Monthly Archives: August 2014

Former uranium miner to pay $500,000 for clean-up in the U.S.

Former uranium miner to pay $500,000 for clean-up in the U.S.

Homestake Mining, a former uranium miner, has been ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pay $500,000 for clean-up at its four abandoned uranium mines in the Mariano Lake and Smith Lake on the Navajo Nation’s lands.

“EPA has a polluter pays policy that seeks to make those responsible for environmental damage pay for the clean-up,” said in a statement Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Administrator in the Pacific Southwest Region.

Former uranium miner to pay $500,000 for clean-up in the U.S.

Over the next few months, Homestake will have to conduct extensive radiation survey of the mine sites to measure risks, backfill open holes and mitigate surface features that pose physical threats to people or animals.

The company will also have to post bilingual warning signs around the sites, as well as sample surface and subsurface soils in the areas around the mines. This first phase of clean-up of the uranium contamination is expected to be completed by fall 2015.

The Mariano Lake mine operated as a uranium mine from 1977 to 1982. From 1944 to 1986 nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore was extracted from mines on lands belonging to the Navajo Nation, which holds nearly 70,000 square km of land spread over three states in the Four Corners area of the U.S. Southwest.

Images courtesy of EPA.


Deadly clashes continue at African Barrick gold mine

Geoffrey York

JOHANNESBURG — The Globe and Mail

A bulldozer moves rubble as villagers search for tiny flecks of gold contained in discarded waste rock from the North Mara mine in the district of Nyangoto, Tanzania, on Saturday, July 31, 2010. Barrick Gold Corp.’s North Mara mine near the Tanzanian border with Kenya disgorges millions of pounds of waste rock each week, piled high around communities where almost half the people live on less than 33 cents a day. (Trevor Snapp/Bloomberg)

Police have killed more villagers in clashes at a controversial Tanzanian gold mine owned by a Barrick Gold Corp. subsidiary, despite the company’s pledges to reduce the violence, researchers say.

The researchers, including a law firm and two civil society groups, say they’ve received reports that as many as 10 people have been killed this year as a result of “excessive force” by police and security guards at the North Mara mine, owned by African Barrick Gold, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Barrick.

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A spokesman for African Barrick confirmed to The Globe and Mail that “fatalities” have occurred in clashes at the mine site this year, but declined to estimate how many. It is up to the Tanzanian police to release the information, he said.

Tanzanian police have repeatedly refused to give any details on fatalities at the site. Dozens of villagers have been killed by police at the mine in the past several years, according to frequent reports from civil society groups. The company occasionally confirms some of the deaths, including a clash in which police killed five people in 2011.

The deadly clashes occur when villagers walk into the mine site in search of waste rock, from which small bits of gold can be extracted. Hundreds or even thousands of “intruders,” as they are known locally, can be involved.

Barrick has signed agreements with the Tanzanian police to help provide security at the site. But villagers say the police routinely accept bribes in exchange for access to the site – and then sometimes shoot villagers in disputes over access. Police, too, have been injured by villagers throwing stones or wielding crude tools.

In 2011, African Barrick announced a series of steps to reduce the violence. It allocated $14-million for the construction of a three-metre-high concrete wall for 14 kilometres around the mine site. It hired a consulting company to instruct the Tanzanian police on “international standards” of human rights. And it announced a series of community projects to improve relations with the seven villages surrounding the gold mine, with more than $15-million in company funding.

African Barrick says it managed to reduce the number of “intruders” at the site by 35 per cent in 2013, after five consecutive years of increasing numbers. But it declined to say whether fatalities have increased or decreased this year, or even whether it is able to keep track of those deaths.

The company also acknowledged that it had provided compensation “packages” to more than 60 villagers who have complained of violence by police or security guards at the North Mara site.

Leigh Day, a London-based law firm that represents many villagers who allege that they or their family members were victims of police shootings at North Mara, says at least 10 villagers were killed at the mine site this year, many of them as a result of police shootings. It provided the dates of each of the alleged fatalities, and the names of several of the victims.

African Barrick said “a number” of these deaths “correspond with incidents reported to the mine.” But it said some of the deaths may have resulted from fights among the intruders, or accidental falls in the mining pit.

Two civil society groups, Ottawa-based MiningWatch Canada and a British group known as Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), visited the mine site and surrounding villages in June and July, including hospitals and clinics around the site. They said they interviewed a doctor who had counted 10 deaths as a result of police gunshots at the site in a two-month period.

