Every year in May, the Mining Association of British Columbia (MABC) holds the “BC Mining Person of the Year Award” gala. Illustrious past winners include Pierre Lebel of Imperial Metals (Mount Polley Mine) and John McManus of Taseko Mines (New Prosperity Mine). This year, Mining Justice Alliance will hold our own gala to celebrate the recipients of the first ever BC Mining Resisters of the Year Awards. We will honour mining resisters who have stood up for rights, justice and self-determination, facing up to a powerful state-sponsored industry whose track record of injustice should not be celebrated. To find out more and nominate a BC Mining Resister of the Year, click here.
BC Mining Resisters: Diocesan Coordinating Committee in Defence of Nature (CODIDENA) and the Peaceful Resistance of Santa Rosa, Jalapa and Jutiapa (In Guatemala)
Nominated by: Coalition Against Unjust Mining in Guatemala (CAMIGUA)
What are the issues faced by the nominee and local communities?
Endemic to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mining project has been the criminalization, militarization and violence targeted at undermining the peaceful resistance to the mine. Xinca leaders have been kidnapped, tortured and on March 18, 2013, elder and secretary of the Xinka Parliament, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo was murdered. In April 2014, Topacio Reynoso, a member of youth collectives in the area was murdered for her role in resistance.
There has been constant resistance to the project including 18 local votes that were organized at the village and municipal level in which 10s of thousands of people voted against any mining activity in the area. Houses have been falling down in villages closest to the mine, there are early indications of water contamination and acid mine drainage from the mine, sources of water have dried up, and people have had to expend tremendous resources and energy to continually protest the mine for years. There are continuing threats of further criminalization and violence against the peaceful protest in Casillas that has been ongoing since June 2017.
What is most important and inspiring about the nominee’s work?
We are inspired by the tenacity and clarity of the local resistance over 7 years among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the area. Of their ability to share leadership among many people in order to avoid individualizing the struggle and making people more of a target of criminalization and violence. We are also amazed that the strength of the broad opposition at the local level has led to five mayors refusing royalty payments from the company since 2015, even though these could actually double their municipal budgets in some cases. Avoiding dependence on the short-term economic benefits from the mine is important to maintaining the commitment to fight for healthy water, land and social fabric. Young people have played a dynamic and creative role in sustaining this long-term struggle against the project. Despite her tragic death in 2014, Topacio continues to inspire young people in the area.
How have governments and the company responded?
The company, its supporters (e.g. contractors and suppliers) in collaboration with the Guatemalan government responded with a militarized security strategy that has continuously sought to demonize and criminalize the peaceful resistance with the aim of weakening and fragmenting it. The resistance, however, has had some success in Guatemalan courts that have recognized the legitimacy of local votes as a means of setting public policy at the municipal level, as well as the failure of the Ministry of Energy and Mines – and by extension Tahoe Resources – to consult or even recognize the presence of Indigenous peoples in the affected area of the mine.
The BC mining company: Vancouver-based Tahoe Resources
Tahoe Resources is the brainchild of former Goldcorp CEO, Kevin McArthur. It was exclusively to develop the El Escobal silver/gold mine in Eastern Guatemala. Goldcorp had been frustrated in the western highlands of Guatemala, with highly organized and persistent opposition to its Marlin gold mine (though this massively destructive open pit mine was ultimately pushed through.)
Opposition to the Escobal mine began almost immediately after the announcement of its go-ahead in 2007. Leading opposition were indigenous leaders from the Chorti, Pocoman and Xinca nations. Despite this resistance the project was nonetheless was rammed through, with the final license being granted on April 3, 2013, at a meeting with mining officials, government officials of the corrupt President Otto Perez Molina (now in jail) and the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala at the time.
“They talked about money and not about the problems that the mine would cause. What am I supposed to say to my neighbours when they tell me there’s no more water? What am I supposed to say to the people who can’t sell their vegetables because the water is polluted? How am I going explain to my children’s children the reason why they live in a polluted village? Am I just supposed to hand them some money?” — Hugo Loy, mayor of Mataesquintla
Join us to celebrate BC Mining Resisters of the Year at the GALA OF RESISTANCE on Monday, May 7th in Vancouver, BC.