February 3, 2015
by Jackie McVicar
Today’s hearing to submit evidence in the criminal case against Tahoe Resources’ former head of security, Alberto Rotondo, was suspended until March 10 at 9am. Rotondo is accused of ordering private security to shoot 7 community activists who were peacefully protesting outside Tahoe Resources’ Escobal Mine in San Rafael Las Flores on April 27, 2013. After wire tap evidence in the case was produced by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, directly linking Rotondo with the shooting, he was apprehended at Guatemala City’s Aurora International Airport in the early hours just days after the attack. At the time, Rotondo was head of security for Minera San Rafael, Tahoe’s subsidiary in Guatemala. He now faces charges for assault and obstructing justice and and faces up to 28 years in jail if found guilty.
Apart from the serious charges now facing Mr. Rotondo, Canadian-owned Tahoe Resources has also been signaled out by national environmental and human rights organizations as having a policy of criminalization against community members not in favour of the mine. At the same time, international organizations charge that the company does not have the social license to operate in the area, and note that that the company has not taken into consideration the thousands of people who have voiced their opinion against resource extraction in the area. Minera San Rafael is also accused of using state security forces, such as in the May 2013 State of Siege that followed the shooting outside the mine, to pacify the region and allow mining to continue.
Meanwhile, community members allege that the company has already started contaminating water resources and in 2013, a criminal complaint for industrial water contamination was filed. On February 10, Minera San Rafael’s Carlos Monzon is expected to give his testimony as the case against the company moves forward. Monzon has been the legal representative of Minera San Rafael since February 4, 2013, just two months before the exploitation license was granted to the company to extract silver for a 25-year period.
In a related case heard today in Villa Nueva, Oscar Morales, community activist and leader from San Rafael Las Flores, where the Escobal mine is located, refused to plead guilty for uttering threats against the mine’s Manager of External Relations, Camilo Ernesto Medina Mazariego, in 2013. Morales’ lawyer, Rafael Maldonado from the Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action (CALAS) said in court that the evidence will show not only that Morales is not guilty, but that he is victim of a false complaint filed by company personnel in an ongoing attempt to criminalize community leaders. Since 2010, dozens of community members have had criminal complaints filed against them in relation to protesting the Escobal mine, the majority having the charges dropped after months of costly legal battles, due to lack of evidence. Kevin McArthur, President and CEO of Tahoe Resources has been summoned to give testimony about the company’s policy to criminalize those against the mine at the next hearing against Morales. The hearing is set for April 16.
In June 2014, the seven victims of the April 2013 shooting, who were allegedly shot at close range by Rotondo while trying to flee, filed a lawsuit in Canadian courts against the company. Tahoe Resources is owned 40% by Goldcorp Inc, which currently operates the controversial Marlin gold and silver mine in the Guatemalan Highlands. As national and international pressure mounts against Tahoe Resources, investors are also starting to question the company’s approach in the region. Just last week, Norway’s Council on Ethics recommended that Tahoe Resources be dropped from the Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) portfolio due to “unacceptable risk of the company contributing to serious human rights violations through its operation” at the Escobal mine. Today, North American organizations called on Tahoe Resources investors in Canada and the USA to do the same.