A resident of Nueva Santa Rosa holds up her index finger after exercising her right to vote.   Delmi Arriaza
In July, almost 13,000 residents from two municipalities in the department of Santa Rosa voted against all mining projects on their land.  The municipalities are two of five in the department of Santa Rosa affected by the Escobal project, a silver deposit owned by Canadian company Tahoe Resources.  Since 2005, more than 700,000 people throughout Guatemala have democratically voted NO to large-scale development projects, such as mining and hydroelectric dams, in more than 60 community referendums.
Authorities prepare for the vote in the community El Anonillo of the municipality of Nueva Santa Rosa.  Francois Guindon
First Referendum in Santa Rosa: 98.87% say NO to Chemical Metal Mining
On July 3rd, 7,602 residents of the municipality of Nueva Santa Rosa participated in the community referendum.  The press release by CODIDENA (Consejo Diocesano de Defensa de la Naturaleza Santa Rosa, Guatemala), Lideres Principales Hablando del Pueblo Xin-Ka, the Colectivo Ecologista MadreSelva, CALAS, and WAQIB’ Kej stated: “The consultation convened by the City Council at the request of residents of the municipality, gave a result that clearly reflects the NO to mining and YES to Life, with 98.87% voting “No” and 1.13% voting “Yes.”
A resident of Joya del Cañal village votes in the referendum in Santa Rosa de Lima.  Francois Guindon
Second Referendum in Santa Rosa: 98.34% Say NO to Chemical Metal Mining

A week later, on Sunday, July 10th, the neighboring municipality of Santa Rosa de Lima organized the second community referendum in the region.  Late that evening, the mayor declared the municipality of Santa Rosa de Lima “Free of Chemical Metal Mining”.  Of the 5,338 residents that participated, 98.34% voted “No” and 1.66% voted “Yes” to metal mining projects.

The Escobal Project and Tahoe Resources

Tahoe Resources acquired the Escobal project from Goldcorp in 2010.  The founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Tahoe Resources, Kevin McArthur, was CEO of Glamis Gold and Goldcorp until 2008. 

After acquiring the Escobal project, McArthur expected little opposition from the local population. In September 2010, during a presentation at the Denver Gold Conference, McArthur stressed that “The Escobal project is in a region that is receptive to the mining industry…We are not in the Guatemalan Mayan highlands; we are down in the southeast portion of the country. We will not have the indigenous issues that Marlin and some of the other mines in the country have had.”

With a third referendum underway in another municipality near the Escobal project, the population is demonstrating its opposition to metal mining based on rights defined in Guatemala’s municipal code.  Tahoe Resources lawyers have challenged the validity of this type of referendum.

Meet Minera San Rafael S.A., a subsidiary of Tahoe Resources

On July 9th, a day before the referendum, residents of almost every village of Santa Rosa de Lima found thousands of pro-mining materials, including materials promoting Tahoe Resources subsidiary, San Rafael S.A.

Pamphlet “ABCs of Mining”: A) “Benefits of mining in our lives”, B) “Legal framework of Mining”, C) Collaboration between the Church and the mining sector”.
Pamphlet 2: “Nice to meet you, we are Minera San Rafael, S.A…If you have this informative text in your hands, it means  you and your family are willing to give  the development of Guatemala a chance.”

Pro-mining propaganda is not new in the region.  Transnational companies have spent large sums of money on publicity in mass media.  In San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, the community tabloid Buenos Días has been published since October 2010:

First issue of Buenos Días
Articles in the first issue of Buenos Días: “Mining in the Twenty First Century” and “Advice on How to Preserve the Environment at Home”.
For further information on the communities’ ongoing resistance to mining, please read COPAE’s photo essay: “The Destiny of San Rafael las Flores” (in Spanish).