Neither are San Rafael Las Flores, Nueva Santa Rosa, Mataquescuintla, Jalapa nor Santa Rosa de Lima.

In 2005, the communities of Sipakapa carried out one of the first community consultations on mining in Guatemala, taking a stand against Canadian giant, Goldcorp Inc., and sparking a movement that has resulted in over 70 referenda throughout the country to date.

Communities opposing mining in their territory warn of environmental destruction, poisoned water sources and community division. Goldcorp’s Marlin mine, which began extracting gold in 2005, has soundly delivered on all three of the concerns outlined by affected communities, while Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, which began commercial production a month ago, seems poised to follow suite.

In addition to expanding the Marlin mine to include extraction from underground tunnels, Goldcorp and Guatemalan subsidiary EntreMares, have initiated development of a new open pit project named Los Chocoyos in neighboring Sipakapa. The Los Chocoyos license was granted in 2006 and renewed twice before the Environmental Impact Assessment was approved in February 2013, giving the go ahead for exploitation at the mining site. While Goldcorp lauds the municipal government of Sipakapa for its support of mining, the company fails to recognize that public opinion is divided and widespread opposition exists.

In May 2013, the Maya Sipakapense Council and over one thousand supporters gathered in front of the municipality to express their opposition to the municipal government’s proposal to repeat the 2005 community consultation, which voted against mineral exploitation in their territory. In June, thousands marched to celebrate the eighth anniversary of their consultation. In September, hundreds of protesters temporarily blocked the Inter-American Highway to demand an end to Goldcorp’s Marlin operations. A month later, community members gathered again to call on the mayor to respond to concerns previously presented by communities and to put an end to the municipal government’s stigmatization of community leaders opposing mining.

Community members gather in the municipal hall to commemorate the 8th
anniversary of the community consultation in Sipakapa (Photo SaraGuate)
Communities opposed to Goldcorp’s Los Chocoyos project
march in Sipakapa (Photo SaraGuate)

In December, representatives from the Maya Sipakapense Council and the Western People’s Council (CPO) presented a legal action against the Director of the Ministry of Energy and Mines for violation of the right to free, prior and informed consent as outlined in ILO Convention 169 regarding Indigenous Peoples and supported by a 2011 ruling in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.

“The Maya Sipakapense People will not allow more abuse and displacement. It is for these reasons that on December 11, 2013, we presented a Constitutional complaint… in order to achieve, in a legal and peaceful way, the annulment of the Los Chocoyos license and the immediate departure of the mining company.” – Press release Maya Sipakapense Council, January 14, 2014

In a political action intended to draw attention to the December legal complaint, thousands of protesters gathered on January 14 to express their opposition to Goldcorp’s newest project. Community members from surrounding departments and municipalities, many of whom also oppose Goldcorp projects in their territory, joined the Sipakapense people, to form a peaceful march of an estimated 5,000 people. During the course of the day, a worker was taken into custody by those gathered as a pressure tactic. The police responded by apprehending two protesters. Shortly after, those captured on both sides were released.
Protesters in Pie de la Cuesta demand the suspension
of Goldcorp’s Los Chocoyos mine (Photo CPO)

Protests and marches are often considered a “last resort” by communities that have attempted for years to express their opposition to projects through legal actions and community referenda without results. One reason why protest has become so costly in Guatemala is that community leaders and human rights defenders at the forefront of movements in defense of territory are often slapped with unfounded legal suites filed by companies or their associates with the purpose of undermining and criminalizing social movements.

Not surprisingly, less than a month after the January march, 13 legal cases were filed in San Marcos against community members from Sipakapa for alleged criminal activities carried out on they day of the January 14 protest. The 13 community members include seven people from Pie de la Cuesta, the location of the Los Chocoyos project, the January 14 protest, as well as home to numerous members of the Maya Sipakapense Council. For many, the accusations come as a complete surprise, as they were in the neighboring municipality of San Miguel Ixtahuacán holding a press conference on the day of the protest.

As Goldcorp continues to expand, so does community opposition and increased social conflict. Tahoe Resources, a company made up of 40% Goldcorp investment shares and that has structured its management team around ex-Goldcorp employees, most importantly former Glamis Gold CEO Kevin McArthur, is unsurprisingly following in Goldcorp’s shameful footsteps. Since Tahoe began the development of its Escobal silver mine in the department of Santa Rosa in southeastern Guatemala, the communities surrounding the project have experienced conflict, violence and massive criminalization of peaceful protest.

Santa Rosa de Lima No se vende – protest on February 14
against Tahoe Resources voluntary royalties (Photo Parlamento Xinca)
Tahoe Resources has brushed off community opposition by claiming that protesters are shipped in from neighboring municipalities who are unaffected by the silver project. The case of Sipakapa and the fact that Tahoe and Goldcorp mining concessions extend into the nearby municipalities of Jalapa, Santa Rosa de Lima and Nueva Santa Rosa, Casillas, Jutiapa and Mataquesquintla, clearly demonstrate that Tahoe will not stop at the Escobal mine. Sipakapa serves as an example that community opposition, despite setback and division, will not stop either.
With information from Breaking the Silence Network