Rafael has tried to state the protest should be forced to end and mine operations should proceed as before.
This is not the first time the permanent encampment has been met with protest. On June 22, riot police attacked protesters shooting tear gas at the crowd. Protesters were able to peacefully resist and continue the encampment.
There is continued concern for more attempts by Mina San Rafael and Tahoe Resources to criminalize and attack the peaceful resistance. Please stay tuned for upcoming actions.