The groups also alleged that African Barrick’s staff have obtained the medical records of victims of police shootings and routinely question and photograph injured people as they await treatment. Asked about this allegation, the company did not comment.

“We are deeply concerned not only about the clear patterns we discern in the excessive use of force at the mine, but also about the intimidation, persecution, and invasion of privacy suffered by victims and their families in the aftermath of violence by mine security,” said Patricia Feeney of RAID.

African Barrick disputes the fatality toll cited by the two groups. But in many cases, victims are taken to clinics far from the mine, to avoid the police, so their deaths might be unknown to the company, the groups say.

A British all-party parliamentary group is also investigating the police shootings at North Mara, since African Barrick is headquartered in London.

The company acknowledged that one villager was killed by police in a clash in January, but did not give details of other deaths. It said the clashes were caused by “illegal, armed and violent intruders” who “systematically” steal gold-bearing rocks and other property.

The Tanzanian police are required to receive human rights training before they are assigned to any of African Barrick’s mine sites, the company said.

“It is only in very rare cases and extreme circumstances and when all alternatives have been exhausted that the police intervene in confrontation with intruders,” a company statement said. “We regret any loss of life at the mine and continually strive to improve relations with local community members to reduce instances of trespass.”

In addition to the shootings, the police have also been accused of sexual assault. Last December, African Barrick revealed that it gave cash payments and other compensation to 14 women who were sexually assaulted by police and security guards at the mine site.



Turkana’s oil benefits bypass the local poor

By Eva Constantaras

Thursday January 9th, 2014

In early November 2013, protests by local residents forced a two-week shutdown of Tullow Oil’s operations in Turkana, the most impoverished region of Kenya. A year earlier, an oil discovery raised hopes of a rebirth for the community. But promised benefits for the locals, many of whom are being affected or displaced by the drilling operations, are far from being achieved.

After the protest, Tullow Oil, the British company that started drilling this arid land, and the Ministry of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The agreement resulted in the company’s doubling its annual social investments to Sh340 million (2.9 million Euros) in exchange for more government security. Most of the citizens who participated in the protests have no idea whether the contents of the confidential document satisfy their demands. The Land Quest team obtained an exclusive copy of the document, which is available here.

At the heart of the tension between the community, the investor and the company, lies the lack of a community investment model developed mutually and publically. The local community has no idea in the long-term how it will benefit from the new oil find.

Local civil society groups and European NGOs worry that any investments developed by Tullow Oil will amount tounsustainable and inefficient handouts at best, and influence buying at worst. Either case could prove incendiary in an already tense situation.

The majority leader of the Turkana County Assembly, the Hon Patrick Losike, was not privy to the MoU, but said Tullow Oil employs some locals from Turkana, the Kenyan region with the worst unemployment rates, and provides some scholarships. He feels, however, that the community is unprepared to formulate their demands adequately. “There is a need for the community to be provided with knowledge and training to protect themselves from upcoming hazards from these resources,” he said.

Even a simple water tank and kiosk such as this one built by Oxfam with European Commission funding in a village just west of Lake Turkana requires assessments, community management training and monitoring to become sustainable.

Even a simple water tank and kiosk such as this one built by Oxfam with European Commission funding in a village just west of Lake Turkana requires assessments, community management training and monitoring to become sustainable.

The Kenya Oil & Gas Working Group, part of a network of civil society organizations that form Community Action for Nature Conservation, formed in 2009 to fill this knowledge gap. They do it educating citizens on their rights. With a clear focus: help citizens seek compensation if mining companies displaced them from their grazing areas and prepare them for the “what ifs” when big change brought on by the oil discovery comes.

Local non-governmental organizations report that tensions were already running high after only two of 20 post-graduate scholarships offered by Tullow went to Turkana residents. According to the Tullow scholarship website, up to six post-graduate degrees will be awarded to Kenyans for the 2013/2014 academic year but there is no stated preference for Turkana applicants, who believe they should receive special preference as the resources are located in their impoverished county.

Martin Mbogo Country Manager for Tullow Oil in Kenya said Tullow has constructed classrooms, funded bright, needy students for four years in the secondary, rehabilitating clinics, drilled boreholes and piped water to homes for a price tag of over $1 million (735,000 euros) this year, which they plan to quadruple next year according to the terms of the MoU. But Mbogo declined to give documentation or budgets for any of these projects.

Government officials have also called into question the local employment figure of 1,000 provided by Tullow Oil .They requested an employment audit as part of the MoU, according to Turkana County Governor Josephat Nanok. The data, provided by Tullow Oil to the Land Quest team, requires further analysis due to questionable classifications of high skilled labor for jobs given to non-Turkana.

