US Congress Calls on Guatemalan President to Halt Illegal Mining at La Puya
Opposition continues at La Puya four years after residents first physically blocked the entrance to a mining operation in their community – an ongoing act of non-violent resistance that has received global support. And in the last three months, residents’ arguments against the mine– legal, environmental and ethical – have been supported by the US Congress, the Municipal authorities, and Guatemalan courts.
Yet the US-owned mine continues to operate.
On October 26, 2015, 12 Congressional members sent a letter to interim Guatemalan President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre to raise concerns about abuses related to the El Tambor gold mine in San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala. Supported by GHRC, the letter calls on the President to use his authority to uphold human rights and to ensure that the mine’s owner–the US-based company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA)– promptly halts its illegal operations.
The letter responded to a Guatemalan court ruling on July 15, 2015, that found EXMINGUA, KCA’s subsidiary, has been operating the mine without valid municipal permits, did not consult with affected communities before the project began in accordance with Guatemalan and International law, and that the Environmental Impact Assessment was plagued with serious deficiencies. The court ordered an injunction against mining activities at El Tambor, a decision upheld after the company’s appeal.
When mining continued, community members and their lawyers requested the municipal government grant temporary protection measures, which were approved. On Jan. 5, officials from the municipality of San Pedro Ayampuc, accompanied by police officers, arrived at La Puya to take suspend work at the mine. Officials sealed the entrance
to the project with tape and banners in order to enforce the measures. This, too, was ineffective; in the early morning hours of Jan. 6, company employees and riot police arrived at La Puya and removed the tape and banners, allowing machinery and workers back into the mine site. Community members are now calling on Guatemala’s highest court to confirm the municipal injunction that demands closure of the mine.
The ongoing illegal mining operation is just one of many abuses KCA’s mine has caused at La Puya. There has been no justice for Yolanda Oquelí, shot in 2012 when leaving the community blockade, nor has there been redress for the excessive use of force used by police in 2014 during the violent eviction to force access to the mine.
Activists have also faced trumped-up charges, and the US Congressional letter specifically called on the Guatemalan government to take active steps to release wrongfully imprisoned community leaders and initiate dialogue with residents to peacefully resolve the conflict.
GHRC ́s support continues for the peaceful opposition to the mine at the Puya. Staff meet frequently with community members and their lawyers, and in August spoke directly with municipal authorities. GHRC is also urging the US Embassy to take concrete steps to address the illegal activities of a US company.