The Escobar Mine


On February 19th, 2013, UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business announced a donation of $500 000 from Vancouver-based mining company Goldcorp. The donation was set up specifically for the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI) to promote their work on social and sustainability issues with respect to business. The latest news coming from Guatemala related to what is going one around Goldcorp’s, and its subsidiary in Tahoe Resources’, “Escobar” mine could give us a glimpse of what Goldcorp currently does with regards to social and environmental concerns around their latest project.

On March 18th, 2013, less than a month after the donation to UVic, Goldcorp’s subsidiary Tahoe Resources was associated with kidnappings and assassination. On the evening of Sunday, March 17th, 2013, four Indigenous Xinca (Shinka) leaders were allegedly abducted after participating as observers at a public community consultation process regarding the Escobar Mine project by Tahoe resources (Goldcorp owns 40 per cent of its shares). Of the four people kidnapped, three of them are said to have escaped while the last one, Exaltacion Marcos Ucelo, was found dead the next morning.

The Escobar silver mine is located near the town of San Rafael Las Flores, about 45 miles southeast of the capital Guatemala City. Local residents, mostly Xinca Indigenous peoples, are opposed to the mine which they say will threaten their water supply and compromise their local environment. During the consultation process, the community claimed 99 per cent of a vote with a firm “No” to the Escobar Mine.

On April 3rd, the Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines granted Tahoe Resources the permit to begin the extraction of resources at the mine. This has resulted in escalating popular unrest in the community of San Rafael Las Flores. A communal encampment in front of the mine started five days after the project got the government’s permit to mine minerals.

On April 27th, 2013, security guards at Escobar fired on peaceful protesters, wounding eight people. Tahoe Resources says that the security force used only “non-lethal” means — tear gas and rubber bullets — to suppress the protest, while protesters have reported that several people were struck by live ammunition. A local resident told the blog Prensa Communitaria that the head of security had “ordered the guards to shoot, saying that they were tired of this garbage, referring to our people. They insulted them and then loaded their shotguns and began to fire from inside.”

On May 2nd, 2013, the Guatemalan government announced a 30-day state of siege in the area surrounding the Escobar Mine, to re-establish order in the area. The state of siege suspends freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and protest, and certain rights of detainees and prisoners. The governmental report does not mention the mine; it only mentions the crimes that have occurred in the area, such as homicides, kidnappings and the destruction of government property. “We fear for the lives of our leaders,” stated a message circulated online by the Xinka People’s Parliament, denouncing the mobilization of armed forces around the Escobar Mine.

Although the conflict around the Escobar Mine will not be resolved easily, it is a good example of the social practices promoted by Goldcorp’s subsidiary Tahoe Resources.

German Ocampo submitted this article through the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group.