According the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, basic literacy in Turkana stood at 7.2 percent in 2007. This essentially excludes the majority of people in the community from training programs and from the few direct employment opportunities offered by oil drilling, according to Ikal Ang’elei, director of Friends of Lake Turkana, a local environmental NGO.

As a result, the locals have largely been offered unskilled jobs, such as working as guards, sand mixers or cooks. Other opportunities have included transportation contracts, which have been snatched up by wealthy businessmen with the financial capital and political connections to supply vehicles for use.

The contents of the MoU at the time of signature were accessible only to the oil company and the Ministry of Energy. It had not been possible for civil society organizations to hold Tullow to account or check up on their promises. In an interview, the County Executive member for Energy and Environment, Rodha Loyor, said she doubted Tullow’s intentions.

Earlier in the year, Tullow Oil invited her to a workshop about oil and gas management that turned out to be a sales pitch where, “investors bombarded me for five days.” She cancelled future meetings with Tullow until she found more balanced sources of information about both the opportunities and risks of the emerging oil sector. While she wishes that Tullow Oil and the county government could work together to build health facilities for workers and implement scholarship programs, that cooperation has yet to happen.

Practical Action, the Agency for Pastoral Development and Friends of Lake Turkana are three of the NGOs that reported that they had met with displaced communities whose migratory grazing routes have been interrupted by drilling. However, none of them had the funding needed to offer services nor did they know who else to refer them to for help. Under the MOU, Tullow Oil has committed to opening a local office to address grievances, although no plan for resettling pastoralists has been presented, according to the Turkana County Governor.

The director for the Oil & Gas Working Group, Hadley Becha, explained that the oil companies are not legally obliged to provide the community with any social investment under the current legislation, especially in terms of local content and benefits sharing. “In fact, right now it is up to Tullow to negotiate with the community,” he said. “Tullow does not have a legal process through which to support the community.”

A study commissioned by The United Kingdom Department for International Development this year warned Kenya’spreparedness for natural resource management recommends emulating community investment models in countries where they have been successful, including Peru and Mozambique. They warn of the dangers of companies simply making direct payments to the local government for social and infrastructure projects. It tasks the county government with bringing together local councils to produce a development agenda with targeted projects with long-term impact. It also recommends establishing a long-term growth fund for future generations.

To date, the county government has not taken the initiative. There are no collective bargaining mechanisms in place for the community besides community advisory boards set up by Tullow itself and local civil society leaders said are not representative and are easily manipulated. With increased security at the oil drilling sites, high profile protests may no longer be an option. Loyor explained that after just a few months in office, the county government is not prepared to address complaints against Tullow. The grievance officers promised by Tullow have not yet reported to their posts. A perfect Catch-22.


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Seeking Justice in Canada: Hitting Mining Companies Where They Live

Canadian mining companies have long evaded responsibility for abuses carried out by their subsidiaries in the developing world. That could be about to change.

By Sebastian Rosemont, .


Latin Americans and Africans have tried before to sue Canadian mining companies for alleged wrongs committed overseas, but their cases were thrown out. But now a case from Guatemala is moving forward. (Photo: Friends of the Earth International / Flickr)

Violence by Guatemalan mine operators is not rare. For a Guatemalan to seek justice in Canada, where a host of North American mining conglomerates are based, is.

Adolfo Ich was an important community leader in El Estor, a Mayan Q’eqchi’ town near the Fenix nickel mine in Guatemala’s eastern province of Izabal. On September 27, 2009 clashes broke out between protesters against the mine and security forces hired by the mine operators.

Ich, who had been in his home, went out to investigate what was happening and try to help end the violence. He approached the security forces who, it is claimed, recognized him as an anti-mine leader and activist. They proceeded to beat and hack at him with a machete.

Then, according to a lawsuit filed in Canada, the head of the security forces, a former military officer, shot Ich in the head.

A suit by Ich’s widow and fellow community member German Chub, who was paralyzed by a gunshot in the same protest where Ich died, has begun its path through the Canadian system. The two plaintiffs have been joined by 11 Guatemalan women from the community of Lote Ocho, who say they were gang raped during a forced eviction by mine security forces on January 17, 2007.

According to a 2011 ruling by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala that the Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities had legal rights to the lands they traditionally held, the 2007 evictions were illegal. But the harsh reality is that Guatemalans have little to show for their efforts to secure their rights through their country’s court system.

