During the early hours of Thursday, May 2, one day after the first anniversary of the state of siege in Santa Cruz de Barillas, Huehuetenango, the Guatemalan government declared another state of siege in four municipalities surrounding Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine. The imposition of martial law comes less than one month after Minera San Rafael, Tahoe Resources wholly-owned Guatemala subsidiary, received its final permit for mineral exploitation. The permit was granted without the consent of the affected communities and in a context of escalating violence and criminalization against human rights defenders and their legal council.
Over the past three years, four municipalities, including two of those currently under a state of siege, carried out municipal level community referenda rejecting mining projects in their territory. During the past two months, eight villages in San Rafael Las Flores have carried out community referenda, given that attempts to organize a municipal level consultation were thwarted by legal appeals and injunctions filed by individuals who work for Minera San Rafael. In each of these referenda, the population voted overwhelmingly against the Escobal project.
|“With the referedum we decide our future” Banner of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace (Photo: NISGUA)
In a press conference yesterday, President Otto Pérez Molina and Minister of the Interior Mauricio López Bonilla explained that the suspension of basic civil liberties is in effect for the municipalities of Casillas and San Rafael Las Flores, in the department of Santa Rosa, as well as Jalapa and Mataquescuintla, in the department of Jalapa.
|State of siege in Santa Rosa and Jalapa (Photo: MiMundo.org)
While Pérez Molina and López Bonilla claim the state of siege is not in response to mine opposition, their actions suggest otherwise. Prominent community activists, members of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace, and leaders of the community referenda in San Rafael, had their homes raided by police early Thursday morning. The government has issued at least 18 arrest warrants for individuals allegedly involved in delinquent acts, including Roberto Gonzalez president of the Xinca Parliament and Rudy Pirvaral of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace.
In statements to the press Bonilla attempted to explain that mining opposition has been used as a pretext for the establishment of organized crime in the region. “There is a difference between legitimate conflict and pseudo-conflict…by saying that they are opposing