In addition to their vigil outside the gates of Canadian-owned Escobal Mine, Xinka protesters maintained a presence outside Guatemala’s Supreme court in advance of the court’s September decision to confirm suspension of the mine’s licence. The signs read, “No to influence trading on behalf of San Rafael Mining.” Photo courtesy of the Justice and Accountability Project

Probe sought into Canadian-owned mine in Guatemala

By 
  • January 9, 2019

In the absence of a long-promised federal ombudsperson, legal experts have asked the British Columbia Securities Commission to investigate the sale of a Canadian-owned silver mine in Guatemala.

It is one of the mines that prompted Canada’s bishops to write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 demanding accountability for Canadian overseas resource companies.

Shin Imai, an emeritus professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall, has officially asked securities regulators to look into a proposal by Pan American Silver Corp. to acquire Tahoe Resources Inc. Tahoe’s biggest asset is the world’s third largest silver mine, called the Escobal mine, just outside Guatemala City.

Imai has marshalled the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, which provides legal help to communities impacted by natural resource extraction, along with environmental lobbyists at Earthworks to demand a review of the proposed deal.

The Escobal mine has been a flashpoint since Canada’s Goldcorp began mineral exploration in the area in 2007, rising to a boil after Tahoe was granted a 25-year licence for the mine in 2013. That licence was suspended by Guatemala’s courts in 2017, and the decision was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Guatemala in September. 

Canada’s Jesuits, along with other international groups, expressed concern last year when human rights activist Ángel Estuardo Quevedo, a protester against the mine, was murdered two months before the Supreme Court’s latest decision on Tahoe’s mine.

Pan American has touted its acquisition of Tahoe to shareholders as a chance to create “the world’s premier silver mining company.” 

The mine, located 64 kilometres southeast of Guatemala City, is surrounded by farms and the town of San Rafael. It was shut down by a July 2017 court decision following complaints from the local Indigenous population of Xinka people, who said they were never consulted and the mine’s water use was damaging local farming and the environment.

Imai claims Pan American and Tahoe are trying to downplay the obstacles and investor risk to reopening the silver mine.

“The companies are not being forthright about what’s actually going on down there (in Guatemala),” Imai said.

The lawyer says the situation “elucidates why we need this ombudsperson.”

The Ombudsperson for Responsible Business Conduct Abroad was announced by Ottawa last January in response to years of lobbying, including almost 80,000 Development and Peace postcards delivered to Parliament in 2013. Despite announcing the new office a year ago, the government has not hired anyone to lead the office. 

A Global Affairs Canada spokesperson told The Catholic Register before Christmas the government is “taking the time needed to ensure an open, transparent and merit-based selection process is followed.”

Canada’s bishops believe Canadian law should apply to Canadian mining companies doing business abroad whenever local laws fall below Canadian standards.

“We also support in principle the creation of a law in our country that would allow these companies to be prosecuted under Canadian law for crimes committed abroad,” wrote Gatineau Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher in a letter to the government when he was president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2015.

Canada’s bishops pushed the matter again in 2017 in a letter from Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “When will the government of Canada respond to these repeated calls for improved oversight of Canadian extractive companies operating abroad?” Crosby asked.

The Canadian bishops’ stance reflects a position Pope Francis took in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

“It grieves us to see the lands of Indigenous peoples expropriated and their cultures trampled on by predatory schemes and by new forms of colonialism, fuelled by the culture of waste and consumerism,” Francis wrote.

Pan American rejects charges that it is downplaying the investment risks.

“The issues relating to the Escobal mine have been well-documented in the disclosure record of Tahoe Resources over the past several years, and Pan American Silver has further described these risks in our Nov. 14, 2018 press release,” Pan American spokesperson Siren Fisekci told The Catholic Register in an e-mail.

“Proper consultation with Indigenous groups and broader engagement with communities of interest are important to gaining the social acceptance for the Escobal mine to re-open,” Fisekci said. “Tahoe Resources is currently participating in this process, as will Pan American Silver.”

But Central American environmental lawyer and consultant Yanira Cortez-Estevez says the process is stalled and nobody is talking to the Xinka, who are camped outside the gates to the mine.

“They are in resistance mode and they say they will continue,” Cortez-Estavez wrote in an e-mail. 


Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you. 

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.