Facing dim prospects in Guatemala, these three cases have been brought as a joint suit against Hudbay Minerals Inc., a global mining company based in Toronto. Foreign nationals have tried before to sue Canadian companies for alleged wrongs committed overseas, but their cases were thrown out. This is the first one to win a judge’s approval to move to the trial stage.

Uphill Battle

There are several legal obstacles for bringing a case to Canada.

The company defendants typically argue that Canadian courts lack jurisdiction over what the companies do abroad. Or they might say that the case ought to be heard in the country where the alleged offence took place (the legal term is forum non conveniens, meaning there’s a more suitable setting). Or they might claim that whatever happened was unpredictable and that they fulfilled all reasonable expectations of a duty of care, which is a legal obligation to observe a reasonable standard of care while engaging in any activities that might harm another person.

In 2010, a case against Anvil Mining Ltd. for abuses committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was struck down on the basis of lack of jurisdiction. Anvil Mining was headquartered in Australia but had opened an office in Montreal.

In 1998 a Quebec judge struck down a class action suit brought by a Guyanese community against the Canadian mining company Cambior Inc. with the rationale that the conditions of the case made it more suitable to be heard in Guyana. A duty of care case was filed in 2008 by Ecuadorean plaintiffs against two directors of the Canadian company Copper Mesa, but the Ontarian judges found there was insufficient evidence to hold the directors personally responsible for the actions committed in Ecuador.

But in the Hudbay case, the mining company has not argued jurisdiction and withdrew a motion based on forum non conveniens. Hudbay lawyers said that they “are happy to rely on the Ontario courts to ensure that justice is served.” Nevertheless, Hudbay did move to have the cases struck on the grounds that they did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiffs. Judge Carole Brown dismissed the motion saying, “I find that it is not plain and obvious that the three Statements of Claim disclose no reasonable cause of action in negligence.”

Cory Wanless is a lawyer for the Guatemalans. Wanless says that allowing this case against Hudbay to proceed to trial forces Canadian companies to take note.

“As a direct result of this precedent, we fully expect more lawsuits of this kind to be filed against other mining and oil and gas companies,” says Wanless.

Setting a Precedent

Wanless might have a point. This summer in British Columbia, seven Guatemalans filed a suit against the Canadian firm Tahoe Resources. They claim the company was responsible for a shooting during a community protest at Tahoe’s mining operation.

Wanless said several corporate law firms have issued advisories to their clients. Norton Rose Fulbright, one such firm, wrote, “international public expectations are changing, and directors and officers of Canadian companies need to be aware of the potential risk of claims by foreign plaintiffs seeking redress for alleged harm committed beyond Canada’s borders.”

Definitions of mine ownership vary, but most research finds that Canadian companies are involved in 50 to 70 percent of mining operations in Latin America. This comes to about 1,500 mining projects in the region. Day-to-day management of the mining projects is generally in the hands of subsidiaries of the parent Canadian mining corporations.

In the case of the Fenix mine, Hudbay’s subsidiary was Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN). CGN was in charge of hiring the private security forces. This can make accountability a difficult thing to determine. (Company ownership also can shift. CGN was owned by Skye Resources up until 2008. In 2008 Skye was acquired by Hudbay and renamed HMI Nickel. The lawsuits are directed at Hudbay/Skye.)

The Guatemalan plaintiffs argue that the potential for violence was a foreseeable consequence when Hudbay/CGN authorized the deployment of the security forces to evict the community of Lote Ocho in 2007 and to confront the protesters in 2009.

Law professor Shin Imai at the Osgoode Hall Law School worked on a legal analysis of the HudBay case. Imai and his co-authors said that there is good legal grounding for the plaintiffs. In Imai’s view, responsibility for the actions that occur at mining operations should rest with the primary beneficiaries of the profits that the mines produce.

Hudbay used an interesting approach in its effort to derail the suit. Company lawyers said that if Canadian lawmakers wanted to hold Canadian firms more accountable, they could have passed a law. They noted that the parliament has rejected two bills that would have done that. One of those bills, Bill C-300, was narrowly defeated by six votes in 2010.

That argument didn’t pass muster with the judge. But Imai and his colleagues said that if Canadian law is ambiguous on this point, with the HudBay case, “Canadian courts have the chance to fill the void.”

