Guatemala mining conflict: Canadian-based firm’s security chief caught on audio ordering murder of activists

Guatemalan prosecutors recently disclosed wiretapped conversations from a Candian-owned mining project’s chief of security giving orders for guards to kill environmentalist and indigenous activists (Guatemala Times, 9 May 2013; Siglo.21, 9 May 2013).

Alberto Rotondo was the head of security for Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mining project in San Rafael Las Flores, which resides in the southeast department of Santa Rosa. Rotondo is currently under house arrest on charges relating to assaults against anti-mining protesters. Quotes from the recently released piece of evidence include: “goddamn dogs, they do not understand that the mine generates jobs,” “we must eliminate these pieces of animal shit,” and “kill those sons of bitches.” He was arrested at La Aurora International Airport after telling his son in a wiretapped conversation that he would need to to flee the country to “avoid problems with the law.”

Tahoe Resources, Inc. is a Candian-based mining company with US offices in Reno, Nevada. The company was founded by ex-Goldcorp president and CEO Kevin McArthur in 2010. The Escobal mine was originally a Goldcorp project and it began when the company obtained an exploration license in 2007. In 2010, Tahoe Resources bought 60% of the shares in the Escobal project (MiMundo.org, 28 March 2012). Goldcorp has a long and bitter relationship with Guatemalan communities that oppose its projects on environmental grounds (Al-Jazeera, 24 November 2012).

On 17 March 2013, four members of an indigenous activist group were kidnapped by armed masked men while traveling home from a public referendum on the Escobal mine. While three managed to escape one of the members turned up dead the next day (Mining Watch Canada, 20 March 2013; Rights Action, 27 March 2013).

From freelance journalist Sandra Cuffe, earlier this month:

Fifty miles southeast of the capital, private security guards working for Vancouver-based mining firm Tahoe Resources shot and wounded several local residents on Saturday in San Rafael Las Flores, on the road in front of Tahoe’s El Escobal silver mine. […] Following a Cabinet meeting late last night, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina declared a 30-day State of Siege in four municipalities around the El Escobal mining project: San Rafael Las Flores and Casillas in the department of Santa Rosa, and Jalapa and Mataquescuintla in the department of Jalapa. The measure is in effect as of today. Initial reports indicated that the constitutional rights suspended include freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and protest, and certain rights of detainees and prisoners (Upside Down World, 2 Mar 2013).

The double standard of the Guatemalan government’s approach to both sides in the conflict is rather blatant. Tahoe Resources security official Alberto Rotondo is merely under house arrest and allowed full legal representation after being caught authorizing murder while mine opponents are being detained without charge under Pérez Molina’s state of siege (Guatemala Times, 9 May 2013).

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