|Buried in the lush hills of southern Guatemala lies silver, tonnes of it, one of the largest deposits in the world. The trouble lies above ground. On a dusty highway, peasant farmers stand praying in a circle, a makeshift roadblock intended to stop trucks reaching the mine. They have already been violently dispersed by police teargas. Now they fear the army might move in.|
The mine extracted more than $350m worth of silver last year. The protesters, men, women and children turning out for 12-hour vigils, eke out a meager living by farming coffee, maize and small herds of cattle.
Luis Fernando Monroy was shot three times in the face
|Since 2010 eight have been killed at Escobal. A handful of thugs have been prosecuted in connection with the killings, but none of the masterminds has been touched. There are currently at least 307 active mining licences in Guatemala, mainly in rural indigenous regions, according to Ministry of Energy and Mines. Almost 600 more are under consideration. Tahoe was granted a 25-year licence to exploit a 20 sq km area in San Rafael las Flores – almost a quarter of the municipality’s territory, despite numerous community votes against the mine.|
Days after the Escobal license was granted, seven protesters were shot outside the mine. Alberto Rotondo, then head of security who was fired by Tahoe soon after the event, was detained trying to flee Guatemala in 2013. He was held under house arrest but escaped with the help of his police guards and fled to Peru where he is awaiting extradition.
|In 2013, a few days after Fernando Monroy was shot, the government declared a state of siege around the mine and deployed troops. Dozens were detained arbitrarily for months. The siege was instigated after Tahoe attempted to sue the government to crackdown on protesters. One of three military bases set-up during the siege remains in place. On top of its own private security, Tahoe’s subsidiary funded a new police station near the mine.|
Impunity breeds violence says the NGO Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA). “The Guatemalan state is designed to guarantee private interests and ensure impunity for the most powerful.”
|Tahoe sees the violence differently. “There are a small number of vocal opponents who foment intimidation and violence in the region. This has led to a number of violent incidents which sometimes creates a general environment of impunity that violent activists foment,” said spokeswoman Edie Hofmeister.|
On July 6 Guatemala’s supreme court confirmed preliminary suspension of Tahoe’s Escobal mining licence citing violation of indigenous people’s rights. The country’s chief human rights prosecutor said “It’s been left to us to use the law to try and stop this vicious cycle of violence.”