It could be years before the case actually goes to trial while both parties gather evidence. In the meantime, the Guatemalans of El Estor are still dealing with the Fenix mining project. Hudbay sold the project and CGN to the Solway Group, based in Cyprus, on the condition that Hudbay assume legal responsibility for the actions that occurred prior to the sale. Operations at the Fenix mine have resumed, accompanied by renewed violence between protestors and security forces and invasions of the community of Lote Ocho by security forces.

Even as the mining operations continue in El Estor, the trial of Choc et al. vs. Hudbay offers the potential to change the rules of the game. People in countries with weak judicial systems now have at least the possibility to seek justice in the well-established court system of Canada. If the verdict goes in favor of the plaintiffs, a new transnational understanding of rule of law will emerge as well.

Sebastian Rosemont is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He recently graduated from McGill University with a degree in Latin American studies.


Guatemala: Opposition to Mining, the New Threat to National Security


Written by Oswaldo J. Hernández, Translation by Danica Jorden   

Monday, 21 July 2014 17:47
The San Rafael Las Flores mine conflict created something more than a State of Siege in response to residents’ opposition to the exploitation of their lands. It was the starting point for the Government’s trial of a new, secretly launched security strategy that terms movements opposing extraction as threats to national security.Source: Plaza Pública

San Rafael Las Flores has become a strange place where everyone is wary of each other and distrustful. Since May 2013, after the surrounding municipality of Santa Rosa declared a State of Siege, that’s how things have been. In the streets, the parks, and the small corner shops, people cautiously observe everything that passes in front of them. The alert is spontaneous. Outsiders do not pass through unnoticed.

Do you work for the mines?

Are you from Canada?

What do you want?

These are the questions that arise out of their unease. It happens on the bus, in the restaurant, and, sometimes, on the street. “You have to be careful when talking about mining,” a shopkeeper advises with a smile. He goes on to explain that every other person in San Rafael Las Flores reacts either well or badly, for or against the El Escobal mining project, which a few months ago started to extract silver from the subsoil of San Rafael Las Flores. “The population is divided,” he says. Nevertheless, I ask him, not necessarily having anything to do with the mining company, if he didn’t know the location of a state office, a Government office that had, indeed, a mining name: the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group,” and if by chance he knew anything about it.

From across the showcase, the shopkeeper scratches his head and says: “That name doesn’t ring a bell.”

The same thing happens with a transit officer, a pharmacy employee, and a private security officer. The “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group” does not ring a bell with any of them. “Maybe you’re looking for that Government office with the banners,” says a senior citizen in front of the city hall. She then maps out a long route through many paths and streets to get there. “But that’s not the name of that office. I don’t remember what it is right now, but that’s not it,” she clarifies.


Since March 26, 2013 the government of Otto Pérez Molina has given the San Rafael Las Flores social conflict special treatment. The National Security Council (CNS) concluded that the social problems —protests, altercations, provocations, blockades— surrounding the extractive projects should be dealt with at another level, as a problem of National Security, that is to say, against the security of the State.

To confront the problem, the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group,” an agency working under the supervision of Coronel Ricardo Bustamante, head of the Technical Secretariat of the National Security Council (STCNS), was formed.

Assistant Ministers of Governance Edi Juárez, Sergio Ruano of Environment and Natural Resources, Mining Director at the Ministry of Energy and Mines Fernando Castellanos, and Miguel Ángel Balcárcel, in charge of the National Dialogue System, made up the first group to listen to the findings on the conflicts made by the State Strategic Intelligence Secretariat (SIE), headed by José María Argueta, after the violent incidents that took place in San Rafael Las Flores in September 2012. Houses were burned during these incidents, as well as equipment and vehicles belonging to the San Rafael mining company, in addition to public and private establishments. More than 50 were injured; four people died, among them an officer of the National Civil Police (PNC).

The “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group” was created in March 2013 under the auspices of the National Security Policy, two months before the State of Siege was declared there, and one month before the approval of the Escobal project’s operating licence.

The Presidency drew up a Governmental Accord bill to give legal life to the agency. The National Attorney General’s office received the request and gave it its “seal of approval.” Nevertheless, the agreement to create the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group” was never published.

The bill for a Governmental Accord invests this agency with, among other powers, the ability to “draw up recommendations, policies, strategies and projects that are in nature political, social, economic or related to security for the National Security Council for comprehensive attention to security problems generated by non-renewable natural resource exploration and operations.”

Minister of Governance Mauricio López Bonilla, in statements made to Plaza Pública, recognized that this group has been in operation for almost a year in San Rafael Las Flores, and that “its function is to identify what has failed” in terms of security and “social impact” in the places where mining projects have been launched.

