Stories on Canadian mining in Guatemala

At around 6 p.m. on April 27, 2013, about 20 protesters left their encampment and began marching toward the entrance of the Escobal mine. They were close by around 7 p.m., just as the sky was starting to get dark.

Artemio Castillo Herrera says he was the first to get hit.

“They didn’t say anything to us, they just open-fired on us,” said the 50-year-old farmer from San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. “People started running in all directions and they started chasing us on foot and shooting at us.”

Herrera took two 9mm bullets in his leg, and 12 shotgun pellets in his back. He didn’t fall; he just remembers running and thinking: ‘this is it, I’m dead.’

Several men were shot that day by the private security personnel contracted to protect the Escobal mining project, which is owned by U.S.- and Canada-based mining company Tahoe Resources through its Guatemalan subsidiary Minera San Rafael.

In a public statement at the time, the company’s CEO Kevin MacArthur stated that the protesters were armed with machetes, and that the security force responded to what became a hostile situation with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“Our investigation has shown that only non-lethal measures were taken by our security,” he said in a release issued by Tahoe.

Herrera disagrees.

He describes by memory the injuries suffered by himself and the six other men who have filed a lawsuit with the B.C. Supreme Court against Tahoe Resources: Luis Fernando Garcia Monroy took a bullet through his mouth that shattered his jaw, he says. Adolfo Augustin Garcia was shot in the back as he ran away, and Wilmer Francisco Perez Martinez in the back and near his neck.

Herrera’s son, Erick, was shot in the leg. And he says the bullet the doctors extracted was real, not rubber.

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Canada is home to some of the world’s biggest gold, silver and metal companies who extract at home and abroad. While the processes may be the same, the contexts in which they take place – the politics and culture of mining – are a world apart when comparing Canada to a country like Guatemala. 

It’s a controversial industry, regardless whether it’s highly regulated or not. Education and emotion, especially with little of the former and too much of the latter, causes disruption to local communities, way of life, and business. Confusion, challenged communication and controversy happen on both sides. There’s conflict, but there are also successes. Each person you talk to will paint a starkly different picture of what mining in Central America looks like. And trying to figure out how these fit into a larger theme is like being handed a Pollock, Rembrandt and some Warhol pop art and told to make a neatly curated collection.

This January, I spent two weeks in Central America looking at how Canadian-owned companies operate in the region. The introduction above leads into the second link below. ‘Goldcorp’s Marlin mine’ was published as the cover story in Business in Vancouver‘s quarterly mining report this week.

They’re two of many stories – big, small and anecdotal – that came out of the trip. And if they all tie into a single theme, it’s that everything about mining in Guatemala is complicated.

Read: Goldcorp’s Marlin mine: a decade of operations and controversy in Guatemala

Read: Controversy over pros and cons of Escobal silver mine divides rural Guatemalan region

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