“We believe that the State, as such, when it seeks foreign capital, must be supported from start to finish. This means that when locations are identified as potentially good for resource extraction, one must go to the place, evaluate it, and just as there must be an environmental impact study, so must there be a requirement for social impact studies,” explained the Minister.

This implies, he added, that “in order to have an inter-agency mining affairs group, all institutions that have something to do with the affair must be involved.”

Having an office located in San Rafael Las Flores was important for the group’s operations. What is curious is that no one in San Rafael Las Flores knows where it is. At least not by its real name.


The first indication of the existence of this office can be found on the way out of San Rafael Las Flores: a signboard announcing the location of a governmental office. One must follow the directions —some arrows— first to the right, then again in the same direction at another crossing, then straight ahead up to the edge of town, arriving at an unpaved road leading to some pastures in the middle of nowhere.

There, far from everything, the Government office looks more like a fortress. It’s surrounded by metal chain-link and barbed wire, which one must circle completely in order to find the entrance, only to be found embedded into a strategic point atop a small hill: any visitor is viewable in advance. Most of the town can be seen from this office.

The façade of the building reads: “Inter-Agency Office for Comprehensive Development”.

Is this the headquarters of the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group,” run by the Technical Secretariat of the National Security Council?

It does not appear to be at first sight.


Weeks earlier, Eduardo Spiegeler, from the Assessment and Planning Commission (CAP) of the National Security Council, confirmed, as did López Bonilla, that the national security mining affairs group was operating in San Rafael Las Flores.

“At a certain point, it was felt that the mining was creating a kind of generalized conflict. And it’s not a problem in just one place, as in San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, or the Guatemalan Nickel Company in Izabal, or El Tambor in San José del Golfo. The council (CNS) took note of this and elevated it to a problem that could engender a threat to the nation. Something that, in and of itself, could affect the governance of the country,” explained the CNS evaluator.

But how does a group of this type operate? How is mining managed through a National Security Policy?

Spiegeler says that they have detected various factors explaining communities’ negativity that natural resources will be exploited and taken advantage of. “Lack of information,” he points out. “The problem with that is that there hasn’t been good, strategic communication that really generates trust about what is going to be done.”

— Should the companies be the ones to give out the information?

—This is an activity that belongs to the State. Giving communities reliable and accurate information about what’s happening.

López Bonilla explains by clarifying: “The idea is to change what had been previously developing. For example, the State convenes and grants a licence for recognizance, then exploration and then operating, with the result being we have a problem with conflicts in the area. So, how to manage the conflict, in logical order: Go back to the origin. What to do is speak about the project, what is consists of, impact, benefits. And the most important feature of this is a National Security Policy focused on mining affairs.”


The “trust” that, according to Spiegeler, is to be generated in the public is the least of what is perceived at the governmental  office “for Comprehensive Development.” which, in reality, is the headquarters of the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group,” located on the outskirts of San Rafael Las Flores.

There are various public officials gathered inside.

—Are you the STCNS Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group? —the group observed inside the office are asked.

—No. If you read outside, this is an office for Comprehensive Development —says Coronel Mario René Gálvez, delegate to the Governance Ministry.

—We don’t have anything to do with the mine —immediately exclaims Giovanni Martínez, National Dialogue System (SND) representative.

Anyhow, it appears to be a meeting with technicians and laborers. Technicians like engineers Fredy Navarro, from the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources; Julio Chacón, of the Ministry for Energy and Mieas; and Luis Martínez of the National Council for Protected Areas. And laborers like Mario Pozuelos —who takes photos of the reporter from Plaza Pública — from the Technical Secretariat of the National Security Council and Coronel Gálvez.

—Sorry, but the Governance Ministry says something else.

— ….

—This is a State office covering public requests. It gives advice, provides information to whoever asks, and gives technical and scientific answers about the mine. We supervise the mine —explains Martínez of the SND.

—What are your activities?

—For example, right now we are conducting a water study. But also, each agency compiles data, brings it here, and we analyze it all. We send everything to the STCNS —comes the answer from Martínez. This time, he points to the roadmap, and indicates that it does indeed say the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group,” but claims that this is an error, and that at a certain point the STCNS decided to call it that. The contradiction rests in that the official documents say one name, and the building we are in says another. Everything is very strange. Even absurd.

—Does the group work in secret?


—No, not at all—says Gálvez.

The whole group seems nervous, at times disturbed, other times surprised, but mostly uneasy. They say, surely, they have a Governmental Accord to operate, but they can’t, or are not able to, remember the number or date of publication in the official journal. In reality, they intended to get the agreement, but in the end, nothing was ever published. The STCNS insists that the National Security System Marco Law regulation (Decree 18-2008 and Accord 166-2011) empowers them to create an inter-agency group at their whim, no need to explain their operations or budget.


“There are two forms of public policy: de facto and de jure,” explains Claudia Samayoa, director of the Union for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (Udefegua). “In the case of the Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group, under the National Security Policy, we are looking at a de facto public policy. The fact is that instead of being a mining policy, it is more a social control policy. Instead of reforming the Mining Law, which is necessary, the Government reacts and comes out with a security and national threat issue. This shows how the State wants to organize itself to minimize protest, which is also a constitutional right.”

José Cruz, from the environmental collective Madre Selva, goes even further. “This plan is counter-insurgent,” he says. “They are applying it during a democratic period. This type of inter-agency coordination was part of the Army’s strategies during the civil armed conflict. What’s worrisome, however, is how they have been operating in secret.”

Since 1999, after the Peace Accords were signed in Guatemala, the construction of democratic security began to be planned. At the center of the public security policy would be human development. Remedies were sought to some of the legacies of the past, such as the National Security Doctrine’s counter-insurgency. In 2008, the National Security System Marco Law was approved. Its intent was that different agencies would be coordinated around a central axis of power —the CNS — and it dealt with the issue of interior and exterior security under civil authority. It was about abandoning the old ways, the tradition of security in the hands of the military, and moving to a different National Security Policy. Héctor Rosada-Granados, of the Board of Directors of the Center for Strategic Studies and Security in Central America (CEESC), says that throughout this process, the subject of social opposition to mining as a threat to national security was never brought up, but he cautions that each government may identify threats depending on its situation.

“It’s probable that another Government would have interpreted it another way and proceeded to integrate the inter-agency group with other offices, such as incorporating it into the office of the Human Rights Prosecutor, and giving it another focus on conflicts that take place, thereby underscoring compliance with the public’s right to protest, and not seeing that as a threat to national security,” Rosada points out.

—How to explain, then, why the social conflicts stemming from opposition to mining projects are being managed from the perspective of a national security threat?

—A democratic government or one that respects the rule of law would never consider a social protest to be a threat against the State; it would never classify it as destabilizing and dangerous to the security of the nation. On the contrary, an authoritarian government with a military court and a profound history placing it at the genesis of the counter-insurgency policy applied during the civil war, will react and prioritize the same way it did before.


In San Rafael Las Flores, the National Security Policy’s implementation has not gone unnoticed. Neighbours notice changes, despite not having been notified that the CNS elevated the social conflict about the mine to a new level. It hardly generates trust to ask someone to explain how life has been in this town since the State of Siege. It has become complicated.

—We feel watched —says a teacher who asks not to be named.

—Cars with armed people pass by all the time —points out a gentleman, gesturing gruffly with his boots and hat.

—It’s affecting the prices of our produce. There’s no way to negotiate. They say our beans, our tomatoes, everything is contaminated with cyanide and we can’t come to a fair price —says a small farmer in the village El Volcancito.

—Everyone is afraid here since the State of Siege, afraid. Nobody talks like before about the mining problem. Or about anything really. The resistance has been annihilated. Silence and distrust fills the town—declares Rudy Pivaral from the Committee in Defence of Life and Peace, one of the few to dare give his name in speaking about the issue.

Few would dare to publically denounce the “Inter-Agency Comprehensive Development Office” of really being, according to Pivaral, “a military intelligence office.”

“It’s just like in the 1970s. It’s pitiful. We’re living in a state of permanent alert. We’ve always thought this office seemed suspicious. They get the names of the leaders, manage community information. We’ve known it even though they say the opposite,” the community leader affirms.


Up until the violence escalated in San Rafael Las Flores, the State confronted social conflict about the mining projects through the National Dialogue System (SDN). Under the direction of Miguel Ángel Balcárcel, the SDN has various critics. Many agree that the reason for the dialogue does not really exist. “They organize, they create a process, a State euphemism, so that the communities accept the companies’ conditions,” emphasizes Samayoa. Even President Pérez Molina has admitted that there were mistakes in the management mechanisms in this instance.

Mediate, inform, create processes to manage conflicts, prevent, most of these functions have been handed over to the Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group. Miguel Ángel Balcárcel considers, nevertheless, that the SDN continues to work, not in parallel but as a complement.

“The Inter-Agency Group was created because the situation in San Rafael had reached a complicated point. It was necessary to take measures in terms of security, not to attempt to eliminate dialogue, but because the focus changed the course of democracy and governability,” says Balcárcel.

Within this context, according to Cruz de Madre Selva, the SND has increased its operations. “They are mapping leaders and studying scenarios. The dialogue serves as a façade to get close, obtain names, and make captures,” she points out.

Social conflicts surrounding an extractive project are not exclusive to San Rafael Las Flores. It’s not only happening there. There are various confrontations taking place throughout the country. And each one is distinct, with its own complexities, and divergent contexts.In Izabal, in San Marcos. In San Juan Sacatepéquez. Or between San Pedro Ayampuc and San José del Golfo, municipalities in Guatemala, where resistance to the El Tambor mining project was recently subdued.

Yolanda Oquelí, a leader of La Puya, does not doubt that the May 23 eviction this year had been planned at a table at a high-level office like the National Security Council. She suspects that a branch of the Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group wants to open in San José del Golfo, in secret.

There is no reason for it, points out Oquelí. “We are not a threat.”

Indeed, Spiegeler says that the “Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group” is a kind of pilot for all of Guatemala: “Put it this way: it’s a pilot plan, a backup so they can lay out community demands. Right now, it’s based in San Rafael Las Flores. They are not looking at any other type of conflict. It was formed just for this. Other conflicts are not managed by the Group for Mining Affairs. National conflict is managed at the Ministry level. And when they ask to replicate this model at that level, from the National Security Policy, in La Puya for example, the STCNS imitates this type of procedure.”

Outside the governmental office in San Rafael Las Flores on the day of the visit, three men were waiting who said they are in charge of establishing an office of this type in San Juan Sacatepéquez, because of the social conflict about the San Gabriel project involving the Cementos Progreso company.

In regards to possibly enlarging the Inter-Agency Mining Affairs Group to cover other places, López Bonilla says that first “the conflicts stemming from what has already been granted must be dealt with” in order to  guarantee that the “new model” ensures the viability and certainty of projects which the Government deems “to be strategic.”

It is a new model for development based on the exploitation of natural resources, a model, according to the Governance Ministry, whose objective is to convert Guatemala into a destination for foreign capital investment.

For Héctor Rosada, the model for democratic security coincides with the existence of a State that is able to generate development opportunities for all of its people, and in its capacity to contain the risks, threats and vulnerabilities that may arise. That is to say, “situate itself above those involved in the conflict, and apply the law in moderation, seeking to re-establish the balance that had been lost. The meaning given to the law depends upon the Government’s intentionality in applying it. From there, it will depend upon how the facts are read and what strategies are applied to manage the conflicts.”

—Why not opt to sustain the Governmental Accord that grants judicial backup to the Inter-Agency Group for Mining Affairs?

—Spiegeler was asked.

—Wasn’t it better this way? —answered Eduardo Spiegeler a few days before— I believe that if the Governmental Accord had been published at that time, there would have been a massive demand for this type of offices. Not just for San Rafael, but nationally. We didn’t have the ability to react in that situation. We know that we have the capability today. San Rafael was a trail, a test.

“I don’t know what might have happened there,” said López Bonilla doubtfully about this type of group’s lack of legal backup.  “What a Governmental Accord does is institutionalize policies, especially where the Executive branch has a large role. It could have been something administrative. But I can tell you that this Governmental Accord is going to be made concrete, because what we are doing is working within the framework of Law for National Security System to create the conditions for new and better governability in the country,” assures the Minister.


Sometimes, leaving San Rafael Las Flores is complicated. You’ve asked questions. The people are distrustful. They have been watching you. They’ve positioned you as someone from outside the municipality. Many, for sure, are uncomfortable with the mining issue. And sometimes scared. As a way of saying goodbye on the bus, a girl —fair, nails painted pink, slim— gets close and says: “You (journalists?) always make mining out to be bad. But you don’t understand. I could never have made before what I make now in this place. I have a good salary. This town was forgotten. Today there is progress. There are hotels and restaurants. We’re doing well. We’re making money.”

She says she’s studying law, and that she can pay for it now. Then she listens calmly, never dropping her defiant stare, to the story of the search for the governmental office on the outskirts of San Rafael Las Flores. To calm her a little, I tell her with mining, nothing, look —I show her— the Governmental Accord bill, National Security Policy, the secrets, the façade.

“Damn them,” she exclaims. “They always do it wrong. Always wrong.”